With talk of tablets, experimentation with interfaces, new developments in low-cost and low-power processing, and ongoing challenges with access in different parts of the world, in 2010, it seems everyone is asking fundamental questions about what digital platforms and computing platforms should be.

There are few contexts to better explore that question than music. Sure, it may seem to the casual onlooker that music is just a niche for specialists, but it pushes hardware to the limits of performance tolerances, tests latencies lower than that used for mission-critical military applications, and has long been a venue in which innovations in technology and interaction arrive first. Little wonder: digital music touches the most fundamental form of human expression.

Having framed the discussion in such lofty terms, the actual work with a digital platform comes down to the details: what works, what doesn’t, what’s possible, and what isn’t. So this week is the perfect time to evaluate some of those nitty-gritty, mundane specifics. I’ll be looking this week at the early indicators on Apple’s iPad, prior to its launch this weekend, as well as the larger picture with tablets and slates, touch, and new low-power, low-cost architectures that power them. But I’ll also revisit the current state of Windows 7, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, and current releases of Linux, including some tips for making them work.

And as always on this site, those questions aren’t an arrival; they’re … a jumping-off point. But I think you’ll find some resources that help you get to the actual music-making bit.

Got specific questions about these platforms, or particular platforms you’d like to see covered? Shout out in comments.

  • I'd love hear more about Linux setups. Like how you made out with Fedora?

    Also, about sound cards and midi interfaces with Linux. This seems like a huge pain point on this platform.


  • Yep, I think Linux will probably take more than just this week (heck, any of these OSes), but that's for sure on my list.

    Audio interfaces turn out not to be a huge pain point, depending on your audio interface. On the cheap end, NI's stuff works out of the box, any USB class-compliant device, and a range of FireWire boxes. Internal sound also works really well, so unlike on (cough, without asio4all) Windows, you can get near-zero-latency monitoring through your headphone jack (handy on planes and trains and in hotel rooms, I find). If you have money to spend, RME has some great choices.

    Any other nominations on interfaces, folks? I'll do a more complete list based on my experience.

  • sb

    Last week, there was a post on an ipod application that allowed for Lemur-esque control. I love the thought that sometime soon, the controller and host application will live together on the same device. Heck, maybe even a second monitor out for live video as well (if processing permits).

  • sb


  • I've bought a netbook 2 weeks ago. It's pretty much my main computer these days.

    I'm interested in what runs on these, what doesn't. They are complete computers but less powerful.

    I'm wondering if going with linux instead of windows 7 would spare some ram. I'm wondering which linux distro is lightweight but works well for music apps and provides a good desktop environment to perhaps help debug open source apps.

    If you cover linux, i'd like to know how people use it, which software they use and how they work. Which software is really mature and which one is a bit unstable.

    You have to mention Schism Tracker someday as well. It's a clone of Impulse Tracker but it is fully rebuilt and works under a lot of platforms. It might not be as flashy as renoise but i make all my tracks with it these days (ok, i use other free software like audacity and csound…).

    Hope i didn't veer offtopic here 🙂

  • Forgot to mention, Impulse Tracker was one of the most popular trackers for DOS back in 1997-1998. People still love it because of the interface that has a unique feel.

  • ld

    This perhaps a bit more abstract than the scope of what you have in mind for discussion, but I would be very interested to hear a bit of speculation about the possibilities of taking advantage of increasingly powerful computing hardware and software to make music that is more organic and dynamic in character than what is prevalent today.

    I have nothing but respect and admiration for tools like the monome and software like Renoise — and certainly there is a beauty and "rightness" in interfacing with computers in a way that is very similar to their own way of behaving.

    But the first thing that comes to my mind between all these new touch-pad control options, faster and more powerful computers, and OSC, to name a few, is the idea that, instead of using a Lemur to program a step-sequencer on what is a potentially a blank-slate in terms of functionality, it would be extremely exciting for people to experiment with using these new tools to create music that is very fluid and subtle using controls that are gesturally or pressure-sensitive, for example, instead of the grid/button/step-oriented model.

    Or maybe people interested in this will have to make do with their own Max patches and custom-made controllers for a while?


  • tchan

    +1 for more coverage on the state of linux distros and linux-friendly music apps. i just hope this thread doesn't devolve into a silly pc/mac flame war 😉

  • That's why, upon reflection, I did decide to break up the platforms. Well, partly because otherwise you'll have to wait all week for a story and then it'll be huge, but also because it makes sense to judge each OS in its own context. Not to mention, the comparison choice is something you make only occasionally; everything else is stuff you're likely to engage every day with your platform of choice.

