If you've had any dealings with audio software on Linux systems, Dave Phillips will need no introduction. His site at http://sound.condorow.net/ has been the place to go for Linux audio information for many years. Here at freshmeat, he wrote our category review on Sound and Music Software.
His Book of Linux Music & Sound is an extension of his software directory and commentaries on the audio scene, and it should be on the shelf of anyone interested in working with sound on Linux.
The first sections of the book provide overviews of digital audio and the hardware and software needed for audio work on a Linux system, and walk you through setting up your audio workstation (with references to online resources in case you run into problems). The rest of the book consists of chapters dealing with various tasks (creating Mod files, multitrack recording, DJ systems, etc.), so you can jump to whatever scratches your particular itch. Audiophiles can hop through to find what they need to enjoy music on their systems and musicians can go straight to discussion of their chosen methods for making that music.
Each chapter contains an overview of its topic and reviews of specific
applications related to it. The reviews are excellent. Each opens
with a list of database fields similar to a freshmeat project listing,
giving the names of the authors, project URLs, license information,
capsule summary, etc. Following the list is a paragraph or two
describing the application and what you can do with it. Two sections
always follow: "Getting It, Building It" and "Using It". "Getting It,
Building It" is often "
tar xzvf foo.tar.gz && ./configure &&
make && make install" over and over again, but it sometimes
includes useful details about dependencies or other problems you may
encounter. "Using It" provides a tutorial on basic use that takes you
far enough to decide whether this is the software that suits your
needs. The included CDROM contains "as many of the profiled
applications as legally possible", so you can usually pop it in and
start playing right away.
Once the required sections are in place, the reviews are fleshed out with anything Dave feels he needs to say about the application being covered. This varies widely; hYdraJ gets one page of text, while the next starts 13 pages about Cecilia.
The reviews are often interspersed with interesting commentary on the scene being discussed, from "MIDI History" to "MP3 Politics".
Since it's written by the #1 authority on all things Linux and Sound, the book hits almost all the most important applications, but like any book built around the author's preferences, it gains both its strength and its weakness from his biases. Dave is active in the Csound community, so the Software Sound Synthesis chapter is thorough and well-researched. Most of the chapters on music-related software tell you everything you need to know to get started and cover the cream-of-the-crop applications.
Other topics don't fare quite so well. Why, for example, does the Network Audio Software chapter discuss Speak Freely, telephony software which uses a proprietary protocol and has a small user community, without mentioning any of the Linux H.323 applications? In the chapter on Music Notation Programs, why spend six pages on the Shareware Mup and say nothing about the (IMHO) far superior Lilypond, part of the GNU Project?
Balancing these sins of omission is one of inclusion; I wonder whether the "Linux Games" chapter wasn't ill-advised. It will become outdated much faster than the rest of the book (see the discussion of Loki...), and the only audio-related information in its 17 pages is "If your sound system is set up properly and you can play WAV, MOD, and MIDI files, then you should have few if any problems getting great sound from your Linux gaming experience." Instead of pages of screenshots and installation instructions for "Roll 'Em Up", "Myth2", etc., I think it would have been sufficient to have a single page that said "Games are a great way to show off your computer's sound system; here's a list of my favorites...". I think the space taken by these pages might have been put to better use delving more deeply into issues raised in other chapters. For example, much of the book is aimed at tools for musicians, so a more in-depth discussion of professional-quality audio hardware would have been useful.
Still, in the face of how much is good, these are only quibbles. This is this first book on working with sound on Linux systems, and it's long overdue. It's useful to music lovers at all levels of knowledge, and if some areas are given short shrift, they're at least given a good introduction, and the interested reader will know what she's looking for when she turns to the Web for more information.
I only wish that when I was paying ridiculous amounts of money for commercial Windows applications that didn't work, I could have instead just paid for this book. I hope musicians browsing bookstore shelves today will find this and start their trip into the Linux music community.