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GNU is Not Unix It's funny.  Laugh. Music Linux

Frank Zappa's Influence On Linux and FOSS Development 195

Roblimo writes "Zappa's 'Dinah-Moe Hummm' is totally about Linux, at least in spirit, while the song 'Montana,' with its talk of zirconium-encrusted tweezers and dental floss, 'is obviously about Mac users.' Not only that: In the early '70s Zappa wrote a song called 'Penguin in Bondage,' an obvious foretelling of the anti-Linux lawsuits and threats from SCO, Microsoft, and other evildoers. Zappa was also a heavy user of the Synclavier, an electronic music machine that was a precursor to today's 'studio on a computer' recording and sound editing software. According to an article on DevX, today Zappa would no doubt be using Linux and Ardour for most of his recording and composition."
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Frank Zappa's Influence On Linux and FOSS Development

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:25PM (#32450202)

    Zappa was also a heavy user of the Synclavier, an electronic music machine that was a precursor to today's 'studio on a computer' recording and sound editing software.

    What does this have to do with anything at all? The synclavier was not open source or Linux based. Also, the synclavier did not lead to any FOSS music production tools. In fact, even now, the vast majority of studio work is done on mac OS or windows. How does this synclavier relate to the point they are trying to make? Sounds to me like they are drawing correlations that do not exist.

  • by Purity Of Essence ( 1007601 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:35PM (#32450294)

    You can definitely acquire a taste for Frank's music. As a young teen, the first time I listened to Zappa I didn't really like it at all, except for a couple jokey tracks like Valley Girl and Jewish Princess. Those appealed to my Dr. Demento mentality but not much else. Later as a adult with much more musical experience, I could appreciate it much more and it began to grow on me like a fungus. For the last fifteen years or so it's been almost the only contemporary music I can tolerate.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:35PM (#32450302)

    Ardour is embedded in some of the products by Harrison Consoles, like the Xdubber ( ).

    You might have had issues with it, but there are a number of Linux based pro studios, and Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) is not only Linux based, but provides an audiocentric spin of Fedora that I have found to be very stable. ( )

    As for problems with a USB-based audio interface, well, you get what you pay for!! I run 16 tracks of input using 2 MAudio Delta 1010 interfaces and I've done hours of recordings with no issues.

    Frank was always interested in new tech - he was one of the first adopters of the Synclavier, and released an entire album of the 18th century Italian composer Francesco Zappa's music performed entirely on that machine.

    I'd like to think Frank would have loved the open source movement and been an enthusiastic supporter. We'll never get to find out, sadly.

  • by elgo ( 1751690 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:38PM (#32450340)

    According to an article on DevX, today Zappa would no doubt be using Linux and Ardour for most of his recording and composition.

    ...I would wager that Zappa's thirst for this kind of mixing would lead him to the industry standard: Pro Tools []. I highly doubt a professional musician would stray from that but if Zappa dumped some cash into Ardour development and increased its support then maybe.

    You highly doubt a professional musician would stray from Pro Tools? What about Logic Studio, Digital Performer, SONAR, and the reams of other Digital Audio Workstaitons? Many professionals use these as well, often integrated with Digidesign's high-end TDM hardware. Logic in particular destroys Pro Tools in terms of features and price and many are making the switch. Pro Tools' integration with Digidesign's proprietary hardware has become a handicap in the prosumer price range particularly, as Digidesign's hardware is trounced, in terms of features and sound quality, by other less expensive offerings.

    But right now, audio recording on Linux isn't the greatest. Pro Tools is often augmented with dedicated hardware ... I am unaware of how you would do this with Ardour. I also have had one hell of a time trying to get a dual core processor with plenty of ram to record in Linux and also play back what you're recording on top of several tracks without delay. In my hobby projects, I have given up on audio recordings in Linux although I must say I was impressed with Ubuntu Studio [] when I was trying to layer guitar tracks a few years ago. It just seemed that the audio bus could not keep up when recording through my M-Audio USB input box ...

