Vol. 28 Issue 1 Reviews
Dave Phillips: Linux Music and Sound

No Starch Press, 2000, ISBN 1-886411-34-4, softcover with CD-ROM, 408 pages, illustrated, US$ 39.95; available from No Starch Press, 555 De Haro Street, Suite 250, San Francisco, California 94107, USA; telephone (+1) 415-863-9900; fax (+1) 415-863-9950; electronic mail info@nostarch.com; World Wide Web www.nostarch.com/lms.htm

Reviewed by Linda Seltzer
Princeton, New Jersey, USA

Book CoverIn the past 20 years, the price of a computer has been reduced so dramatically that it is now often exceeded by the price of commercial software. Independent developers for Linux systems have responded to this problem by offering the home user or university lab a host of free applications useful for professional work in a variety of scientific fields.

Computer music is no exception, and Dave Phillips' book, Linux Music and Sound, provides the musician with an invaluable catalog and instruction manual in which the musical applications that run on Linux are introduced, by subject, in a well-organized manner. The software discussed in the book is provided on the CD-ROM accompanying the book. It should be noted that since the book is vintage 2000, the Sound & MIDI Software For Linux Web site (linux-sound.org), maintained by Mr. Phillips, is a good source of information about more recent freeware offerings.

One should be cautioned that this book is meant for the initiates; it is not a tutorial for the novice. Also, the book focuses on software and not on hardware and interfaces, so one won't find here the details about voltage levels for the sound output of the computer and the required levels for amplification and mixing equipment, or instructions on how to set up the computer to acquire instrumental sounds in real time. The reader with a good knowledge of UNIX system administration will have no trouble understanding Chapter 2, "Setting Up Your System," but the composer who is a casual UNIX user will find this chapter daunting, especially when encountering directives such as "Consult your card's documentation for default I/O address, IRQ [interrupt request] numbers, DMA [direct memory access] channels, and other settings."

The user untrained in UNIX system administration can make use of the subsequent chapters (3-15), assuming one has a Linux system already set up with audio drivers and peripherals. These chapters present specific information on the functions and Web site locations of applications including composition tools, sound editors, mixers, MIDI programs, MP3 audio compression and media players, hard disk recording, sound processing, synthesis, music notation, network audio (including broadcast), and telephone speech (VoIP, Voice over Internet Protocol), and games.
The interested composer can find in this book the online locations from which to download well-known composition packages such as cmix and RTcmix, csound, and jmax. There is also mentioned an interesting library of C++ classes called Sig++, written by Craig Sapp. The music notation section provides a link to the Common Music Notation software developed by Bill Schottstaedt. In the notation chapter, however, there is no mention of musical developments for LaTex. This may be an oversight, or may imply that efforts to incorporate music notation into LaTex have ceased.

Linux development has been a growing field during the past two years, culminating in the use of parallel configurations of Linux boxes for large-scale scientific computing. It is hoped that the flurry of Linux development at present will result in more software innovations for music. For composition, one goal would be a user interface supporting the freedom for the composer to represent graphically one's individual compositional model and processes. Additional future directions may include real-time interfaces, ease of use, ease of installation and minimal system administration, spatial audio, and virtual reality.