The composer's toolbox

What other apps and distros do you use to round out your studio?

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The Aviv
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The composer's toolbox

Post by The Aviv »

In this thread, I would like to discuss the optimal toolset and workflow for composition.

Composition comprises of two stages:

(1) scoring
(2) production

A composer is expected to create two distinct but related products:

(1) the score
(2) the audio

Scoring is the process by which a composer represents the music in its high-level form, a preliminary step useful in its own right. As a product used by performers, the composer is judged by his ability to capture the music in its most elegant structure (making the best possible compromise between the essence of the piece and its intricate details).

Production is the process by which the composer generates the intended output, the sound - the product the vast majority of the audience is interested in. If the composer fails to accomplish this step correctly, what would otherwise be a masterpiece could go unnoticed. Imagine Beethoven living in today's age, writing his 5th Symphony on MuseScore, and releasing it on YouTube, with the audio rendered from the scorewriter's default output. We all know what that would sound like (and if you don't, try it). I imagine he wouldn't get many views - and of the views he would get, most of them would be dislikes. It is a must for a composer to be a skillful producer. This has always been the case. After completing the final score of a symphony, the composer's next step was to instruct the orchestra on how to properly reproduce the opus in sound.

During the common practice era, the audio took the form of performance - which was often done by the composer himself. For example, in the early stages of his career, Beethoven's work was mainly for the piano, for which he rapidly developed a reputation as a virtuoso. In its grandest scale, performance involves the composer playing the largest instrument around, the symphony orchestra.

By the 20th century, however, a major revolution occurred upon Thomas Edison's invention of the phonograph. For the first time in history, it became possible to encapsulate audio in an object - referred to as a recording. What the printing press was to language, recording became to audio. Just like the printing press made it possible to disseminate works of language in masses, recording made it possible to offer works of audio in heaps and piles (and works of audio, as we know, predominantly took the form of music).

The storage medium for sound first made its debut as the phonograph cylinder - which quickly evolved to the phonograph record - and then to tape - and then compact disc - and finally, nowadays, exists (and is distributed) in its pure information form, the soundfile.

I was introduced to my current toolset and workflow by Peter Schaffter in his excellent MuseScore tutorial.

My current toolset consists of:
  • sound server: JACK (QjackCtl)
  • scorewriter: MuseScore
  • sampler: LinuxSampler (JSampler)
  • sample library: Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra
As for the sample library, I know most Linux musicians employ:
  • sample library: ad-hoc collection
I will get around to doing the same (although I would prefer if there was a collaborative effort to create a centralized library, for everybody to use and contribute to, in the Linux way-of-doing-business).

I know that experienced users around here regard Laborejo as the optimal scorewriter. I haven't tried it yet.

I understand TheSafePlaces uses at least:
  • sound server: JACK
  • scorewriter: Lilypond (Laborejo)
  • sampler: LinuxSampler (QSampler)
  • sample library: ad-hoc version of an old Komplete 5 orchestral library
Nils Gey, based on his testing of SSO (Experiment 1, 2 and 3), uses:
  • sound server: JACK
  • session manager: Non Session Manager
  • scorewriter: Lilypond (Laborejo)
  • sampler: Calfbox (LisaloQt)
  • sample library: Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra
  • reverb: zita-rev1
  • recorder: jack_capture
  • mixer: Non Mixer
I also came across Brett W. McCoy, who uses:
  • sound server: JACK
  • scorewriter: Lilypond (Frescobaldi)
  • sequencer: Rosegarden
  • samplers and sample libraries: Windows machine running commercial samplers and sample libraries
  • workstations: Ardour and Mixbus
  • mastering interface: Jamin
Please expand, correct any mistakes I made, and let us know what you use.

I would also like to discuss the philosophy behind the artist's toolbox:

A good toolset is:

(1) easily assembled, and easily reproducible if lost
(2) as minimal as possible (without sacrificing quality) (i.e. elegant)

A reliable tool:

(1) has a site
(2) is maintained in a personal package archive
(3) is maintained in a major repository
(4) has a large userbase
(5) has a Wikipedia article

Userbase: When selecting a tool of a certain type, weight should be given to the one with the largest userbase (as the larger the userbase, the greater the probability of reliability). What are the majority of practitioners doing? What is the standard?

By the way, I intend to summarize all the information I gather here in our wiki. I encourage you to join me in doing so.
Last edited by The Aviv on Sat Jul 13, 2013 5:34 am, edited 2 times in total.

Alwaysanewb
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Re: The composer's toolbox

Post by Alwaysanewb »

It's music your kind of over complicating things. The only thing you really need to compose music is your brian. Having a voice helps and if you have a musical instrument then your living the dream. People make it out to be rocket science but you get children walking around humming and singing songs they wrote to themselves and if you here one of them do it normally is pretty good.