  • @genjutsushi: Heheh, I was a bit afraid someone would ask that – not necessarily because I disagree with the classification, but because I didn't really have much to add. 😉

    I guess to treat these in the same box as the operating systems, we'd need hardware platforms that had some ability for modification, customization, etc. In fact, that'd easily incorporate things like Arduino and midibox and the hardware controller platforms, monome and arduinome, custom OS'es for MPC, the recent mididuino and ruin & wesen boxes.

    But that may have to wait for another week. It's not a bad idea; it just would need more time. 🙂

  • dustinw

    My Wish list:

    – +1 for Linux
    – iPhone /iPodTouch /iPAD
    – Win7 64bit

    Also, I would like to see something on JACK … I've been planning on setting up a multi-computer / multi-OS network using JACK to send audio between machines.

  • ld

    +1 for JACK routing on multi-OS setups!

  • genjutsushi

    @pk re: Hardware.

    We could always have a discussion about Typhoon 2000 on the Yamaha TX16W

    who needs more than 1.4mb of sample space anyway!

  • dave

    I dont know if you can write something about the possibilitys of hackintosh as long as it's not officialy supported. but i also would like to hear some user comments about how stable osx works on PC in case of music production.

    and how to solve external soundcard driver problems on windows 7 would help me too. 🙂

  • Jamie

    I'm hoping we as DAW users can raise the visibility of these Windows 7 DPC latency issues.
    I love the OS so far but the IRQ/DPC issues make it feel like my i7 is caged. Hopefully MS and the driver/component vendors realize a whole lot of gamers/camera owners/DAW users need this fixed.

  • @Jamie: I'll cover Windows 7, but I can pretty confidently say that DPC issues are not a Windows 7 issue; they're a driver issue. I agree, though, Microsoft is in a place to step in and set the bar higher for their independent hardware vendor "partners" they're regularly crowing about.

  • a Jack tutorial would be nice. If someone knows of a good tutorial please link us. Thanks!

  • J. Phoenix

    I'd like a bit more in-depth on the different sound architectures in Linux platforms, particularly Ubuntu.

    Also, as a suggestion, PD might be a good baseline for highlighting the differences between the different OS platforms, as it can be played on all.

  • xonox said:
    > I’ve bought a netbook 2 weeks ago. It’s pretty much my main computer these days.

    Heh. I also bought a netbook 2 weeks ago. So far I've hardly touched it… *sigh*

  • Justin Reed

    I have been very happy with my macbook pro (and before that macbook) with ableton live and reason + serato. It’s a rock solid platform. For example i have NEVER had a hiccup in serato…not once.

    Bounced onto KVR recently and was pleasantly surprised at the state of plugin development for OSX…it’s nice to have more plugin options as I see that as the only thing that windows systems have going for them (aside from price of course).

    I love my ipod touch for little games and sound amusements. It has tons of potential as a single instrument providing simple, responsive control and sweet sounds (see Beepbot for an example of a fantastic little instrument). I have run into a glass ceiling recently though with my touch…the audio output level is too low for high quality external recording (both the headphone and the line level dock output are woefully underpowered). Was kinda bummed to realize this. Hopefully they correct the audio quality output on the ipad.

  • genjutsushi

    Any chance of considering different Hardware platforms?

    Ive owned many Roland and Korg sequencers and see their underlying corporate specific architecture as particularly important. Im still finding new ways to use the sequencers in my Electribes and they always provide new avenues of creativity as much as any software platform.

    Other examples would be the AKAI MPC series, and Elektron sequencer platforms… or maybe more exotic fare such as Genoqs?

  • More on Linux please! I currently dual-boot Debian & XP on my Asus Eee PC 2G Surf. It took me a while to get Debian running smoothly with an RT kernel, but providing you don't push the Eee too hard, Pure Data & LittleGPTracker both run great with Jack!

  • dr0

    Ubuntu on the eeePC 701 is pretty responsive and there are lots of free packages. I use Audacity pretty regularly and like it.

    Hard drive space is probably a bigger issue than RAM.

    Milkytracker has been working well.

    LMMS is interesting but on this little screen it's pretty cramped.

    There's very little info about MIDI support in Linux though, not sure what USB controller to get. Then I'd get into the more complex synth apps.

    There seem to be conflicts between pulseaudio/jack/alsa, if you could explore that it would be great.

    The Chuck programming language works well on it if you can kill pulseaudio and get a jack server running.

  • As someone who's already making music with Linux, it's great to see so much interest in it here in the comments! It's definitely come a long way in the last couple of years, and it works pretty well for me as a music-making platform.

