LAC14 Interview Series #6: Fernando Lopez-Lezcano

LAC14 Interview Series #6: Fernando Lopez-Lezcano

The LAC14 interview series is a series of short interviews with people who are and have been involved with the LAC throughout the years. Find all posts in the series on this link.

Hi Fernando! Could you give a brief introduction to who you are, where you’re from and what projects you are involved with in Linux audio?

I am originally from Argentina although I have now lived in the USA for a quite long time. I have a dual background in Electronic Engineering (University of Buenos Aires) and music (piano and composition, Carlos Buchardo National Conservatory, Buenos Aires). As a result, electroacoustic music, electronics and computers were natural worlds to explore together. I started my journey a very long time ago by building from scratch my own analog modular synthesizers and analog multichannel recording studio.

After I graduated I worked for almost 10 years in industry designing small telephone exchanges, and doing electronic music and composition in my spare time. I learned a lot about computers and software design at all levels. From managing a network of PCs (and a mini-computer that booted from 9 track tape!) to designing complex realtime software in assembler. It was fun.

An unexpected exchange program between a computer music lab in Buenos Aires (LIPM), CCRMA and CRCA in UCSD brought me to CCRMA for a year. That changed my life. I learned Unix (on NeXT computers). I composed new music. After that I went back to LIPM for a while, then worked in Japan for a year, and finally got back to CCRMA with my current job in 1993. Since then I have been taking care of the computer resources of the center, teaching courses and doing my own research and compositional and music performance work.

It was around 1996 when I started to deploy Linux at CCRMA. Up to that point we had been running NeXTs (and some SGI workstations), but as the company eventually failed we slowly moved to Linux. The mere existence of a complete operating system and software infrastructure that was free and open was amazing. I liked Linux a lot. I had skipped the Windows/Mac worlds entirely, and had entered directly into Unix (from DOS!), so I felt at home.

That brings us to “Planet CCRMA”. I started packaging some of the software we were using: the CM/CLM family of computer music languages, Pd, and more. The goal was to be able to install all the software in our networked workstations easily. Eventually users at CCRMA asked for those packages, I created a small web page with instructions, and that became Planet CCRMA.

In the following years I ended up spending a LOT of time packaging and tuning software. I created a mailing list and added packages as users requested them. I wanted CCRMA (and the world) to have a repository with all the best free music and sound software that was available (including realtime patched kernels to get the best performance possible).

Planet CCRMA was just an extension of my work maintaining computers at CCRMA, so everything was actually being used and worked. I ended up having maybe 200 or 300 packages hosted at Planet CCRMA, and it became a popular option for running music applications under Linux. In these past few years other dedicated packagers have been migrating most of the software to Fedora, so my workload is not as big as before.

Ever since I started on Linux I have used it for my music, using both non-realtime software packages like CM/CLM and realtime languages like SuperCollider (and custom built programs). Almost all of my music has both an artistic component (sounds, musical form) and a custom software component – when I write the software I write the music, in a way (and visceversa). But the music is always the guiding force for the software development efforts.

I have also been very interested in sound diffusion and I have assembled a 3D 24.6 system that we have been using in concert at CCRMA and other venues (very successfully, if I may say). Of course it all runs on Free, Open Source Software and from a GNU/Linux computer!


When was the first time you attended LAC, and what was that like?

The first time was for LAC2003 at ZKM, which was the first full “conference”. It was a fantastic experience! Very unstructured and informal but a lot of fun!

The best part was that I (and I presume everyone else) was finally able to match faces and people to all the email addresses I had been interacting with for years. That was priceless, and established a personal connection that was impossible or very difficult to achieve over ethernet packets alone.

It is funny to look at the slides of my LAC2003 talk (still online!). What were the highlights of Planet CCRMA at the time? I already had an rt patched kernel which was using ALSA instead of OSS. And I was happy to have apt for rpm to resolve dependencies as RedHat did not have yum yet. And I was begging for a GUI for Jack, Rui and his Q* family of applications had not arrived yet. If you look at the list of applications I was packaging in one of the last slides, and you think about what you are using today you will get an idea of how far we have traveled.


What’s your favourite thing about LAC, and do you have any favourite memories of past LAC:s?

Besides just talking with all the other cool users and developers over beer, wine or coffee? The concerts and specially the Linux Sound Night are always highlights and fun to go to. LAC2012 has a special place in my memory since I organized it together with Bruno Ruviaro.

Special memories? The performance of Miller Puckette (of Pd fame) and Juliana Snapper in the Linux Sound Night that year was, well, quite something (there are some videos in youtube – but not the same as being there).


What’s your advice to a first-year attendant like me? Anything I really should keep an eye out for?

Just talk to people. That is the best part by far. And take your vitamins! You will need them to get the best out of the experience. Try to not miss any talks, there is always something interesting and new going on, and while some can be highly technical (which is good!) and might not be easy to digest, well, they can get you thinking.


Anything else you’d like to add to this short interview?

Not really, thanks again for the opportunity to participate!

Thanks for reading! Find all interviews on this link.

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