TheSafePlaces
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Re: The composer's toolbox

Post by TheSafePlaces »

Maybe I'm nitpicking, but scorewriting (and Lilypond) is only one half of Laborejo. The other half is sequencing, so technically it comes under the 'Sequencer+Scorewriter' category...nothing major though.

I'm sort of missing the point of this thread, though...and am unconvinced as to how it would help the wiki. :S

If I can be convinced of the benefits, I'd gladly summarize it and add it to the wiki, as I'm currently working my way through a gradual total-wiki-content overhaul.

Alwaysanewb - I'd say that what you say applies only to creation and performance of acoustic music. It's can get pretty complex even in that domain (if you want), but production of acoustic music and creation, performance and production of electronic music, are fields which IMHO get freaking huge and complicated very fast :?

Just my two cents.
Looking for the ideal distro. NixOS?
Newbie composer, somewhat-experienced classical guitarist.
Largely known as HisaoNakai/contrapunctus on IRC and other places.

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The Aviv
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Re: The composer's toolbox

Post by The Aviv »

TheSafePlaces wrote: Maybe I'm nitpicking, but scorewriting (and Lilypond) is only one half of Laborejo. The other half is sequencing, so technically it comes under the 'Sequencer+Scorewriter' category...nothing major though.
According to my understanding, most scorewriters have sequencing capabilities. It is part of the scorewriter's arsenal of features. Therefore, it should be understood that a scorewriter may be employed as a sequencer in a given pipeline. Whether it is or not can be ascertained by looking at the breakdown of the chain. For example, in Brett W. McCoy's case, Rosegarden is used as a sequencer (presumably because his scorewriter does not provide that function, or does not provide it adequately). Notice that Rosegarden is a workstation, but McCoy uses it as a sequencer - hence the reason it is described as such in his chain. Different tools overlap in functionality. As tools evolve, they tend to adapt accessory features. A tool should be described elegantly based on its primary purpose. Listing all the little functions is not elegant.
TheSafePlaces wrote: I'm sort of missing the point of this thread, though...and am unconvinced as to how it would help the wiki. :S
I am sorry. I will be more clear. The point of this thread is for me to figure out the optimal toolset and workflow for composition - a question that I imagine is not just of interest to me, but to most (if not all) composers around here (at least it should be). Stated differently, I'm basically asking,

What is everybody else doing?
Why are you using this and not that?
Should I be doing what you're doing?


I'm asking people to accurately share their toolchains. I want to inquire about the various pipelines. I want to learn more about the knowledge, practices, and tools of the trade. I want to figure out what is best, what is optimal - I am always concerned about making optimal choices.

If I'm not mistaken, that's what a guild (such as ours) is for.

TheSafePlaces, is there anything you can add to what I gathered about your toolbox?

(By the way, as a note to everyone, you can find out a little bit more about me in my greeting post.)
Alwaysanewb wrote: It's music your kind of over complicating things. The only thing you really need to compose music is your brian. Having a voice helps and if you have a musical instrument then your living the dream. People make it out to be rocket science but you get children walking around humming and singing songs they wrote to themselves and if you here one of them do it normally is pretty good.
Precision, my friend, is what makes the difference between between good and great. An artist with limited attention to detail will be shorthanded in how accurately he is able to convey his most inner and intimate thoughts. Peter Jackson did not complete projects like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by being careless about the tools he used. Far from it: He always tries to push the limits. That's what makes his movies stand out. That's why Michelangelo's statues and paintings still stun us to this day. That's how Beethoven attained the pinnacle of known music.

As Thomas Edison frankly pointed out, "Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration."

We can agree to disagree. Let's not hold a discussion over this. But I know very well that an artist's tools matter very much. Choice in resources makes a huge difference. If an artist is nonoptimal with his toolset, how optimal would he be with his art?

Anyway, enough of this.

Alwaysanewb, why don't you share with us your pipeline?

StudioDave
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Re: The composer's toolbox

Post by StudioDave »

I use only a few applications for my music, most of which falls into the categories of original songs, MIDI compositions, and computer-generated electroacoustic pieces.

For songwriting I just record with Ardour, usually with percussion loops. I can play guitar and bass, and I can do my own vocals, so that process is all pretty straightforward, typical live recording scenarios. My songs are simple, and I keep the arrangements simple as well. Which is a good thing, because I'm an impatient mixer (and it shows in my recordings).

I've been working with MIDI software since 1986, I use a MIDI sequencer to compose "pitches & rhythms" pieces for virtual instrumental ensembles defined in QSynth and processed by a CALF reverb plugin. The ensembles are formed with common "classical" instruments, e.g. piano, violin, flute, bassoon, etc. Sometimes that music is notated via LilyPond, but I'm lazy about score production. I often record my MIDI pieces with ecasound (via a custom script) and later import the soundfile to Ardour for mastering.

