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Music of the spheres

Composing music and programming may not be so different to one another. In his 'Passages from the life of a philosopher', Charles Babbage, the creator of the first mechanical computing machine (if you discount the abacus), quoted Elias de Joncourt's 1762 quarto. 'On the nature and Notable Use of the Most Simple Trigonal Numbers', in which de Joncourt asserted:

"Numbers and lines have many charms unseen by vulgar eyes, and only discovered to the unwearied and respectful sons of Art. In features the serpentine line (who starts not at the name) produces beauty and love; and in numbers high powers and humble roots give soft delight."

Zoom The Rosegarden notation editor.
Mathematicians see art in maths, and programmers and musicians impose shape and form on code and sound in search of an elegant solution. Since time began people have found things to bash, strings to pluck and and reeds to blow. There have never been any rules except those imposed by local conventions. Making music, like making art or developing techniques in the art of programming, is an evolutionary process. Parallels and similarities to most pieces of music can be found in other music, and anybody can make some form of music if they are given access to the right tools.

If access to computers and networks have given us the means to copy and distribute recorded works, they have also given us the means to create our own music. If computers and networks have made it possible to take the programming art into the home, they have also taken the black arts of the recording studio closer to the back bedroom, and in so doing, have made the making of music more accessible to greater numbers of people – much as free software has made it easier for 'hobbyist' programmers to join in and test their skills and make a difference.

Tools for GNU / Linux and free software have played their part in this evolution, and Rosegarden is a significant part of the canon, a well structured MIDI / audio sequencer and musical notation editor with a well thought out user interface which has put usability and ease of learning to the fore. There is a wealth of documentation for Rosegarden, including a book, D. Michael McIntyre's Rosegarden Companion, and tutorials.

Beating the drum

A few years ago, the Rosegarden developers produced the ground breaking state of the art music distribution – GNU / Linux, Studio To GO, which used a customised kernel with low-latency patches and Real time LSM. This included Rosegarden and other free software tools to produce a complete creative desktop for composers and musicians.

Studio To Go has since fallen by the wayside, but the slack has been taken up by distributions such as PlanetCCRMA and 64Studio, which has had some success in working with OEMs and system integrators to produce customised systems in commercial environments – and includes Rosegarden alongside a complete range of free software tools for making music.

Cannam has never equated free software with commercial success. "The problem with open-source-as-ideology is that it uses ends and evaluative methods drawn from business and applies them to things that are not business," he told the Linux audio list in 2006.

Dancing to a different beat

He still holds to this view. He works on Rosegarden for its own sake, to satisfy his curiosity and have fun, to please himself and not to compete with anything else or to construct a business model.

"It may or may not be true that open source development can produce better software for the consumer," he says, "but I don't think that that end is a sufficient one for people who are working from choice, for their own enjoyment on inessential software."

"There seem to be two broad models for making money from consumer software: selling the software; or providing a service on the web, usually backed by advertising rather than fees. Selling software in practice seems to require some enforcement of artificial scarcity, perhaps through copyright protection."

"Free software looks to subvert that artificial protection: it seems apparent that you can't reliably sell software if a buyer can legally redistribute it to anyone they know anyway. Is that true? I'm not entirely sure; it might be possible to sell software cheaply that can legally be copied – after all, most buyers don't study closely the differences between legal and illegal copying anyway. But successful examples on desktop platforms are not very common."

"There are certainly a few moderately successful examples of commercial proprietary software on Linux, such as the Pianoteq piano synth or a number of games."

"The current popular alternative way of enforcing artificial scarcity seems to be through restricted digital distribution, like the Apple App Store. The App Store is a copyright enforcement mechanism that seems to be immune to GPL-like attacks, at least from consumers - it doesn't matter what freedoms you try to provide, if consumers have only one practical way to receive software anyway. On the supply side, someone else can still undercut your copyleft distribution with a cheaper distribution of the same thing."

Free software is its own reward.

Next: Finding the pulse

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