The Linux Setup – Louis Pilfold, DJ

I found Louis in an odd way. There was a reddit thread which taught me about xwax, which is Linux DJ software. I went to the xwax site and found Louis through their email list. I’m always interested in people who can use Linux to make music and Louis does just that, using not just xwax, but also i3 to manage his windows. It’s a simple setup that lets Louis focus on music and not on navigating a desktop. Plus, he gets to watch records spin, instead of a colorful beach ball.

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  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    I’m Louis Pilfold, I work for a London print/software-as-a-service company doing web development, site administration, automation, that kind of thing. I’m also a music lover who DJs electronic music with a Linux computer and a pair of turntables.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    Countless reasons — I’m quite the Linux fanatic. The biggest one for me is probably the level of choice that Linux allows you. With Linux you can really customize your computer to suit your tastes and needs, and for me that means a degree of minimalism, efficient keyboard-driven control, and tools that don’t get in your way while you’re trying to work. I also thoroughly enjoy the community aspect of Linux and libre software, and believe that libre software is the ethically superior option.

  3. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    I run Debian on all my machines: stable on my server, and testing on all the others. I start with a network installation (netinst) with just the base utilities, and work up from there. I use Debian specifically because it’s a community project, it has a great (if slightly old) range of software in the repositories, and it’s stable enough for me to not have to worry about tricky maintenance or show-stopping bugs. When you rely on a machine for live performance, stability really matters.

  4. What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?

    These days I tend to just use a window manager with some carefully selected supplementary applications, rather than a full desktop environment. I’ve fairly recently fallen in love with i3, a dynamic tiling window manager. Being able to quickly and precisely do everything I want to do from the keyboard is a fantastic productivity booster, and is much easier on the wrists than using the mouse.

    If you’re interested in my desktop configuration you can find my dotfiles and some notes on GitHub.

  5. What one piece of software do you depend upon with this distribution? Why is it so important?

    As a Linux DJ, the one piece of software I really depend upon is Mark Hill’s xwax. xwax is a minimalistic digital vinyl emulation system. It allows me to manipulate digital media (such as FLAC and mp3 files) with turntables, as if I had that track on actual vinyl. This is great as you can’t always get the music you want on vinyl, and there’s lots of little tricks you can do with software that you couldn’t do with a more traditional setup. Not having to carry a huge bag of records is great, too.

    It’s quite a simple system — I use special vinyl records called ‘timecode’ records, which contain a particular tone. The audio from these records is routed out of the turntables and into my computer through a USB audio interface. Once there, the software inspects the tone to determine the speed, direction of rotation, and position of the record, and then manipulates the mp3/FLAC audio to match, before sending it back out of the audio interface to the speakers. Even with a modest computer xwax can make this all can all happen in two or three milliseconds, so it feels as real and responsive as real vinyl records.

    Currently, I use proprietary timecode records made by a company called Serato, though there is talk in the xwax community of cutting our own open source timecode records. Exciting stuff!

  6. What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?

    My desktop computer is rather unremarkable; all lower tier components from a year or two ago, but I’ve got some really nice peripherals:

    • 1440p 27" Dell Ultrasharp display
    • Reloop Wave 8 studio reference speakers
    • Numark TTX turntables
    • Ecler Nuo 2.0 DJ mixer
    • Native Instruments “Audio 4 DJ” USB audio interface
    • KBT Pure Pro 60% size mechanical keyboard.

    I also use a ThinkPad x220 laptop.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Of course. You can see xwax running there on the right hand side.

Louis Pilfold's desktop

Interview conducted March 26, 2014


The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

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