The bulk of my machine-centric music has been created with Csound and its many user interfaces, ranging from direct programming in Csound's scoring language to extensive use of GUIs and front-ends. For the past few years I've been working with a Csound-based audio/visual production environment called AVSynthesis. Pieces rendered in AVS are used sometimes wholecloth and sometimes piecemeal, always with Ardour in the final role of arranger/mixer.

I also use other music/sound languages such as SuperCollider3 and Pure Data. However, sound objects created with those systems typically end up as material for further processing by AVSynthesis.

A broad view, but a fair summary of my work patterns.

HTH,

dp

TheSafePlaces
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Re: The composer's toolbox

Post by TheSafePlaces »

The Aviv wrote: What is everybody else doing?
Why are you using this and not that?
Should I be doing what you're doing?
Heh. :D After some thinking and reflecting on past incidents in Linux audio land, I guess I can see why this discussion is needed. It might even be, for some folks I know, vital. However, I'd suggest not adding anything to the wiki just yet. The wiki IMHO is for 'known stuff' - the general knowledge of the community, which is more or less evolved through discussion on forums and IRCs. Let consensus for different workflows for different styles of music evolve here, then add those conclusions to the wiki page on workflows. I will edit it for tone etc if required.

I'd classify Laborejo as a sequencer-scorewriter all the same. I haven't used Rosegarden. But Laborejo aims to be a score-centric sequencer. The scorewriters I have tried (Musescore and Sibellius) certainly don't offer this level of control over MIDI and playback, and this much separation between the score and MIDI output - because they are, as they say, 'scorewriters with playback', not 'score-centric sequencers'. I can bounce playback from Laborejo->qsampler straight to Ardour. I can polish the 'performance' (MIDI) exactly how I want, without affecting the final score. This was not possible, or not practically possible, with other solutions, IIRC.

Additions to my workflow -
I use xjadeo for film score works. Ardour3.2's video timeline insists on converting to a sync-friendly-but-storage-unfriendly format, which I, with a limited HDD, cannot yet afford.

I use Ardour to bounce audio from Laborejo->LS. Laborejo, despite it's great potential and revolutionary interface and featureset, is at the moment not an efficient program at all. CPU/memory footprint is negligible (on a 2.30 GHz 2nd gen core i5 with 3 gigs of RAM, though; never checked exact CPU/RAM usage), and if you are working with small scores and solo instruments/small ensembles, you'll not have any issues. However, if you're scoring for orchestra, staff (track) loading and unloading times become noticeable. Long scores become problematic too - I once tried to write a test file with 200 empty measures in it and that file never opened again. 50 bars long orchestral music has proven to be fine, but I'll always try to keep it under a 100 bars, and make backups often.

There's the Laborejo Collection Manager, which fixes these issues by (as far as I understand; haven't gotten around to trying it yet) stitching files together for Lilypond and MIDI output. It's useful for, say, multi-movement works, but when you have one long file (like a film score), it only seems like an inelegant fix.

So till the time of Laborejo v1.0 when these performance issues are (hopefully) fixed, I have to bounce to Ardour and piece things together there.

To sync Laborejo's playback with Ardour's (such that the piece Laborejo's playing starts at the spot in the film I want it to, as opposed to starting from the beginning), I have to add a 'master track' in Laborejo (it is a special kind of track in Laborejo - doesn't print, and controls playback.), and add silence offsets to it. It's a bit of work - the silence values (measured in quarter notes), while not cumbersome to manage, have to match the bar/meter/tempo setup in Ardour exactly for the music to start in the required place, and screwing something up in between can be painful. But it works for now. Waiting for v1.0.
Looking for the ideal distro. NixOS?
Newbie composer, somewhat-experienced classical guitarist.
Largely known as HisaoNakai/contrapunctus on IRC and other places.

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The Aviv
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Re: The composer's toolbox

Post by The Aviv »

Thank you StudioDave and TheSafePlaces.
TheSafePlaces wrote: I'd suggest not adding anything to the wiki just yet. The wiki IMHO is for 'known stuff' - the general knowledge of the community, which is more or less evolved through discussion on forums and IRCs. Let consensus for different workflows for different styles of music evolve here, then add those conclusions to the wiki page on workflows. I will edit it for tone etc if required.
I question such an attitude. The motto in Wikipedia is "Be bold!" Everybody is encouraged to add their two cents, and help improve in whatever minor way they can. A great wiki is built bit by bit. With such comments, you are potentially discouraging users from contributing to our community guidebook. First of all, it's better to have something than nothing. As it stands, our wiki currently doesn't offer much, "known" or unknown - and the last thing you'd want to do is tell someone to hold off on sharing whatever little they gathered. What for? If one finds inaccurate information, one can easily correct. A wiki is a work-in-progress. The approach you are suggesting is a mistake. Our wiki will grow far faster (and reflect on the general knowledge of the community far more accurately), if people around here are assured to "Be bold!" I wouldn't add anything that I wouldn't find useful. As a newcomer to Linux audio, I can tell you, centralization of knowledge is lacking (and would be valued). Perhaps the outlook here needs to change.

