When the time came to write a book about Linux music software, Dave Phillips was the obvious choice for author. For the past five years, Phillips has run the Sound and MIDI Software for Linux Web site at www.sound.condorow.net, easily the most complete collection of such information on the Web. The Book of Linux Music and Sound ($39.95) is a 366-page compendium of Phillips's knowledge and offers an excellent overview of the art of making music with Linux.
The book begins with the ins and outs of Linux sound and MIDI driver support. Phillips points out that modern Linux versions automatically detect and install support for sound hardware, yet he dedicates most of that section to describing the low-level details of compiling and loading drivers. The information is complete, correct, and concise. The novice Linux user should try not to be intimidated by the information provided here.
In contrast to the book's complex opener, the introduction to digital music basics is comfortingly simple. Phillips quickly and clearly covers the high-level concepts behind PCM audio, MIDI, FM synthesis, and wavetables. That information will prepare the apprentice electronic musician to understand the remainder of the book.
Most of the remaining material covers, in depth, the best music programs available for Linux by comparing, contrasting, and categorizing them neatly. Phillips devotes chapters to digital-audio players and recorders, sound-file editors, MIDI software, MP3 encoders and players, software synthesizers, notation packages, and even players and editors for the venerable MOD format. Each software package discussed contains a quick but thorough tutorial, information about availability and licensing, the product's Web page, and other useful items.
Later chapters branch out into less traditional software, such as network audio systems, DJ software, and games. Phillips also touches on various packages that run Windows, Mac OS, and DOS operating systems under Linux, and lists programs that work well in these emulation environments.
The Book of Linux Music and Sound also comes with a CD-ROM, which contains copies of almost all of the software discussed in the book, as well as a copy of Phillips's Sound and MIDI Software for Linux Web site from May 2000. It's a great starting point for further Linux exploration on the Web. True to the spirit of Linux itself, the CD provides source code for all software (where licensing permits), so users can build a Linux systems version that can run on virtually any hardware platform.
The only downside to publishing a book about the dynamic world of Linux software is it's out of date before the first copies hit the shelves. Many of the software packages mentioned are still in development - as is Linux itself - so the book and CD-ROM should be considered snapshots of the state of Linux music software in spring 2000. Phillips considers that point and encourages the reader to check his Web site and the various software producers' sites for updates.
The Book of Linux Music and Sound is a great introduction to making music on the increasingly popular Linux platform. Both Linux gurus and experienced electronic musicians will find some of the introductory material a bit basic, but the book succeeds admirably in building a bridge between those two camps. Anyone interested in making new music in adventurous ways should check out Linux, and this book is an excellent place to start.