The Linux Setup – Set Hallström, Musician/Visual Artist

Set is a musician using Linux which is the Holy Grail of Linux use. He doesn’t seem to have any issues using Ubuntu Studio for his work, which is encouraging. Linux handles music production better and better each year, but I suspect lots of people try it, find it tough, and then leave, never to return. I know for myself that music production with Linux became very tricky, so I moved to a standalone multitrack option that didn’t require an operating system. But maybe it’s time to jump back on that Linux music production horse.

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

    My name is Set Hallström, also known as Sakrecoer. I’m a half-Swiss, half-Swedish multidisciplinary artist focusing on music, born in 1980. AFK (away from keyboard), nobody knows I’m a robot.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    My mother is a computer engineer. I’ve been in contact with computers as far as I can remember. During my teenage years, I was living in Geneva, Switzerland, where I met my good friend Alexander Poltorak. He is a genius geek and we share a lot of common interests and progressive views. He was the first one to introduce me to the philosophy of GPL, open source and freedom-ware. It blew my mind! The generosity, the ways of cooperation and the ethic of these developers seemed out-of-this-computer-world to me, a world that until then seemed based on profit, power and greed.

    When my Winblow98 computer bugged out, he suggested I try GNU/Linux. This was circa 2001. Unfortunately, my RAM had burned out and we could never get it to run. He had an office where he had set up a free software ISP company called alsenet.com and I was hanging around there a lot, getting first-hand insight into Blender 3D, GIMP, and terminal magic. But it took nine years for me to switch.

    Meanwhile, being a freelancing creative, I was completely dependent on a Macintosh Unix (OS X) box and very expensive graphic/audio production software. But that magic 2009 year, I got an email from Poltorak with a link to an Ubuntu Studio ISO that would operate on my PowerPC G4. From that point on, there was no turning back and no regrets. There was basically nothing I could do with my super expensive Macintosh that wasn’t possible with Ubuntu Studio on it, given I was willing to invest a little bit of my time and energy to learn it. And best of all, now I could afford the license for the tools I needed to do my graphic design and audio production jobs. My operation was finally legal! This was a great and hope-filled perspective, because back then, my entire business was based on my computer, and I didn’t have the capital to buy a new Mac if mine broke. Now I could use any PC with sufficient RAM for my work!

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

    I run Ubuntu Studio 14.04 on all my machines, except one that is running Puppy GNU/Linux, two tablet PCs with Xubuntu and an old laptop turned into a server with Ubuntu Server 14.04. I like to hang around in the waste room of my building. Here in Sweden, where I am based at the moment, wealth is good and people like to buy stuff. I’ve found many abandoned computers in there, such as Puppy, the Xubu-bros and the Servant (nobody knows I actually hang out in those waste bins just to peep on naked robots. Respectfully though, hence the names :p).

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

    Since I run Ubuntu Studio, I roll with Xfce. I think it’s perfect for my needs. But I don’t mind trying new stuff—I just haven’t had the need for that yet. But I’ve started to become curious about Fedora. Mainly because my favorite MIDI controller’s computer interface is built for Fedora. It will probably happen as soon as I find another abandoned robot.

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

    The funny guy in me wants to say GNU. But Ardour, Blender, Inkscape, GIMP and gedit are my everyday best friends. They are so happy, powerful, effective and thriving! I don’t work as a graphic designer anymore, so I wouldn’t say I’m as dependent upon them as I used to be, but they are important to me because they are the tools I need to express myself and forge my art. On a more abstract level, if it wasn’t for lighttpd, PHP5, Drupal and Jekyll, I would be homeless in cyberspace.

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

    I have three main setups: a laptop, a desktop and a little home server.

    The stationary is an assembled Intel i7 with 16GB RAM, a 120GB SSD for the system and a 1TB HDD for /home. It is equipped with liquid cooling, a generic Nvidia GPU, and a GTX-770 with 4GB RAM to serve my Blender needs. As an audio interface, I roll with a TerraTec Phase88 Rack through a PCIe firewire with FFADO and JACK. This AMAZING piece of sound card was donated to me by a stranger I met on a forum. I like to tell this story because it has a connection to the spirit of GNU/Linux, which is independent from the consumerist needs to produce things with planned obsolescence because the reason for this donation was that there was no more support/drivers for the TerraTec on the latest Macintosh Unix version. But this person was smart enough not to just throw it away. I’d like to refer to this person as a practitioner of random acts of kindness. I run the low-latency kernel, not the real-time one. I figure 4ms latency in my audio rig is absolutely viable enough not to bother with real-time kernel compiling.

    To produce my music I use mostly hardware synthesizers and microphones recorded through the eight inputs of my sound card into Ardour, where I mix and arrange the music. I am a big fan of the Calf plug-ins. At the moment the only soft synth I fancy is from them. Their monosynth is so good! But to be honest, I use very little of the amazingly flexible MIDI implementations on GNU/Linux. I’d like to stress how amazing MIDI actually has become on this platform, but the reason I don’t really use it that much is a dream I once had, where I was chilling in the studio with Ray Charles. He had just gotten his eight-track tape recorded and was manually punching in new takes on tracks without even half of the synchronization abilities I have. At some point he also told me, “Look at this crap, compared to your computer! Yet my music will be alive far beyond my own death. You see son? If anyone ever tells you your sound is bad, it’s because they are not paying attention to your songs. And if you think you have synching issues, you should work on your sense of rhythm rather than complain about
    your computer.” I woke up pretty much freed from pressure regarding my sound quality and my workstation. And ever since then, I use the good old method of manual synchronization, just like I used to on my portastudio. For mastering, I use JAMin (but I have to confess my audio mastering skills are in the making). If I ever had to get rid of my hardware synths for some reason, I would go for Bitwig, whose GNU/Linux version I’ve been beta testing. It’s a bit like Abelton Live, but GNU/Linux and JACK-friendly, although unfortunately it’s proprietary.

    The laptop is my test box and radio journalist device. It’s an Intel i3 with 4GB RAM, no GPU, and a heavily encrypted HDD (not that I have so many secrets, but laptops get lost sometimes and the email client it contains is pretty much the key to the wallet in our electric society). It works great, from 3D modeling in Blender, to field recording, and a lot of IDJC to stream to my Liquidsoap relayed by the Icecast2 server at basspistol.com:8000.

    The home server is Ubuntu Server 14.04. I recently upgraded it, and I feel fine. I use it to test some server applications and configurations but mostly to frag (read, get fragged by) my roommate when we play Red Eclipse.

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    The image was made for my birthday last year. It’s from Finsta Graphics and all rights of the image belong to them.

Set Hallström's desktop

Interview conducted November 25, 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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