Now, back to music, nitpicking a little, I notice you write "Sequencer+Scorewriter" instead of the other way around ("Scorewriter+Sequencer"). Doesn't scorewriting come before sequencing? Or, is it that sequencing is a more dominant function of Laborejo? On the same note, I was also wondering what you mean by "KXStudio+UbuntuStudio 12.04" in your footnote: Do you have a dual-boot of the KXStudio distribution along with Ubuntu Studio? Or do you mean Ubuntu Studio 12.04 with KXStudio PPAs?

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AnthonyCFox
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Re: The composer's toolbox

Post by AnthonyCFox »

I never learned to use any of the monolithic DAWs so Ardour seems very awkward and complicated. NON on the other hand is simple, light weight and intuitive. And being modular, maximum screen real estate is available for sequencing when I'm doing that, for audio editing when that's what I'm working on, etc.

So, this is my studio:
1. Non-Session-Manager: Fast, lightweight, and intuitive session management.
2. Non-Sequencer: While I can work with standard notation I don't have a pressing need to do so and Non-Sequencer is the lightest weight, most intuitive sequencer I can find.
3. Non-Mixer: What else is there? Jack-Mixer? Ugh.
4. Non-Timeline: For a dedicated app for recording and editing it's the only real choice, AFAIK.
5. Carla: Host for native Linux plugins and a patchbay. It's the best patchbay available and one day (we hope) it will fully support non-native plugins also.
6. Festige: Host for Windows VSTs.
7. AmpliTube 3 (WinVST): Short of spending $2K on a dedicated hardware guitar amp and effects emulator it's the best, IMO.
8. Sforzando (WinVST): This is a temporary solution for playing samples. I'm happy with it for the moment but eventually I'll want Kontakt. I have a spare laptop and soon I'll see if I can run Kontakt in windoze on it, controlling it with NON on my primary machine through netjack. If that doesn't work there's QMidiNet -> ipMIDI.
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TheSafePlaces
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Re: The composer's toolbox

Post by TheSafePlaces »

The Aviv - Eh. I meant that in context of this thread - don't add stuff to the wiki immediately, wait till answers here mature. Where on earth did I ask anyone to stop writing anything in the wiki? :| Everyone's free to...like they always were. And I too advocate centralization of Linux audio info - that is why I suggested the two wikis be merged (which, thanks to raboof, rgareus and so many others, was carried out), and that is why I'm editing the wiki to make it more organized, easy-to-read, exhaustive, and up-to-date, so that it may be used as a central 'established-knowledge' base for all things Linux audio.

As for the second part - it was a fluke, I wasn't really alluding to any order. Of course scorewriting comes before sequencing (although in case of a Laborejo user, one could say that it is simultaneous...although technically even in Laborejo it makes more sense if the user takes care of composition first, orchestration second, and MIDI performance _after_ all that...).

Lastly - it's the latter - UbuntuStudio 12.04 with the KXStudio PPAs.

AnthonyCFox - Interesting. What sort of music work do you usually do with that setup?
Last edited by TheSafePlaces on Thu Jul 18, 2013 5:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
Looking for the ideal distro. NixOS?
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AnthonyCFox
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Re: The composer's toolbox

Post by AnthonyCFox »

TheSafePlaces wrote:AnthonyCFox - Interesting. What sort of music work do you usually do with that setup?
I'm working on my first project after a 15 year hiatus. I used to have a hard rock/heavy metal style (ala ZZTop, Scorpions, Judas Priest) but now I listen mostly to jazz fusion (Frank Gambale, Chick Corea, Weather Report) so I'm heading in that direction, but I'm also incorporating my love of fantasy/dark fantasy. The piece I'm working on is called "Bulletproof Orc" and begins with a couple of gunshots and a monster growl to set the mood; it's in D harmonic minor with acoustic drums, bass guitar, piano and a fairly high-gain guitar.

I intend on pushing my skills far beyond anything I've ever done, and coming off 15 years of not playing, this first piece is taking quite awhile.
War, crime, disease, starvation, extreme poverty; these are serious things.
Music? Not so serious. Have some fun! :D

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