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AGNULA/DeMuDi - A Distribution for Musicians and Composers

October 6, 2004

This article was contributed by Ladislav Bodnar

When DeMuDi (Debian Multimedia Distribution) was announced in July 2001, it generated considerable interest. Back in those days, playback of many audio and video formats under Linux suffered from two common perceptions: the difficulty in getting many proprietary formats to produce sound and images on a Linux system, and the question of complying with copyright, encryption, and intellectual property laws while doing so. Although the goals of DeMuDi were much less ambitious than initiating legal fights with the powerful music and movie industry players over the rights of Linux users, the project's name and goals sounded sweet to the ears of many who missed the trouble-free playback of audio and video on their previous operating system.

It wasn't long after the initial announcement that the project was renamed to AGNULA (A GNU/Linux Audio Distribution). The term DeMuDi was still used to refer to the Debian-based distribution, which, by then, was joined by a sister sub-project - the Red Hat-based ReHMuDi (Red Hat Multimedia Distribution). This was because AGNULA had received funding worth €1.7 million over 24 months from the European Commission, and several prominent European companies and organizations, including Red Hat France and Free Software Foundation Europe, joined the AGNULA development effort. The objectives of the project also underwent a revision - instead of embracing all of what falls under the term "multimedia", its focus scaled down to cover audio only, with the goal of producing Linux-based operating systems containing software for musicians and composers.

By the time funding by the European Commission ended in April this year, the project produced DeMuDi 1.1.0 (based on Debian Woody) and ReHMuDi 2.0 (based on Red Hat Linux 9), as well as a DeMuDi live CD for presentation purposes. Although these releases did not attract much attention in the Linux media -- perhaps due to the specialist nature of the products -- they were much appreciated by many musicians and composers. This prompted the lead developer to continue working on DeMuDi on a volunteer basis, even after funding by the European Commission dried up. Most of the development is now handled by Andrea Glorioso and Free Ekanayaka of Firenze Tecnologia in Florence, Italy.

Their continued effort resulted in AGNULA/DeMuDi 1.2.0, which was released last week. Unlike the previous version, this one is a much more up-to-date build based on Debian Sarge and complete with a recent Sarge beta installer with all its features, such as hardware autodetection and autoconfiguration, automatic boot manager setup (GRUB), and a selection of journaling file systems. Additionally, this version includes a custom dialog allowing users to choose from a list of specialist audio applications to install. The installer provides another option - a choice between Fluxbox and GNOME 2.6 desktops, recommending the fast Fluxbox for professionals and the easy-to-use GNOME for first-time Linux users.

Once the system is installed and booted, it differs little from most other Linux distribution. However, as soon as you glance under the "Multimedia" and "Audio" menus, you will be quickly reminded about the purpose of this operating system and its usefulness as a comprehensive tool designed to help creative artists. DeMuDi comes with a mind-boggling range of audio tools; here is a brief list of some of the more interesting among them:

  • BEAST/BSE is a GTK+ music composition and modular synthesis application with support for all popular audio formats, such as MIDI, WAV, MP3 and Ogg. Its many features include multitrack editing, real-time synthesis support, 32-bit audio rendering, full duplex support, multiprocessor support, precise timing down to sample granularity, and on demand loading of partial wave files, just to name a few. BEAST/BSE is a fairly complex application, but it comes with excellent help files and a demo project, which is a lot of fun in itself.

  • Cecilia is a Tcl/Tk-based graphical frontend for the sound synthesis and sound processing package Csound. Developed for musicians and sound designers, the software comes with all the traditional sound processing devices such as EQs, compressors, and delays, adapted for anything from "the simplest applications to the wildest imaginable sonic contortions."

  • JACK is a low-latency audio server designed from the ground up for professional audio work. It can connect a number of different applications to an audio device, while allowing them to share audio between themselves. Its clients can run as normal applications or as "plugins".

  • jMax is a Java-based visual programming environment (it requires the Java Virtual Machine) for building interactive real-time music and multimedia applications. It is developed by IRCAM, a research, music production, and educational center located in Paris, France.

  • TkECA is a Tcl/Tk frontend for Ecasound, a software package for multitrack audio processing. It can be used for simple tasks, like audio playback, recording and format conversions, multitrack effect processing, mixing, recording, and signal recycling. TkECA supports all of Ecasound's features in a graphical environment.
The above is just a tip of the iceberg. From DJ's music library software, through mixers, players, recorders and samplers, to specialist drumming and note editing tools - DeMuDi has them all, arranged neatly in hierarchical menus. Investigating all the different applications and trying to get creative with what is available can easily kill an entire weekend. It is hardly surprising that many of these excellent tools have been created by free-minded artists-turned-programmers and released under the GPL for free distribution and use.

DeMuDi is, essentially, the most comprehensive collection of free audio tools for Linux, running on top of a Debian base system. If you've ever thought about putting your musical talent to good use and compose a few original tunes, download the latest version and take a look at what is available. Even if your creation doesn't end up on the Top 40 music charts, DeMuDi is guaranteed to give you hours of free entertainment.

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