    That might be where your problem lies. M-Audio's hardware is worse than Digidesign's (although they are the same company) ! All kidding aside though, M-Audio driver support for Linux is sketchy. My M-Audio Delta 1010LT works beautifully under Linux with the ICE driver. It requires some configuration, but so does setting up a digital audio workstation in OSX or Windows - especially Windows. Also, latency and the like depends on the distro you're using. The reality is that Linux has tons of free audio software, and could easily be used to replace my Logic Pro setup, except for the lack of commercial plugins and sound libraries. As this is fixed, Linux will be more viable.

    Like a lot of things in Linux it could have been a configuration error but I spent a lot of time on that. Unfortunately, all musicians are not computer savvy and they certainly do not like messing around with getting software working in the studio.

    Good point. Once Linux is packaged well for musicians and audio professionals, I believe it could supersede Windows as the #2 platform for digital audio. Then again, in 10 years, maybe Haiku will be up there as well, with its BeOS underpinnings. For a good example of what Ardour can do/be when combined with proprietary DSP, check out Harrison Mixbus. [] It is under $100 (or was last time I checked) and features that Harrison sound combined with Ardour's power. It is OSX-only at the moment, but it will be available for Linux eventually. I've already used Mixbus to mix a few projects via Logic; once it is available for Linux it will replace Ardour as my main Linux DAW of choice.

  • by Purity Of Essence ( 1007601 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:42PM (#32450398)

    I suggest starting with something tame like Hot Rats. Work your way through Apostrophe and Overnite Sensation and then You Are What You Is and One Size Fits All. If you've stuck with it that far, take on Joe's Garage and you'll be ready for almost anything Zappa can throw at you.

  • by Roblimo ( 357 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @05:06PM (#32450710) Homepage Journal

    Of *course* it's all absurd.

    But how about this: if you go to the forums on and search for Linux, you get 76 results, and only 29 each for Windows and Mac.

    This proves something -- something silly, no doubt, but still something (or other).

    - R

  • Pick and choose (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SIGBUS ( 8236 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @05:22PM (#32450902) Homepage

    In many Zappa albums, there are some tracks that are all-time favorites of mine, and others that I just can't stand. There are only a few albums of his that I can play through without interruption -- Hot Rats, the Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar series, Apostrophe ('), and Over-Nite Sensation come to mind.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Thursday June 03, 2010 @05:36PM (#32451074) Journal

    While Linux is not ready for prime time when it comes to professional recording/mixing chores, it is extremely useful in professional and project studios.

    Besides acting as a sample-server and archiving system, it works great for offloading real-time effects processing and rendering duties.

    I'm a big fan of Cockos' Reaper in place of ProTools, and Reaper has a technology called "ReaMote" which allows you to use a Linux system to handle real-time effects and virtual instrument (VSTi) over gigabit ethernet. Not only is Reaper much more stable than ProTools, but with ReaMote and a Linux box, I can have a dozen instances of Omnisphere playing simultaneously without having to "freeze" the tracks to save cycles.

    I've tried doing complete projects on Linux only and I just hate the way it handles audio hardware. Jack is a nightmare. But in its proper role, Linux is an essential part of a working studio.

  • by garyisabusyguy ( 732330 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @05:58PM (#32451384)

    Maybe... just maybe they can lay a claim that prior exposure to Zappa albums may make a person more likely to adopt Linux...

    For instance, my early years of tripping to Billy The Mountain while playing Risk might, just might, have made it easier for me to accept software packages that sings its own tune, an os that requires text file manipulation to properly use a display adapter and made me willing to install Linux on a Sparc10 even though it took me a couple of weeks to replace the Sun bitmap with a penguin

    So there you go, prepare for a career in Linux by receiving brain damage while listening to Zappa

  • by Yergle143 ( 848772 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @06:13PM (#32451578)

    Weird just means art doesn't it. One of the most funny things I've noticed in this world is that "artistic" types who go to a gallery and blather on and on about the "freedom" of Picasso, and Jackson Pollock will positively run in terror from music that violates 32 bar AABA song structure. So Zappa is how much weird, he's kind of weird? But you know whenever I feel blue, I put on "Trout Mask Replica", (not Zappa but close) laugh my ass off, and am able to proceed mightily through this world which is much much weirder than Frank Zappa. [] []

  • by chub_mackerel ( 911522 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @06:16PM (#32451620)

    Yes, Acquiring a taste for Zappa can be done, even for the uninitiated/unsuspecting.

