I recently discovered a fairly new project that has an interesting take on Linux music production: the Open Octave Project. The goal of Open Octave is to provide an environment for audio and MIDI production specifically for orchestral music and film scoring. What is different about this project - compared to other Linux audio / MIDI solutions - is that the developers don't build a new application from scratch. Instead, the team chose to combine and adapt existing projects into an unified framework. This actually works two ways: in using existing applications, the team doesn't have to reinvent the wheel and can use existing quality tools, and by contributing their efforts back to the original projects, these benefit as well. So what's in store with the Open Octave Project? Let's delve a little deeper:
Open Octave MIDI
Instead of building one huge application, the Open Octave developers have decided to take the best current application for each phase in the music production process and adapt it to fit in the workflow-philosophy of the entire project. Therefore, sections of certain applications that are redundant or overlapping are removed since they will be handled by a different program that is dedicated to the task. For example, the current activity of the project is on Open Octave MIDI. This is a MIDI sequencer derived from Rosegarden 1.7.3. Since the team has decided to use Denemo / LilyPond for this, the notation functionality of Rosegarden is removed. In a similar fashion they took out its audio functionality, because that will be handled by Ardour.
All of these decisions make sense: the core strength of Rosegarden is MIDI; notation and audio are added functionality. And these are the core strengths of Denemo / LilyPond and Ardour respectively. And in addition of taking things out, the Open Octave developers have also added some features to the Rosegarden code in order to increase its usefulness for orchestral writing. The ability to solo per track for example, gives you the ability to quickly single out an instrument. There are also many changes to the editing functionality. You can check out a complete list of changes and additions compared to Rosegarden here.
Another - important - change is that the Open Octave team completely remapped Rosegarden's keys. In the words of the team: "Workflow is king". If you use any application for long times each day, your workflow becomes very important. Switching between keyboard and mouse for example can become very interruptive to your workflow. In some cases it can even cause pain - years ago I developed RSI in my right shoulder from 'excessive mousing'. Since then I've replaced all mice with trackballs or touchpads. But more importantly, I developed the habit of using as many keyboard shortcuts as possible. The ability to keep my hands on the keyboard has improved my productivity greatly (and might well explain my preference for using Vim for all text editing!). By using the similar keymapping for all applications in the Open Octave suite, you greatly increase productivity and as an additional bonus decrease the learning curve of each application.
What's coming up?
As the Open Octave Project is still very young it is difficult to tell where the project will go. Open Octave MIDI is what is currently being developed, but the team does provide a preview as to which application will be adapted for each partial goal:
- audio: Ardour
- notation: Denemo & LilyPond
- sample playback: LinuxSampler
- convolution reverb: Jconv
- overall connectivity: Jack audio connection kit
I haven't used Open Octave yet, but I will keep a close eye on it's development because it looks like a solid application suite, firmly rooted in actual orchestral writing (some of the project members are writers of orchestral music themselves). The ideas behind the project make a lot of sense to me and I hope we'll see more of it soon. There is one strange thing however: the site also includes a (very basic) reference / tutorial on orchestral writing. While useful for absolute beginners, this is not really in keeping with the project's philosophy. There is many excellent introductory (and even advanced/expert) material, so why not refer to that and focus on the application suite instead? (To the teams defense: they do refer to many excellent texts for further reading.) All in all this is a very exiting development in the world of linux music production and it is likely that I will give it a try as soon as the project is a bit further along. If you have any experience with Open Octave, or have other opinions, please share in the comments section.