Monday, December 1, 2008

Punk Rock Elmo on the Eee

Day 27

Listen to Punk Rock Elmo, recorded on the Asus Eee

Linux isn't known for its audio prowess, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of packages hidden in the repositories for those who dare try to push the limits. The most popular of course is Audacity which is typically used for podcasts and light audio editing. I wanted to put it to the test and see if it and the Asus Eee could handle recording a multi-track, musical composition.

My daughter will be a year-and-a-half by Christmas, and her life currently revolves around Sesame Street's Elmo. That furry monster is on constantly in the house and I can't help but find myself wandering around whistling the theme song. This will be my sample song. I grew up on punk rock (and it's still my guilty pleasure), so I thought I would combine the two and see what happened.

I consider myself a mediocre musician on most instruments, and although I can play the drums, I didn't have a real drumset handy, so I hunted down a copy of Hydrogen. This is a drum machine similar to the commercial product known as Fruity Loops. I installed it from a .deb package I downloaded from the Hydrogen Sourceforge site. It installed fine, but there was no program icon in the launch menu so it had to be started from the command line (simply by typing the word hydrogen). The screen sized forced me to scroll horizontally through the drum tracks, but other than being a minor irritation, this did not affect the program in any way. After I had sequenced the drums, I exported it as a .wav and moved on to Audacity.

I played with Audacity in the past, and found that the sound card on the Eee does a decent job recording one track, but once that exists, it pretty much sounds like mud for any additional tracks. I was planning on importing the drum track and then recording two guitars and a bass - four tracks total. To do this, I would have to get a bit creative.

Rather than importing the drum track into Audacity, I instead loaded it into the default Music Manager that comes with the Eee. I plugged my mic into the 1/8" jack and aimed it at my guitar amp. I was able to record through Audacity while listening to the drum track playing through the Music Manager. This way Audacity could stay at its one track recording maximum, but I still had something to follow along with.

It was a tedious process, but it worked. I repeated it with the other tracks. After each track, I did some quick track cleaning (amplified and removed noise), and then saved it as an mp3.

When all the recording was done, I imported the four tracks into Audacity and synced them up. After a bit of tweeking, it was good to go. The quality isn't fantastic, but it's a solid little recording.

Does this prove that Audacity is to the Eee what Garage Band is to the Mac? Not really. But it'll get the job done if you're will to work around the issues. And the next time you see Elmo, I hope you picture him kicking ass in a mosh pit with the rest of his muppet pals.

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