    When I was in college I had a cassette with "Thing Fish" on it, and my roommate accidentally took it home with him for summer break. He got a delivery job that summer. The company truck had a cassette deck in it but no CD player. Since my roommate had no cassettes, he decided to give "Thing Fish" a listen (or three). Once he started listening to it he really loved it. This is a guy who previously had pretty mainstream musical tastes.

    So I'd say as long as you're open to the weirdness and not too easily offended, you should give it a shot.

  • Re:Nah. (Score:0, Interesting)

    by black88 ( 559855 ) <> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @06:31PM (#32451812) Journal

    He did however foresee this eventuality, see the following, from "The Real Frank Zappa Book" :

    We propose to acquire the rights to digitally duplicate and store THE BEST of every record company's difficult-to-move Quality Catalog Items [Q.C.I.], store them in a central processing location, and have them accessible by phone or cable TV, directly patchable into the user's home taping appliances, with the option of direct digital-to-digital transfer to F-1 (SONY consumer level digital tape encoder), Beta Hi-Fi, or ordinary analog cassette (requiring the installation of a rentable D-A converter in the phone itself . . . the main chip is about $12).

    All accounting for royalty payments, billing to the customer, etc. would be automatic, built into the initial software for the system.

    The consumer has the option of subscribing to one or more Interest Categories, charged at a monthly rate, without regard for the quantity of music he or she decides to tape.

    Providing material in such quantity at a reduced cost could actually diminish the desire to duplicate and store it, since it would be available any time day or night.

    Monthly listings could be provided by catalog, reducing the on-line storage requirements of the computer. The entire service would be accessed by phone, even if the local reception is via TV cable.

    The advantage of the TV cable is: on those channels where nothing ever seems to happen (there's about 70 of them in L.A.), a visualization of the original cover art, including song lyrics, technical data, etc., could be displayed while the transmission is in progress, giving the project an electronic whiff of the original point-of-purchase merchandising built into the album when it was 'an album', since there are many consumers who like to fondle & fetish the packaging while the music is being played. In this situation, Fondlement & Fetishism Potential [F.F.P.] is supplied, without the cost of shipping tons of cardboard around.

    We require a LARGE quantity of money and the services of a team of mega-hackers to write the software for this system. Most of the hardware devices are, even as you read this, available as off-the-shelf items, just waiting to be plugged into each other so they can put an end to "THE RECORD BUSINESS" as we now know it.

  • by Spiked_Three ( 626260 ) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @07:32PM (#32452466)
    Your list of software identifies you as a pro-sumer at best. Seriously, every pro uses pro tools, and nothing else has better than 2% of the market. The difference is in what you call a pro - a dude playing sax on the street corner had some money thrown into his case, is he a pro? I think not. You buddy that plays a gig at the local bar, is he a pro - I think not. Someone who spends a minimum of $10,000 to get an album recorded and produced, is he a pro - probably, and the odds are better than 98 to 1 he used pro tools in the process. I've seen over $14,000 spent on 30 year old analog channel strips restored from old consoles, you think those guys are going to run an open source program? Linux may make it to a home studio level someday - it has a long way to go now, but it will never in a million years make it to a professional studio.
  • Zappa was a Pro... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 03, 2010 @10:53PM (#32453982)

    1. Take the current industry standard for PROFESSIONAL recording studios (not hobbiest or indi guys on a budget).
    2. Add custom hardware and software from the top engineers in the industry.

    THAT's what Zappa would be using. That's what Zappa has always used, dating back to the mid 1960s. You can find numerous references to his custom recording boards and equipment in assorted online archives. Doesn't the Zappa website have pictures of his homestudio?

    Zappa was a professional, a perfectionist and a business man. He didn't waste time on fads or tolerate incompetence (in people or hardware/software). He relied exclusively on experts (musical or otherwise) to execute is particular vision.

    "Arf!" she said.

As Will Rogers would have said, "There is no such things as a free variable."