    I've delved in to Pd and SuperCollider a little, but for the most part, I run what I'd call a fairly normal setup: Ardour, with Hydrogen for drums and a separate MIDI sequencer (currenly Qtractor) for other sequenced parts, with a combination of soft and hard synths.

  • Jonah

    I just spent the last couple months arguing with Dell because of DPC latency issues 🙁

    It would be great to have a master list of laptops that work with audio interfaces or something to that effect.

  • murray

    Wow! I'm really proud of the interest that linux-based audio platforms are generating in the computer music community. I think linux and the open source solutions available are a really great way to learn, experiment, and really participate in a very diverse, kind, active, and fun community.

    For my development setup, I have a cheap $250 Asus EeePC netbook running Gentoo linux, jack, puredata, and a number of development tools including netbeans for java and the arduino IDE. When I'm done writing audio apps, I transfer them to my briefcase-embedded quad-core desktop computer also running Gentoo linux, jack, and puredata, as well as jack-rack and various ladspa plugins. My preferred controller is the monome256.

    This kit, while minimal, provides me with a lot of flexibility as well as promotes an efficient, creative workflow. I'm also able to achieve a solid platform for live performance–an intention that requires a very straightforward setup for realtime audio capture and manipulation. It's also just a lot of fun to use, maintain, and discover how dynamic Linux can be as an operating system! I know it may seem a bit intimidating at first, but I recommend just really jumping in headfirst.

    Ps. For my dsp needs, I'm experimenting with an echo layla 24 pci audio interface paired with a behringer ada8000. Have had no problems finding drivers for hardware under linux (except for one hiccup with drivers for the obscure wlan hardware on the netbook).

  • murray

    I might add the netbook is such an important part of my development and progress–being able to work on my projects away from home is so important. I'm moving around a lot and if it weren't for that portability, I'd never make any serious progress or get anything done possibly growing frustrated enough to become disinterested in this genre of technology. And allowing me to use linux is such a breath of fresh air!–no cdrom drive is annoying, but that's what mirroring minimal install disc images onto flash drives and retrieving the rest from the internet is for 🙂

  • @murray, @pneuman : the most intimidating thing about linux is picking a distro.

    I ran linux as pretty much my only OS from 1997 to 2000. Back then, i had to work a lot to get some things to work.

    Right now, i'd like to try linux again. I'd want a distro with hardware support for my netbook, a lightweight desktop environment, easy access to install dev tools and most of all, with good support for music apps…

    A good way to get people to try linux is with distros that can boot from a usb flash drive.

    Why do i want to try linux ? My music software is already available for linux. I want something more lightweight for my netbook. So i can use maybe 100-200mb more ram for something else than the OS.

    Why do you other people want to try linux ?

  • If someone posts about JACK tutorials, maybe some coverage on JP1 from LinuxDSP can go with it. I know we submitted a PDF 'how to' on JP1 to Peter.

  • xonox, as far as I can tell the best advice about picking distributions these days is "choose one that packages the software you want already". I've been driven to complete distraction trying to compile anything for Slackware. Even Slackware 12.0, which isn't that old.

    (Having said which, I find myself disillusioned with Linux in general. Windows 2000 will run almost all Windows software just fine; Slackware 11.0, released in 2006, is hopelessly out of date, not even supporting Firefox 3. This is the precise opposite of the situation when I first started using Linux, when it would run on machines Windows would turn its nose up on and I couldn't find anything that wouldn't compile straight off – and yet everyone else seems to think it's just fine…)

  • I'm really interested in the idea of running, for instance, SuperCollider and PureData on headless Linux boxes that could then be treated more like hardware synths. Control and sequencing would be done through a connected Launchpad or Monome or similar. A look at how much synthesis you can get out of a minimally configured netbook (or even one of the smaller boards) running Linux would really interest me.

  • gwenhwyfaer: You're judging all of Linux based on the ease of use of Slackware? Really?

    I think everyone else thinks it's "just fine" because newer distros still run on that older hardware. And on the bigger distros, there are pretty active backports, if you decide to run an older release.

    But you can also take a new distro and install it on that ancient hardware, thus having the newest software but the oldest gear — and you can choose lightweight tools and windowing that will run just fine. There are countless resource-light distros that are easy on old machines but don't sacrifice running the newest software.

  • Pingback: The State of Platforms for Digital Music Making « logan caldwell()

  • Peter: no, not really, and if you can't be bothered to read my comments before responding to some strawman version of them I'd rather you just deleted them.

  • gwenhwyfaer: I read your comment, and please – if I'm missing something, explain. I read your comment as complaining about package compatibility relative to Slackware.

