Linux Audio Conference 2016

The conference

The Linux Audio Conference is actually a quite old concept by now. Started as a small Linux Audio user group meeting at LinuxTag back in 2002, the conference more and more developed into a multi-national event, thanks to people such as Frank Neumann (who by the way initially had a "hacker meeting" in mind) and places like the ZKM.
As more universities hosted it, its academic side strengthened, leading to proper proceedings, paper and poster presentations.
Generally speaking it has also always been a place to present software, do workshops to show people how to use software and try it out - suited for developers, users and interested alike!
Another nice aspect that evolved over the years is the concept of the "Linux Sound Night", giving the stage to the artists to present their pieces or perform live.
There's obviously a lot more to the history of the Linux Audio Conference (which is no wonder after such a long time!), than I could elaborate on.
By now the LAC has taken place in many different countries: Germany, Australia, Italy, The Netherlands, Ireland, USA and Austria.

This is where I offer you the following three choices:

Last year

Last year I went to LAC in Mainz, that Albert Gräf so beautifully orchestrated, to talk about my pro-audio setup for Arch Linux and install The Sound Of People.
I really liked the conference, the getting together, the artists and developers involved and the overall free access approach. I had nice chats with many of the visitors and vendors showing their hard- and software (such as Harry van Haaren (OpenAV), Gianfranco Ceccolini (MOD Devices), Heiko Weinen (then Bitwig) amongst many others).
As I knew, that the TU Berlin had hosted the LAC back in 2007, initiated by people around Marije Baalman, I spoke to Albert Gräf about the processes involved around doing the conference. I liked the idea of bringing it back to Berlin after such a long time.

So after LAC several things began to emerge: linuxaudio.berlin and my desire to get TU Berlin aboard to do the conference in 2016.
Initially, carried by a post-LAC drive the Linux Audio Users Berlin group was quite large and we setup monthly meetings for it at c-base.
The idea of doing the conference was put forward and I finally got around introducing it to my new work place, the Electronic Studio at TU-Berlin, part of the audio communication group. Responses weren't negative (which is university-speak for "great idea, but we'll only do it, if it doesn't mean work for us"), which wasn't a big deal at that time, as a subset of interested people at linuxaudio.berlin seemed willing to get truly involved and mainly organize the event.
It was suggested to me to get the UdK Berlin in for taking care of concert venues and strengthening the team. Their initial response was very positive.
So everything looked, as if it could work out nicely and I announced to the former LAC organizers that this boat would float (at that time also Jean Monnet Université (St. Etienne, France) and CCRMA (Stanford, USA) were racing to get their facts straight).
Horrible mistake.

After a few weeks of limbo it became quite clear, that none of the universities (in Berlin) asked for involvement were actually ready to commit to the task. While TU Berlin opted out, UdK Berlin was never heard of again.
Discussing this with the folks of linuxaudio.berlin we aimed at trying the approach of a sponsor-based event, using c-base and the rooms of ETI (which obviously required rent).
Not being able to rely upon institutional expertise in doing this sort of event, we tried to stem the workload with the few people we had available. Process was slow (as you can imagine).
We tried working out all needed facts (using the Github issue tracking system for it: LAC16 issues) and promoting the undertaking (at nice places like CCCamp2015) with the ressources available.
Quite early I asked the VOC about a possible involvement and although their schedule is filling up crazy fast, they liked the idea of a small not-for-profit conference about pro-audio, open-source software and/ on Linux in Berlin (as most of them live here).
As the year was already progressed and we were running out of time, it of course got harder to find sponsors (and it is always hard to find sponsors for events, especially if those are about free software and Linux and all that other hippie stuff).
We also applied for cultural funding by the Hauptstadtkulturfonds, a process that needs a painful load of details and paperwork and an applicational process for which most companies hire other companies to do it. To anyone who was never involved with such a fonds, let me tell you: It takes a loooooooooong time until you hear back from them.
At the end of the year we still hadn't found any sponsors for the event. Hard times.

This year

Last year ended kind of depressing (in terms of the LAC) and this year would start in the same vein. Our last straw the Hauptstadtkulturfonds turned us down and it became clear, that the conference would not happen. We had failed and didn't feel too great about it.
I communicated our situation to the former organizers (who always lent an ear, if they had the time and tried to give advice).
For the usual process of paper reviews, etc. it was already too late anyways (and we rightfully received some heat from the community for that), but we had the feeling we couldn't just give up and abandon ship yet.
linuxaudio.berlin suffered quite a bit under these undertakings and I'm sure that many were just too annoyed about the topic to ever show up again.
Sorry for that...

Heiko 'riot' Weinen had the great idea of just shrinking it down to a size we can handle ourselves: c-base
Another member from linuxaudio.berlin, Daniel 'excds' Swärd, got involved, after others, that had helped along the way either got to busy with their own things or just couldn't be bothered anymore, helping define its form further.
Eventually this meant turning the ship around, cutting down on all the things we couldn't deal with (paper presentations, big concerts) and announcing, that "LAC is dead! Long live miniLAC!".
We populated a Mediawiki instance with useful information about the location and what we had in mind, using templates (leading to template-ception), giving the community the possibility to sign up and generate their own content, setting up their workshops, lectures and hacking sessions themselves. Overall a nice process, in my opinion, lifting much of the work from our shoulders (as there was no review process involved to begin with).
I got the VOC back aboard and Edgar Berdahl happened to become our keynote lecturer. Suddenly we had an ace up our sleeve (at least at that time it felt like it... well, I guess it still feels like that).

