Saturday, July 22, 2006

Exclusive: Ardour Developer Interview (Sampo Savolainen)

Sampo Savolainen is a developer for the Ardour project, an open source digital audio workstation for Linux and Mac OSX (with a Windows version in the works).

Thanks for doing an interview with Linux Rock Star! I've really enjoyed using Ardour, an application to which you contribute as a coder. I understand you're a programmer and a musician?

No problem. I'm glad you like Ardour.

I am a programmer by day and play keyboards by night. I'm in a Helsinki based power-punk-pop band called Garage Flower ( I also engineer most of our bands' recordings and do that for a few other bands as well. Using Ardour, of course.

To be honest though, I'm also a programmer by night. After my work day is finished Paul Davis and the other developers are just starting their day on the other side of the pond. :)

How long have you worked on Ardour?

I started using Ardour myself in 2004. Back then the development was focused mostly on features. I started using Ardour and bumped into some bugs. Irritated by the issues, I started creating patches for Ardour. Eventually Paul offered me CVS access, probably only because he got tired of applying the plethora of patches I kept sending him.

What is your role on the Ardour team?

I focus mainly on quality. I enjoy squashing bugs. :)

The only "features" I've implemented in ardour so far are few. The main feature is the SSE assembler code for speeding things up on x86. I'm also responsible for the FFT analysis window in (the upcoming) 2.0 version.

What made you decide to get involved with an opensource project?

Simply put, I wanted Ardour to work for me.

Will the new version (2.00) of Ardour support VSTi instruments?


Ardour got selected as a project for the Google summer of code. Dave Robillard got the job of doing MIDI for Ardour. By the end of the summer, Ardour should have rudimentary MIDI support. This means that Ardour will be able to record and send MIDI, but we still have to design and implement proper editing for MIDI.

With MIDI comes also VSTi support, as VSTi plugins are only VST plugins with a MIDI port.

Does Ardour support VST patch banks? Can people load presets? (I've noticed this feature lacking in FST and DSSI-VST, presumably because it's a host function?)

VST chunks are not supported by Ardour. We have our own mechanism for plugin presets. Alas, some VST plugins use chunks in ways which make them difficult or impossible to use without chunk support. Ardour supports presets for all plugin types (currently LADSPA and VST). But Ardour doesn't support presets for "plugin chains". In Ardour, a plugin preset consists of the settings for one plugin. We don't
currently have a scheme for saving presets for a set or chain of plugins. You can however copy or cut and paste multiple plugins within one session.

Is there some controversy with including VST support? Doesn't it use the non-opensource code from Steinberg?

Yes and no. We only use a header file from Steinberg's VST development kit. The header allows us to make sense and communicate properly with a binary (compiled) VST plugin. Also, compiling Ardour with VST support is perfectly legal.

The problem stems from not being able to redistribute the VST header file. The VST development kit license from Steinberg prohibits anyone from redistributing any part of the development kit. This means that we can't package the VST header file with Ardour. We (or anyone else) can't distribute binaries built with VST support because under the GPL we must be able to provide the full source code for the program.

(For the people who aren't programmers, you should think of a header file as the index of a book. The index tells you what is in the book and where in that book you can find what you are looking for. It doesn't tell you the plot, but it does reveal quite a bit of it's structure.).

Have you heard of anyone using Ardour in a professional studio setting yet?

Many people do and many have done so for years. For example:

Mirror Image Recording Studios in Minnesota, MI ( has been using Ardour for recording sessions since 2004. Their involvement with Ardour has been the subject of an article on SoS (

Harrison/GLW ( is using Ardour as a part of their new product line. Here's a picture of the product from the NAB conference in April 2006:

How can the end user contribute?

In my opinion, the best way to contribute is to tell us what you like and don't like about Ardour. If you run into a bug, tell us. If you think Ardour doesn't fit your work flow, come talk to us. If you have a compelling case, we just might make Ardour fit your needs better!

Also, reporting bugs is a very important way to contribute. You shouldn't just wait for a bug to get fixed. The more active you are, the sooner the bug will be fixed.

And of course, one shouldn't forget to mention the donation button on ;)

What do you think of Linux as a music platform (past, present, future)

The past of Linux audio is filled with a lot of very interesting sketches for applications, but not many of them were "production quality". I took my first serious look at linux audio software in around 1999. At that time there were quite a lot of promising projects, but they had compilation issues and realtime support hadn't really matured yet. It was quite daunting even for a "veteran" Linux user.

Today we have many wonderful applications and it's more than possible to produce music on Linux. We have standards for plugins, jackd for audio plumbing and transport, a plethora of libraries to help development and proper realtime rights management is just about to hit the mainstream distributions.

All of this is making Linux an easier platform for both audio users and developers. For a long time now Linux has had really good realtime performance but it has been inaccessible to normal (non-root) users without kernel patches and a lot of hassle. When this gets easier (and adopted into all distributions), we should be seeing more users and hopefully Linux audio will become accessible also to less technical

The technologies I'm waiting for currently are LASH and LV2.

LASH makes it possible to store complicated inter application setups. With LASH you can save the state of all applications at once. It makes it possible to restore a complicated multi-application session with only a few clicks of a mouse - LASH even takes care of launching the applications.

LV2 is the upcoming plugin standard. It does not bring anything new to LADSPA by itself, except for a wonderful model of adding abilities (extensions) to the plugin system without endangering compatibility with hosts / plugins. This means that new features can be rapidly tested and deployed with plugins and that widely adopted extensions will get standardized.

How's the weather in Finland today? =)

It's been unusually sunny and warm, thanks for asking. Nothing like the US east coast though, I hear it's so hot that the trees are whistling for the dogs. (the bad joke lent from

Kiitos paljon!

Ole hyvä!

Posted by DCZX @ 7:59 PM

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good stuff guys,

a couple factual corrections about mirror image:
*we've been using Ardour since 2001 (pre jackd), fulltime since 2002
*we're located in Minneapolis, MN

Keep up the good work.

Ron Parker
Mirror Image Studio

Posted by rtp405 @ 9:18 AM #

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Posted by rtp405 @ 9:19 AM #
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