    "Slackware 11.0, released in 2006, is hopelessly out of date, not even supporting Firefox 3."

    Ubuntu's 2006 LTS release, Dapper, has an FF3 backport, by comparison. And all of the current distros are perfectly capable of running on ancient hardware, thus delivering modern software compatibility to non-modern hardware.

    I'm not trying to set up a strawman here; I'm trying to understand what the heck you're actually trying to say.

  • Terrible


    you run a great site and have proved your resourcefulness and thoughtfulness many times.

    here is my perspective:

    the digital realm will continue to be the way most people engage with music.

    this is not really new, now, in 2010.

    "the newest" will continue to be a business model for technology companies … this includes continued reframing of the question (ie. "platform" as noted in your article).

    "the newest" technology does not mean the best music or the most interesting music.

    this still leaves the critical question of what is most interesting.

  • Hari Seldon

    As a Mac Pro/Logic Studio user, I am excited in the potential of using the iPad as a controller/ monitor eg Ultrabeat. Or perhaps a combination of a plug-in and iPad for step sequencers etc.

  • Viseo 200t monitor touch with windos 7, Ableton live without problems, reaktor 5 without problems, it's really great to handle audio editors especially type sound forge, also envelopes them, obviously with the monitor and everything becomes a tactile, to the messenger, a precision of 100×100, a cost not to exceed 160 euros, this is to install Windows 7 Viseo 200t your monitor and play with windows xp windows TAMI is functional but 7 works perfect, no hassle, in my case I already I'm creating ensembles that the visual aspect is more friendly, without knobs so close together. but today are already very good,
    (Posture M-tools free loops free ensembles)

  • Id : "Or maybe people interested in this will have to make do with their own Max patches and custom-made controllers for a while?"

    Yes we will. Maybe we just don't like working with the interfaces and functions that are supplied with commercial software.

    I use Linux and realtime Pure Data for live performance on a 500MHz wearable with my project robotcowboy. I run multiple effects, sequencers, and synths in Pd as well as a simple visual engine without hitting the processing overhead. Say that about Max or Live. As far as embedded devices and configurability go, Linux is king.

    Laptop-wise, I moved from Linux to Mac but still do all of my audio work within Pd and have rewritten my software for cross platform compatibility. I see it as the best of both worlds: a stable development machine with good software in OSX and a custom embedded performance machine running Linux.

    I can see a future where embedded Linux devices act as pluggable dsp/synth units which you just plug into a guitar or keyboard, etc Think of the Nord MicoModular except that it runs Pd patches which you can also run on all platforms. Imagine a sort of standardized patching format that encourages people to use realtime, generative musical processes.

    Yeah it takes a while to get started with Pd, but I am much happier after essentially making all of my instruments, effects, samplers, etc from scratch. I also know that I can still use all of my patches 20 years from now, unless Pd and all of it's supporters disappear. Say that about most feature-oriented commercial software!

  • @Jonny Stutters

    Exactly. They are already here if you use Pd or SuperCollider in Linux.

    I'm proposing a move toward embedded Linux machines whose dsp we can control. Headless and wearable and portable. Why do manufactures continue to endlessly repeat the keyboard? If it's not analog, I can essentially run it in software on a minimal machine.

    I am still very surprised I can't go to Roland, Korg, etc and buy a hardware midi ai that can play along with me and learn my style of playing. Imagine teaching a small box your style and trading it with you musician friends to jam with? I can see this being possible with open, embedded computers.

  • murray

    gwenhwyfaer: Peter responded to the "strawman" version of your comment because the "strawman" version of your comment is exactly what you said in your original post. You based the ease of using Linux on Slackware and then went on to start lamenting Winblows.

  • I'll be looking at xubuntu soon. Lightweight GUI on top of the ubuntu base (it's how i understand it, right now).

    One thing i'd like to see covered as well is how can we help the developers of linux music software. What do they wish the users would do ?

    I feel as if the dev teams of my favorite softwares are really small. Do they want more devs or they are fine as it is ? I file bug reports whenever i find something.

    Peter Kirn, i find your open mindedness about all platforms to be refreshing. It's nice to hear about various platforms.

  • jvoorhis

    @Dan Wilcox

    Why stop there? In some hypothetical future, Pd is to synthesis software as FPGAs are to synthesis hardware.

  • Denis

    I was wondering about the Freescale guys getting their smartbook to the end-consumer.

  • @jvoorhis

    I agree. It would be great to see more open source hardware based on FPGAs. I have been thinking of doing something along these lines, but they are expensive and it's been a while since my vhdl days in college. It's been simpler to stick to software for now.