Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ubuntu Studio - Starting the musical journey

I have been waiting to do some kinda midi based recording/playing for some time now. I have a good keyboard with midi capabilities in Yamaha PSR-730 and considering that my first attempt in getting things sorted out 4 years back ended in disarray with me destroying my then ubuntu linux installation, I had decided that midi and stuff are as such off my limits. Till I decided to try my hands with ubuntu studio like a week ago out of curiosity.

Don't know what is different from my previous attempt, but this time I could see a lot of help post in internet for configuring the various softwares in ubuntu studio and a lot more assisting people in trying out the midi playing and recording stuff which I feel is showing what linux as a whole entity is doing to the Music Production industry. Probably this was the little help that I needed during my last attempt.

Nevertheless, overwriting my current ubuntu 11.04 installation with a ubuntu studio 11.04 installation roughly took me an hour at most and certain things struck me visibly, which I think would require me to go for a new post which I'll do if I get some time in the near future.

For people out there deciding to try ubuntu studio, request you to go through some of the steps that were in place before the current graphical installation engines came long. Extreme knowledge would not be needed as most of them will be self explanatory during the installation.

Once I got the ubuntu studio installed, I still didnt know how to check if I had setup properly or not. For this I needed knowledge of the following important factors and once I started putting them in place, everything started looking and feeling right.

First, a little bit of knowledge about how things work in a normal music studio outside as in the equipments that you use to the way you feed the output from your system to a sequencer, stuff like that. For a guy like me with absolutely no knowledge of that, things like Jack, Virtual Keyboard, QSynth, Ardour everything looked out of sorts.


It is like a virtual feed manager. Similar to the way you would take the feed from your keyboard to an amplifier. It lets users link their instruments(virtual or real) to any other software as such. and it is designed in a way to make sure the end user feels the links are not slow and all the softwares in the link recieve their input with very minuscule time differences like something in milliseconds. In simple words, its a server that is used for monitoring existing feeds between softwares and for creating new feed links.

It is a synthesizer very similar to the real world if one has used it. Note: I had only got the opportunity to look at those things in a studio during field trips. Ok, coming to their functionality, they can do stuff ranging from simple functionality like adding effects to the incoming feed to creating customized instrument sounds for incoming midi triggers. In linux software scenario, all midi instruments feed need to be given to a synthesizer before one can get the sound from the instrument because all that your midi instrument does in real send trigger events and information about instruments to be used with them. And your synth takes care of putting the appropriate instrument for it or the ones that you select in the synthesizers. In QSynth though it can work in sync with another synth/virtual instrument and directly produce the sound from it and for this it needs .sf2 soundfont files - files containing information about instruments. A lot of sites allow downloading these files and all you got to do is let the qsynth know of where to locate these files.

Another useful synth that I personally like and the one that I started with was ZynAddSubFX. It comes with both an inbuilt basic keyboard and instrument bank. I still have to check the possibility of creating customized instruments though with it. For starters, It would be great to start with ZynAddSubFX before moving on to QSynth and understanding the concept of how it works.

Virtual Keyboard:
As the developers of the software have put in their sites, this one cannot produce sound on its own, It needs to work with another synth so that the synth produces the sound for the trigger it gets from virtual keyboard. Though I found that by installing some instrument soundfont files in QSynth, it was able to recognize most of the instruments in virtual keyboard and produce the corresponding sound for them. Unlike ZynAddSubFX where in I had to select an instrument that had to be synthesized. So still trying to understand the entire picture of how QSynth works. If I can get the exact sound from my keyboard in Qsynth, it would be super great. Will post more on that If I find anything good in the coming weeks.

It is a drum sequencing application and one of the few to directly work with the ALSA sound engine without the need for me to set the link up in JACK. A Simple one in terms of design and a very well advanced one when it come to loading instrument libraries, I simple loved it from word go. First I didnt had to put in the hours as in to understand the Jack, Synth etc. Suggest this for anyone starting with music production in linux. Will help to get the picture of what is in store for aspiring musicians and people thinking about switching to linux.

First let me admit that I didnt know a thing about how it worked. During my first attempt 4 years back, I had to tryst with rosegarden and to say the truth, have still not understood that one well. So Me having to tryst with another software that I had no idea was sending some shivers through me. Ok, to start of with, If you understood jack well enough, Ardour works in a similar way.

2 important things though are the buses and tracks. Remember the following concept that I learnt and it could help you a lot. First Track is something that lets you record music from another bus.
Bus lets you route another instrument like hydrogen or synths feed into ardour.

For each track that you select and for each bus you select you will have to define the input/output sources and once you have done that all that is left is to record some funky tones and see how things turn out.

Since ubuntu studio comes in a 1.5 gig dvd you might think that you will also get the standard linux software like openoffice with it, which is not the case. Be ready to download some seperately. And for people out there still wanting the old gnome interface back, ubuntu studio wouldnt be all that different.