Music Visualization Plugins Under Linux

It is only very recently, that I have looked at an aspect of my Linux computers, which certain mainstream users would appreciate more than I, usually, which is to set them up, just for listening to music.

A part of music appreciation, can be to have visualizations display, that respond in some way, however minimalistic that may be, to the ‘mood’, the general spectral composition and rhythms. And so if we are used to Windows and its Media Player, we already know about such plugins as ‘Goom’… And when we are using “Amarok” to listen to music under Linux, we may find ourselves missing such niceties.

There is a comment which I must make about such plugins as Goom though. This type of content is considered to be intellectual property, and the authors wish to be paid, for the numbers of users who view their art while listening. And so one thing which Linux cannot do, would be just to copy each of these plugins. I think that in the past, doing so caused some disputes somewhere.

But that does not mean, that the world of Linux may not have visualization plugins of its own. Hence, the question does arise, as to where those might be.

And the answer for some time has been disappointing. While the sound system on Linux computers has shifted from OSS, ALSA and ESOUND to such standards as ‘Pulse Audio’ and ‘Phonon’, this has thrown a bit of a monkey-wrench into the availability of visualizations. Those used to exist specifically for ‘Amarok’ and ‘Kaffeine’, but actually do not because of the versions having progressed to a state of incompatibility.

It used to be, that installing such additional packages as ‘libvisual’, would mean that a visualization panel would become available within Amarok itself. For now this does not happen. And so I have found another way. I would say that the following packages need to be installed:




I am going whole hog here, and pretending that some of us might actually want to write some of our own visualizations at some point in time, but also that we would want the collections to be available to us, which have already been written by Debian devs. There is a new player on this list, which is known as ‘projectM’. This is a framework for visualizations to be displayed with OpenGL, GPU acceleration (unlike how ‘libvisual’ used to work). And a key package I have just now recommended is ‘projectm-pulseaudio’.

What this does, is put an entry into our application menus, which opens a window, which displays those visuals, for whatever sound sources are in fact playing, through pulseaudio.

So we do not have to use Amarok necessarily. We can use some other music player, and as long as the music is being piped through pulseaudio, the visuals will try to adapt to it.

The only downside to this platform, is the fact that the projectM window sometimes needs a few extra seconds, to detect shifts in the mood of the music, and to select a new theme of visuals to keep up with that. Also, even though some of this is GPU-accelerated, the CPU-load of all that is still quite high, especially if we have Amarok displaying as a full window, and not as a notification tray icon.

But the whole thing works! And I did suppose, that I should add the ‘mood bar’ to Amarok as well…