Windows Too Unstable For Anything As Important As An Organ Concert: Debian Day (DebDay) talk in NYC


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Jul 31, 2010 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

Some people know that I collect automated musical instruments. Player pianos, player organs, nickelodeons, and other mechanisms that use a roll of paper to control the playing of the instrument. This was a natural outcome of my fascination of controlling a piece of hardware with "logic" and "software", and my love of music. I have even developed a talk about how Free Software is like a player piano, and have given this talk several times over the course of the years, complete with illustrations and music played from my player piano and player reed organ collection.


Many years ago I joined the Automatic Musical Instrument Collector's Association (AMICA) and I receive their excellent publication in the mail every month.


One month's edition talked about how Yamaha is using Linux in their automated grand pianos to control the automation. These pianos (the Yamaha Disklavier Mark IV listed at 42,000 US dollars, which can be "upgraded" to a more lavish 150,000 USD system) provide an amazing array of features, such as being able to download music from the Internet as well as updates to the software running the machine.


The article in the AMICA magazine was actually a reprint of an article by David Pogue in the New York Times of April 17th, 2008:

David's article then reminded me of the Marshall and Ogletree “Opus I” organ installed at Trinity Church in New York City. Designed to replace Trinity's real pipe organ, destroyed during the World Trade Center attack on September 11th, 2001, the Opus I uses two consoles and ten Linux PCs to drive up to 84 channels of sound with between 150 and 500 watts of power for each channel for a total capacity of 15000 watts. The Opus I even has a "hot stand-by" PC to take over in case one of the ten PC's hardware fails.


The designers of the Opus I stated on their web site that a certain very popular desk-top operating system was too unstable for anything as important as an organ recital, and that is why they chose Linux. Using Linux, this instrument is also connected to the Internet, and can download new voices or be monitored during an organ concert. You can read more about the history of the instrument and its capabilities at:


For an added treat, John Philip Sousa's “Stars and Stripes Forever” march is performed here by Cameron Carpenter. Also stay long enough to hear “Superman Visits Trinity Church” played by Sean Jackson and the “William Tell Overture” played by Nathan Laube.


I am now at DebCamp/DebDay/DebConf in New York City. These are part of the yearly meeting of Debian developers from all over the world. Knowing that many of the Debian developers like music, and all Debian developers like technology, I reached out to some friends of mine in NYC and arranged for a private showing of the organ by Robert Ridgell, the associate organist of Trinity, to those who are interested. I will also be giving my talk about how Free Software is like a player piano (updated with issues of software patents, copyrights, etc.) at the DebDay meeting which is open to the public on August 1st, 2010 at Davis Auditorium, Columbia University, NYC. Perhaps I will see you there.


Carpe Diem!


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