damn it feels good to be a (pc) gamer

It’s no secret that, when it comes to gaming, I prefer consoles to PCs — it’s just easier to have a nice black box under the TV that I can shove discs in to without too much hassle, especially when your PC isn’t running Windows anyway — but there’s still the occasional PC game (sometimes with a Linux port, no less) that I would like to run. Unfortunately, my PC hasn’t really been up to scratch, despite being mostly decent (with 4GB of RAM and a Core 2 Duo E8300), but thanks to a few recent upgrades it’s once again capable of playing actual games.
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sonatina symphonic orchestra, a CC orchestral sample pack

For a long time, the free culture world has lacked a decent set of orchestral samples. Various projects have produced or compiled samples of instruments, but often just in their raw form, requiring the user to assemble them in to something useful. It would take a hell of a lot of work to pull in samples from these various sources and turn them in to not just usable instruments, but a usable collection of instruments with a consistent sound, but that’s exactly what Mattias Westlund and some helpers have done, in the form of the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra.

SSO (as I’ll refer to it) covers all the basics: the common brass, woodwind, and string instruments, in sections and as solo instruments, with a few important articulations (like staccato and pizzicato notes on the violin sections, for example), along with piano, chorus, and percussion instruments. They’re all bundled in to a single 440MB download (via BitTorrent) with a Creative Commons Sampling Plus licence, and the instruments themselves are all in SFZ format, so they’re compatible with the current LinuxSampler development code from CVS.

Now, at 440MB, it’s not going to rival VSL (it’s individual instruments are several times as large!), but it’s far better than anything I’ve heard from the traditional free options, such as the Fluid GM library. The demo on the SSO website is well worth a listen: it does show the library’s limitations at times, but it also shows just how good it can sound. Scoring believable orchestral parts is as much in the programming as it is in the sounds themselves, but SSO gives us all a solid, Linux-compatible base to work from.

One last word on Linux compatibility — some of the SFZ files in the collection play a bit loose with the cases on the filenames of the samples they link to, which causes problems when loading them in LinuxSampler. The authors are aware of the issue and I’m sure it’ll be addressed before the next release, but for now, I’ve uploaded a complete set of corrected SFZ files. Extract those over the top of the SFZ files from the distribution, and you shouldn’t get any trouble from LinuxSampler.

mixbus, now on linux!

This has been reported on quite a bit already, so I’m just going to discuss it quickly: Mixbus, an Ardour-derived DAW from Harrison, famous makers of massive analog mixing desks, is now available for Linux. For more info, please check out the excellent posts on the Ardour blog and Create Digital Music.

I’m very happy to see Mixbus on Linux — it sounds like an excellent product. Sonically, Mixbus adds a high-pass filter, EQ, and compressor on each channel, along with four “mix busses” with tone controls, sidechaining, compression, and tape saturation. The real difference, though, is in the workflow: having those simple compressor and EQ functions, and the sends for each of the mix busses, directly at hand on each track lets you dial in adjustments quickly and intuitively, just like you would if you were sitting at a real console.

As someone who still doesn’t have a great grasp on the finer points of mixing and mastering, I could see Mixbus coming in very handy. I might not want to use it as my primary DAW, especially once Ardour 3 hits with is MIDI features, but it would be a simple matter to record all the parts in another DAW, say “it’s mixing time!”, and then dump stems in to Mixbus to make the most of the material I’ve recorded.