After being rather nicely informed by Nils Gey about the misinformation taking place on linuxaudio.berlin on the date and location of miniLAC, I took it upon me to change the website from a Wordpress driven mess, that was suffering from the now and again dying MySQL server on that machine, to a Pelican based website. Just one of the many last-minute things to do.

Two weeks before the start of miniLAC the wiki was attacked by a wave of spammers and I had to deal with the unpleasant work of deleting the pages of 500 spambots, blocking their accounts and strengthening the (hastily setup) security measures for the wiki. Lesson learnt.
Apart from the spambots the wiki also entailed another issue, that has to do with the way the VOC operates. Being free-time professionals, they usually have conferences use frab for dealing with the content, which is an all-in-one conference management system, that generates all things needed for streaming, info-beamer, interfacing the Engelsystem and generating a Fahrplan (especially the latter is super helpful during large events to keep track of what is happening where, as there's also an Android App available for it).
This meant parsing the information from our wiki and generating the needed XML and JSON files ourselves. Pretty painful, but we got it done (well, apart from triggering a bunch of bugs in the VOC's schedule validator, which lead to never being able to generate a proper Fahrplan).
Last minute fixes for the info-beamer were needed as well, but thanks to the VOC, we got them done just in time!
Meanwhile I prepared some hardware to be lent from the Electronic Studio at TU-Berlin and the insurance for the VOC equipment (to be used in combination with already available c-base hardware).

Just a week before miniLAC, I organized the MSSW Überworkshop, so everything felt pretty squeezed on the Friday before the event. I fetched the Electronic Studio at TU-Berlin hardware and the VOC equipment from CCCB and off we went for a crazy evening of setting up hardware and doing last minute fixes, while some attendees already showed up for the meet-and-greet and watching a SpaceX space shuttle launch.

miniLAC

Saturday

The first miniLAC day started a bit rough (after only a few hours of sleep), as we had some minor setup issues, that got solved just in time.
I guess that's one of the reasons for our Opening being a little off. From then on it just kept getting better, though!

Edgar Berdahl (of Louisiana State University) gave an excellent keynote lecture about his approaches in physical modelling with Faust (Open-Source Haptics for Music), followed by last year's organizer Albert Gräf, who talked about Plugin programming with Faust.
It would be useless redundancy to reiterate the schedule at this point. Find the things you like and watch them: https://media.ccc.de/c/minilac16

The Saturday also offered our small version of the Linux Sound Night, starting with an amazing outside performance by Asphyxia Collective and ending in an open jam session.
At this point I have to apologize to Fredrik Olofsson again, whose set we so awefully bombed that night by being too tired and not taking care of the stage and its slots the way we should have. I hope you're not still mad at us!
Luckily, that day I was not the last person to leave c-base. I'm quite sure some stayed very long.

Sunday

Just as on Saturday we had a weird start. A power outage around 09:30 took down the streaming equipment and we had to set things up until our own talk around 10:00.
Despite this minor annoyance, we had a good time talking about the future of LAC in LAC is dead! Long live miniLAC!, giving hints to next year's location and improvement suggestions.
If you'd like to work with us on the relaunch of the websites and planning tools of Linux Audio, come join our newly founded association on Github:

The day went on with nice lectures, workshops and hacking sessions such as The Public Domain Project, Yoshimi and BELA.
Again, just pick things from the schedule and find the videos you like: https://media.ccc.de/c/minilac16

After us saying goodbye (Closing), we started dismantling the whole thing and I'm glad a bunch of people from c-base and linuxaudio.berlin came to help. I was pretty much destroyed at that point!

Photos

Group photo (stage 3 sillification)

Group photo (stage 3 sillification)

Some pictures from the event made it to my new photos page: photos from miniLAC2016

Lessons learnt

These are the lessons learnt from doing this event:

  • Start planning as early, as humanly possible (it will take forever anyways)
  • Make sure your affiliation actually wants to do this (ink in blood!)
  • Put a lot of effort into the planning phase (you'll forget something nonetheless, but it'll give a hint of security)
  • Read the FAQ
  • Make a list of things you can and can not provide
  • Do not rely on external funding (sponsoring, cultural funding)
  • Outsource information! Mediawiki is a good choice!
  • Secure (protect from spam) all your resources properly!
  • Ask the VOC to do your streaming! They're awesome and they're pros!
  • Use frab to manage your conference!
  • According to Murphy's Law, shit will inevitably hit the fan, (e.g. if your fridge is prone to break, it will break a day before the conference) - plan for the worst!
All in all I'm surprised what got accomplished with a budget of only 400€ (all later covered by donations from attendees and c-base).
Of course this meant a lot of work and would not have been possible without many volunteers! Hackerspaces and the communities around them seem very well suited for this type of event though.
Also, the general layout of all former conference editions made sure, that attendees are not from a scientific background exclusively, which I think would move the event into a direction that is undesirable.
I had a great time and I really like the Linux Audio community in all of its facettes. I'm looking forward to next year (possibly in St. Etienne), but luckily I won't be organizing then! ;-)