A Murder of Crows on your Raspberry Pi with Boodler

Boodler is rather fun. It generates ambient music based on user-defined or downloaded ‘soundscapes’. If you’ve got a modern (HTML5/Opus-capable) browser, you can hear a streaming demo here: http://repeater.xiph.org:8000/clock.opus. It’s using the FM3 Buddha Machine samples in this demo, but it can run lots more: a tree full of crows, a thunderstorm, dripping water, …

It’s pretty easy to run on a Raspberry Pi running a recent version of Raspbian. The only technical glitch I had was that there’s something deeply confused about ALSA sound handling on the Raspberry Pi. I’m sure it’ll get fixed soon, but for now, you have to use PulseAudio. (If you want to read about my ALSA woes, go here.)

The installation prerequisites are simple:

sudo apt-get install pulseaudio pulseaudio-utils libpulse-dev python-dev

Now download and configure Boodler:

wget http://boodler.org/dl/Boodler-2.0.4.tar.gz
tar xvzf Boodler-2.0.4.tar.gz
cd Boodler-2.0.4
python setup.py build

It takes a while to do this, but make sure it does something useful when it’s building the various sound drivers. You don’t want it to say:

skipping 'boodle.cboodle_pulse' extension

If it says that, you haven’t installed Pulseaudio. Go back and check your apt-get line.

Once it’s built, now install it:

sudo python setup.py install

Now test it:

boodler --hardware --output pulse --testsound

Not merely should you get some pleasant tones from your Raspberry Pi’s audio, but you sound get some informative and non-threatening terminal output. Mine looks like:

Boodler: PulseAudio sound driver.
 PulseAudio library: 2.0.0.
 Sample rate is 44100 fps.
 Samples are 16-bit little-endian.
 Buffer size is 32768.
 21:37:46 (root) Running "Boodler test sound"

If that works, let’s get those crows a-cawin’. Download the soundscapes you need:

boodle-mgr install http://boodler.org/lib/org.boodler.old.crow.1.0.boop
boodle-mgr install http://boodler.org/lib/com.eblong.zarf.crows.1.0.boop

and run it:

boodler --output pulse com.eblong.zarf.crows/ParliamentOfCrows

Crows everywhere!

I really like the Buddha Machine samples. It’s quite big (> 80 MB), so this next set will take a while to download:

boodle-mgr install  http://boodler.org/lib/com.azulebanana.buddhamachine.1.5.1.boop
boodle-mgr install http://boodler.org/lib/com.azulebanana.buddhaagent.1.5.1.boop

It’s worth the wait:

boodler --output pulse com.azulebanana.buddhaagent/ChangingLoops

Boodler has tons of options, prebuilt packages, and instructions to build your own: Boodler Documentation.

One thing I’ve tried to get working, but failed, is streaming from Boodler via icecast. Sure, I can install and run it, it’s just that the results are, um, undesirable. If you want to have a play, here’s how to install icecast:

sudo apt-get install icecast2 ices2 libshout3-dev

Icecast will configure itself, and ask for a couple of passwords. You’ll have to rebuild and reinstall Boodler for it to catch the new configuration. You can then try streaming:

boodler --output shout --define shout-password=mypassword --define shout-mount='/boodler-buddha.ogg' com.azulebanana.buddhaagent/ChangingLoops

If you open a web browser at this address http://raspberrypi:8000/ you should see a config page listing your boodler-buddha.ogg stream. Click on the M3U link next to it, and your streaming music player should start making a joyful noise …

… except in my case, something went very wrong, and it started to produce industrial ultra-glitch nightmare noise: boodler-streaming_test-fail. I’m sure it’s fixable with some tweaking, but I’m not there yet.

optar: paper-based archiving

I’ve spent most of the day messing around with Twibright Optar, a way of creating printed archives of binary data that can be scanned back in and restored.  It looks like it was written as a proof-of-concept, as the only way to change options is to modify the code and recompile. Eppur si muove.

To compile the code on OS X, I found I had to change this line in the Makefile from:



LDFLAGS=-lm  `libpng-config --L_opts`

After trying to print some samples at the default resolution, I had no luck, so for reliability I halved the data density settings in the file optar.h:

#define XCROSSES 33 /* Number of crosses horizontally */
#define YCROSSES 43 /* Number of crosses vertically */

It’s quite important that your image prints and scans with a whole number of printer dots to image pixels. This used to be quite easy to do, before the advent of PDF’s “Scale to fit” misfeature, and also printer drivers that do a tonne of work in the background to “improve” the image. Add the mismatch between laser printer resolutions (300, 600, 1200 dpi …) and inkjets (360, 720, 1440 dpi …), and you’ve got lots of ways that this can go wrong.

Thankfully, there’s one common resolution that works across both types of printers. If you output the image at 120 dpi, that’s 5 laser printer dots at 600 dpi, or six inkjet dots at 720 dpi. And there was peace in the kingdom.

Here’s a demo, based on this:

So I took this track (which I used to have as a 7″, got at a jumble sale in the mid-70s) and converted it to a really low quality MPEG-2.5: MichelinJingle8kbit — that’s 175KB for just shy of three minutes of music (which, at this bitrate, sounds like it’s played through a layer of socks at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, but still).

Passing it through optar (which I wish wouldn’t produce PGM files; its output is mono) and bundling the pages into a PDF, I get this: optar_mj.pdf (760KB). Scanning that printout at 600dpi and running the pages through unoptar, I got this: optar1_mj.mp3. It’s the same as the input file, except padded with zeros at the end.

Sometimes, the scanning and conversion doesn’t do so well:

  • mjoptar300dpi.mp3 — this is what happens when you scan at too low a resolution.
  • mjx.mp3 — I have no idea what went wrong here, but: glitchtastic!

glitch out

ipod glitch

I really don’t think that my ipod was supposed to do that. But then, it was playing Columbus Fruge’s Saut Crapaud at the time, which is enough to make anyone shift a few pixels to the side:

Saut crapaud
ta queue va brûler
Prends courage
a’va repousser