Article from Issue 196/2017

Sparkling gems and new releases from the world of Free and Open Source Software

Music tracker and sequencer

Radium 4.3.5

Linux has become an amazingly creative environment, and if you take a look at some of our picks for this issue, it seems no more so than in the realm of audio and music. There are some real gems, and Radium is one of them. Radium is a tool for making music that's a hybrid of audio workstation and old school tracker, but it's also unique in both its fusion of cutting edge features and the way the user interface is designed. It's the user interface where all these ideas come together. The main view has vertical tracks for audio, just like a music tracker running on an Amiga in the 1980s. But instead of those columns behaving like a spreadsheet for musical data, which is how those old trackers worked, Radium includes rendered waveforms, clips of audio, and automation. It's like a merger between Cubase and Renoise.

Getting Radium is a little tricker than it should be. The project is proudly open source, with its code hosted on GitHub, but finding binaries for your distro is going to be difficult. This is because, much like Ardour, package builders have respected the developer's wish in asking users to pay for a binary download. That means that if you want a quick tryout of the software, you'll need to download and run the demo. This limits exports and the number of plugins. If you're not so short of time, you can install the required dependencies and try to build the project yourself. I gave up on an Ubuntu 16.04-based system, as it seemed impossible to track all the dependencies down, but Arch users fortunately have an AUR package, which is what I used eventually. Running the application is then just a simple case of disabling your system audio while you get JACK to work, which is never that simple.

It's worth the effort. Radium forces you to take a unique approach to making music. Much like a tracker, you start off with blocks of sequences and samples that you build into a song structure. Despite looking like something designed for Motif, the UI is fast and responsive. Many elements are updated in real time during playback. Drag a line to make tempo adjustments, for example, and block sizes change accordingly. Playback smoothly speeds up or slows down, and volume and CPU meters bounce around to give feedback.

Edit mode allows you to make changes, while numerous keyboard commands control playback. Effects and processing are accomplished with a unique modular mixer, which allows you to link up tracks with effects and processing, just as you would wire the real equipment in a studio, complete with real-time feedback. You can then construct complex effects chains with both LADSPA (Linux Audio Developer's Simple Plugin API) and Linux VST effects. The Linux version in particular is unique, because it lets you add elements you've constructed with Pure Data. Pure Data is the forerunner of Cycling '74's Max, a visual programming environment for audio and control data, and it lets you write any kind of process if you have the skills. It's a great addition that's only seen on Windows and OS X in something like Ableton Live, taking tinkering to a new level on Linux.

Project Website

1. Tracker. Radium can look and be used like an old-school tracker. 2. Audio. Samples can be automated along a vertical timeline. 3. MIDI. Control remote synths with a vertical piano roll view. 4. Mixer. Drop modules and pipe audio by drawing lines in the modular mixer. 5. Block view. See the note data and the play head. 6. Effects. Control parameters and import lots of different effects. 7. Sampler. Edit sounds without exporting them to a different tool. 8. Tracklist. Much of the UI is similar to a text-based sequencer.

Sound editor

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