Burning a CD under Linux is super-easy, and there are quite a few programs that make it possible under Linux. X-CD-Roast is a popular tool, and is used constantly by Linux enthusiasts to burn their own multi-session content onto a compact disc. The problem is that there is still no Linux equivalent for the huge multi-track mixer you'll find at professional recording studios. If you're hoping to mix down tracks and perform studio-quality takes and 'bounces' of your work, you're going to need an expensive chunk of professional digital audio hardware. Once you've got your finished master, you'll have no problem making as many copies as you want using your Linux machine. Until we have a real-time mixdown utility, the waiting game wins again.
The world of low-bandwidth sound transport is wide open on the Linux platform, except for the glaring exception of not being able to play Windows Media Player sound files on your machine. Although the 'media darling' of sound transport is the mp3 file format, there's no denying the fact that mp3 provides solid sound quality and a small file footprint. Mp3 still isn't the answer to all of our prayers, however. No matter what anyone tells you, mp3 is not CD-quality sound, and tends to boost the mid-range in most tunes.
When you're living with a low-bandwidth target, the sound you're streaming is secondary in importance to stretching that stream over a maximum number of clients with the least amount of lag. RealPlayer suffers from the same mid-range band pass issues as mp3, but in the grand scheme of things, you're a lot more likely to encounter RealPlayer as an option when you're surfing. Producing RealPlayer content is easy to do and easy to host, but the downside is that it's not free. RealProducer will run you $149.95 from RealNetworks.
Joseph Ottinger, Linux-savvy musician, shares his thoughts on streaming audio. "I choose mp3 because of the high quality and decent compression. Real's stuff is nice because it's streaming, but even on a fast connection, that stuff sounds like it's ground up. Microsoft's streaming format is worse, lacking even more of the fundamental sound's depth and clarity. The problem with mp3 is Napster. Napster makes it easy to send and find mp3's. A lot of people trade though, so people rip stuff at low quality just to get their numbers up and their bandwidth down."
Csound is a wonderfully portable and versatile sound synthesis package written entirely in C. Csound uses two files to work its magic; a score file that basically acts as a timed-event trigger file, and an orchestra file to interpret what voices it should use to play the score. This is a classical approach to sound synthesis, and can be used to either generate a sound file or, if your system is fast enough, to send the output directly to a DAC on your system's soundcard. If you like, you can even use a standard MIDI file to act as the score file. Csound has about a bazillion extensions, and nifty gadgets that use it.
For those interested in using their Linux machine as a powerful tool for creating original instruments and sounds, they'll find a friend in Cecilia, a wonderful sound synthesis tool that sits right on top of Csound, without you having to get your hands dirty. Cecilia provides real-time signal processing on sound files, live input, or can work as a software synthesizer on its own. If you're in love with real-time resonance or envelope filters, Cecilia lets you configure the software synth to the limit.
Next time, we discuss Linux sound hardware and support, and we're going acronym-diving! Find out what OSS and ALSA are, and why they've got something to do with those big speakers you bought. We'll also navigate the treacherous waters of musical notation with Linux. If you know of any fantastic audio production programs, please let us know! See you next time...