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eContact! 11.3 takes a look at open source and its application in the audio and sound world. The issue features an Open Source Travel Guide [wiki] — an open resource in itself — and articles discussing the reasons why and the ways in which people and institutions involved in electroacoustics are using and developing open source tools and environments.

The core essence of Open Source is the belief that information and content should be accessible and individually modifiable as needed or desired.

“Free as in Free Speech” (Richard Stallman)

Growing outwards from this central tenet are numerous branches of interest that cross each other constantly, but at ever-changing angles. For some, the idea of open source leads to (or perhaps emerges out of!) a significant reconsideration of principles of copyright and intellectual property. Miller Puckette, in “Who Owns our Software? A first-person case study,” reflects on some of the implications and real consequences of closed systems, drawn from his own experiences with intellectual property and copyright limitations in software development, experiences which eventually led him to develop the open source software Pd.

For others, open source is the solution — or at least part of it — to designing a more open and flexible creative environment which helps and even encourages its users to create more personal projects or works than would be possible in a traditional “closed” commercial environment. To this end, open source tools are used in such varied institutional environments as Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), the Institut für Elektronische Musik und Akustik (IEM) in Graz and the Norwegian Center for Technology in Music and the Arts (NOTAM). Fernando López-Lezcano’s “Sharing the Source: A very brief history of computing at CCRMA” and IOhannes m zmölnig’s “IEM — Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics” offer excellent examples of how a primarily open source environment can work just as well in an academic or institutional situation as in the individual artist’s workspace. And as Jörn Nettingsmeier describes in “Ardour and Ambisonics: A FLOSS approach to the next generation of sound spatialisation,” a flexible and open system can be of great assistance to the composer in rapidly adapting to virtually any performance system he might encounter.

“Free as in Free Beer” (ibid)

The economic advantages of free (as in “no charge”) software are undeniable and this is a factor which encourages some individuals to transform their workspaces to open source friendly environments. It should, however, be noted that the interest in free- or shareware can stem from social, political and æsthetic beliefs as much as from economic ones, hence Richard Stallman’s distinction of the different possible meanings of “free” in the English term “free software”. For example, Michal Seta’s “Freedom Squared: Free Improvisation in the Free Software World” suggests that there a correlation and mutually beneficial relationship that can be seen between the “open system” that an improvising musician working in the digital domain might develop and the inherent nature of open source software. Approaching the topic from an entirely different direction, Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner finds respite in open source software from the “headache-inducing licensing management schemes, license servers, dongles and node-locked licensing arrangements.” The ease of her migration from a (free) Pro Tools environment to one that uses Ardour as its core is described in “Ardour et al., or Free and Easy Laptop Pro Audio: An Essay Perspective from a desperate working mother composer.”

It quickly becomes clear that the reasons for using open source are as diverse as the degree to which they are ultimately implemented in the individual user’s creative environment. The reasons for not working with open source are possibly just as diverse, but this does not necessarily imply that a fully “closed” system is the only possible result. Ableton co-founder and CEO Gerhard Behles asks, “Is Ableton Open Source?” Although the short answer is “no”, Ableton Live does succeed in providing an inspiring example of a “closed source” software whose design and development closely reflect the diverse and ever-changing needs of its user base.

Free as in “Free Your Mind…” (Funkadelic)

Hesitations to using open source are in some cases the result of unfamiliarity with its potential as a creative tool or with more recent developments in open source and related matters, while in other cases they stem from a belief that getting involved with it necessarily means having to learn to write code and, by extension, write and compile one’s own programmes. Debunking the latter myth in “So What? I Don’t Hack!”, Jörn Nettingsmeier points out that even those with severe “code-phobia” might already be more familiar with open source principles than they think.

Readers wishing to familiarize themselves better with and embark upon a journey into the world of open source are invited to browse through the Open Source Travel Guide [wiki], a new area in the CEC’s wiki created and developed specially for this issue of eContact! The Guide is intended not only as a how-to manual for the new initiate, it should also be a handy resource for the seasoned open-sourcian. The information found in this resource ranges from the technical (what exists, where is it found and what can it do?) to the cultural (who is the community and what “language” do they speak?) sides of open source. A bibliography, or “essential reading list,” functions as a focused “portal” that provides the reader with many useful references to help them navigate within the world of open source. The familiar and friendly tone of the Travel Guide should help even the most nervous or apprehensive traveler feel more than comfortable enough to set out on an open source adventure in a manner and at a tempo that fits their own needs and interests.

Using the CEC’s wiki for this resource made it possible to align the publication of an issue on open source a little more closely to some of the ideals of open source. This area of the wiki was built by the community for the community — in true open source spirit! — and remains open for you, the reader, to contribute to.


A couple of reviews of recent books related to open source are also included in this issue. “FLOSS+Art” (Aymeric Mansoux and Marloes de Valk, Eds.) “critically reflects on the growing relationship between Free Software ideology, open content and digital art” (foreword to the book) and “loadbang: Programming Electronic Music in Pd” (Johannes Kreidler) is the first comprehensive user’s manual published for Pd. And finally, Bob Gluck offers three new entries in the Community Reports column which present overviews of electroacoustic history and activities in Eastern and Southeastern Asia: China, Indonesia and South Korea.

In closing, I can’t thank Jörn Nettingsmeier enough for his invaluable feedback and input as well as for his enthusiastic assistance in researching and developing content for this issue. In addition to the articles and review he contributed to this issue, he not only suggested the idea of a “Travel Guide” for audio applications of open source, but also wrote an important part of the content for the wiki version launched publicly as part of eContact! 11.3.

We hope you enjoy the issue and invite you to participate in the open source portion of this issue by contributing content to the Open Source Travel Guide [wiki]. By sharing your own experiences and input, you, the reader, will help it remain “open” and grow into an even more valuable resource over the coming years.

jef chippewa
30 September 2009

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