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Home » , , » The Non DAW is a powerful, reliable and fast modular Digital Audio Workstation system, released under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

The Non DAW is a powerful, reliable and fast modular Digital Audio Workstation system, released under the GNU General Public License (GPL).


nondaw_logoThe Non DAW is a powerful, reliable and fast modular Digital Audio Workstation system, released under the GNU General Public License (GPL). It utilizes the JACK Audio Connection Kit for inter-application audio I/O and the FLTK GUI toolkit for a fast and lightweight user interface.
Please see the Manual for more information (and lots of screenshots).

What it is not.

Non-DAW is not a wave editor. It is not a beat slicer. It is not a granular synthesis engine. It is not a clone of some proprietary DAW. It is not an insert name of proprietary audio thing here killer. It is not limiting and restricting. It is not a monolithic DAW with internal mixing or EQ DSP. Non-DAW is intended to be one tool among many in your Linux audio toolbox.

What is a DAW?

The acronym DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. Of course, Non is software, so when we say DAW we imply a purely software based system. A DAW is used by modern studio engineers to record and arrange multitrack sessions of different musicians into a single song. Perhaps a more noble use of a DAW, and the one for which Non-DAW was specifically written, is to provide the mutli-instrumentalist individual with all the software necessary to quickly and conveniently record and arrange his compositions and produce a professional quality result.
In this author's opinion, a DAW comprises the following functionality:
  • Non-linear, non-destructive arrangement of portions of audio clips.
  • Tempo and time signature mapping, with editing operations being closely aligned to this map.
Since Non uses JACK for IO, some things traditionally considered to be within the scope of a monolithic DAW can be pared out into JACK and Non Mixer:
  • Signal routing
  • Audio mixing
  • Hosting of plugins

Why write another one?

First and foremost, we can disregard all non-free DAWs because we do not waste our precious time and spirit on non-free and/or proprietary software. This excludes virtually every other DAW in existence. Secondly, we require a DAW that runs on the GNU/Linux operating system in conjunction with other free software, such as the JACK Audio Connection Kit, in a modular and cooperative and manner. Finally, we require a program that is powerful, fast, and reliable. No other software meets these requirements.
The design of the Non DAW differs substantially from others. This is a good thing; for a clone of a bad design is doomed from the start.
There is only one other DAW that is capable and free software, and its name is Ardour. Suffice it to say that the architecture of Ardour is incompatible with the requirements of speed and reliability. Other DAW-like free software programs, including Traverso and QTractor, are similarly limited (being of similar design), but suffer the additional burden of cumbersome legacy ALSA support and very a limited feature set.
Given these options, we had no choice but to start from scratch, this time on a solid foundation, rather than attempting (in vain) to shoehorn good design into an existing code base.


Non-DAW shares many features in common with other, similar projects. However, Non-DAW's unique architecture permits surprising new functionality.
Journaled Projects.
Unlike legacy DAWs, which keep project state in huge, memory wasting, hard to manage XML (or binary equivalent) trees, Non-DAW has the unique ability to store project state in a compact continuous journal of bidirectional delta messages--similar to the journal part of journaling filesystems--in plain ASCII.
The Non-DAW disk format takes the form of a journal of delta messages. Each project file contains the complete history of that project since the last (optional) compaction operation. These journals are so terse that it is practical to keep the complete history of a project from the time it was first opened. No XML or other bloated, buggy, resource hungry format is employed. (Anyone suggesting the use of XML for anything related to this project will be shot on sight with incendiary rounds.)
This has a number of highly desirable consequences. Among them: 

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  1. Zero time spent 'saving' projects.
  2. No need to 'save' projects manualy.
  3. No need for CPU and RAM wasting 'autosave' function.
  4. In the (unlikely) event of a crash, at most *one* transaction (user action) may be lost, and the project will *not* be invalidated.
  5. Unlimited undo--potentially going back to the very moment the project was created (state of the template it was based on).
  6. Undo history requires no additional RAM.
  7. Project format is insanely simple and easy to manipulate with sed or awk scripts, should the need arise (see the included `remove-unused-sources` script for an example).
Non-DAW's journalling capability can drastically change your workflow. No longer will you fear a system failure. No longer will your pinky finger become sore from hitting Control-S after every important change. No longer will you have to attempt, in vain, to manually edit a completely incomprehensible XML 'document', because Ardour has corrupted its memory and therefore the project you 'saved'.
Non-destructive editing.
Sound sources (audio files) are represented by regions. Any number of regions may represent different parts of the same source. All editing is performed on these region structures--the sound sources themselves are considered read-only (except for captures in-progress).
Unlimited tracks.
Tracks in a DAW are unlike tracks on tape in that a single track can contain more than one channel of audio. Each audio track has its own record, mute, solo, and gain, as well an active take and any number of inactive takes. A track may also have any number of annotation and control sequences associated with it.
Unlimited takes.
A take is a sequence of regions. Each track has current take, implied by 'the track', as well as any number of other, inactive takes. A track may be set to display all takes simultaneously, to ease the process of reviewing past takes or stitching together a new take from parts of previous takes. Old takes may be deleted, either one by one or all at once, when they are no longer required. Takes may not be transferred between tracks (there's no technical reason why they can't, but allowing this would be bad design).
Where regions overlap, a cross-fade exists. This means that the transition from region A to region B will be gradual rather than abrupt. The shape of the gain curve may be selected separately for region A and B of the cross-fade. Available curves include: Linear, Sigmoid, Logarithmic, and Parabolic.
Each track can have associated with it any number of control sequences, a subset of which may be visible at any one time. Each control sequence comprises a series of control points, which collectively represent a graph of changes to a single controllable value over time. Anything may be controlled by a control track, including external software supporting OSC or MIDI control, although the most common application is mixer gain automation, where the value controlled is the fader level in the mixer.
Time/tempo mapping.
The time and tempo maps (rulers) affect where and how many bar/beat lines are drawn. During playback they affect the time/tempo of the JACK transport so that other programs, like the Non-Sequencer, can follow along in sync.


The Mixer and the Timeline are separate programs, connected through JACK.
All operations on the timeline are journaled, and therefore reversible.
The following data belong to the timeline:
Tracks and Takes
Each Track has a number of input and output ports, a name, and any number of attached sequences. All sequences but the current (topmost) are inactive and do not generate sound or accept captures. These sequences are referred to as Takes. Previous takes may be swapped with the current sequence and all takes may be shown on screen at once for easy splicing. Each track can also have any number of Control Sequences attached to it, in which case all control sequences generate control output unless disconnected. The height of a track may be adjusted and a track can be muted, soloed, or record-enabled.
Regions are the most common object on the timeline. Each region represents a segment of some particular audio file. Waveforms of all regions belonging to the same source are displayed in the same hue. Each region has a normalization value and regions can be selected individually or operated on in groups. Each region has a fade-in and fade-out curve, and when two regions overlap, this constitutes a cross-fade.
Control Points
Control points are arbitrarily placed points on a curve (or line) from which continuous control values are interpolated and sent out a JACK port (like a control voltage).
Time and Tempo Points
Time and Tempo points control the tempo and meter throughout time. This information is used for drawing the measure lines and snapping to the grid, as well as informing other JACK clients of tempo changes throughout a song.
Annotation Points
Cue points are textual markers on the timeline. Common names for cue points include "Verse 1", "Bridge", etc.
Annotation Regions
Annotation Regions are annotations with a definite duration. These are useful for representing lyrics or other notes of a timely nature. Each track may have any number of annotation sequences associated with it, and these sequences can contain a free mix of annotation points and annotation regions.

What does freedom have to do with this software?

Non is free software. This means, briefly, that you are free use it as you wish, free to examine and adapt the source code, free to share it with your friends, and free to publish your changes to the source code. Furthermore, Non is copyleft, which means that you are free from the threat of some other entity taking over and denying you the above freedoms. The free part of free software doesn't refer to price any more than the free in free speech does.
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