My gratitude to everybody who takes the time to help me figure this out:

I am using debian 5.0 (kernel 2.6.26.2), and trying to install alsa drivers for a supported soundcard (ice1712 driver, for envy24 chipset).

I started out by following all of the instructions posted on the alsa website for this chipset
http://www.alsa-project.org/main/index.php/Matrix:Module-ice1712

but at the last step, where i am supposed to use modprobe to insert the finished modules into the kernel, i found that the snd-ice1712 module did not exist by typing:
modprobe -l | grep snd

I see at the end of the instructions:
Note: 

Debian GNU/Linux users need to save this information into a file in the /etc/​modutils/ directory (eg. /etc/​modutils/​alsa) and run update-modules.

Note also that the kernel module soundcore has been renamed in Debian kernels >2.6.23 into snd. A workaround is to put a symlink at /lib/modules/x.x.xx/kernel/sound/soundcore.ko pointing to snd.ko

but modutils is obsolete and lsmod tells me i have the "soundcore" module installed, so i assume no need for a symlink.



I'll go through the instructions from the alsa website...
Now unzip and install the alsa-driver package:
./configure --with-cards=ice1712 --with-sequencer=yes ; make ; make install


# cd /usr/src/alsa/alsa-driver-1.0.22.1
/usr/src/alsa/alsa-driver-1.0.22.1# ./configure --with-cards=ice1712 --with-sequencer=yes
(I do get one warning at the end of this:)
config.status: WARNING: Makefile.conf.in seems to ignore the --datarootdir setting

/usr/src/alsa/alsa-driver-1.0.22.1# make
(Here I get a couple more warnings,similar to the following:)
/usr/src/alsa/alsa-driver-1.0.22.1/acore/pcm_native.c: In function ‘snd_pcm_mmap_status’:
/usr/src/alsa/alsa-driver-1.0.22.1/acore/pcm_native.c:3109: warning: assignment discards qualifiers from pointer target type
(but at the end there is:)
ALSA modules were successfully compiled.

/usr/src/alsa/alsa-driver-1.0.22.1# make install
(everything seems to go smoothly)

run:
chmod a+rw /dev/dsp /dev/mixer /dev/sequencer /dev/midi


# chmod a+rw /dev/dsp /dev/mixer /dev/sequencer /dev/midi
(Unfortunately this returns:)
chmod: cannot access `/dev/midi': No such file or directory

Now unzip and install the alsa-lib package:
cd ..
bunzip2 alsa-lib-xxx
tar -xf alsa-lib-xxx
cd alsa-lib-xxx
./configure ; make ; make install
Now unzip and install the alsa-utils package:
cd ..
bunzip2 alsa-utils-xxx
tar -xf alsa-utils-xxx
cd alsa-utils-xxx
./configure ; make ; make install


(This all seems to go smoothly)

Now insert the modules into the kernel:

modprobe snd-ice1712 ; modprobe snd-pcm-oss ; modprobe snd-mixer-oss ; modprobe snd-seq-oss


/usr/src/alsa/alsa-utils-1.0.22# modprobe snd-ice1712
FATAL: Module snd_ice1712 not found.
FATAL: Error running install command for snd_ice1712
(no good)
/usr/src/alsa/alsa-utils-1.0.22# modprobe -l | grep ice17
/lib/modules/2.6.26-2-amd64/updates/pci/ice1712/snd-ice17xx-ak4xxx.ko
/lib/modules/2.6.26-2-amd64/updates/pci/ice1712/snd-ice1724.ko
I see snd-ice17xx...
oceanmotion:/usr/src/alsa/alsa-utils-1.0.22# modprobe snd-ice17xx-ak4xxx
(this goes smoothly)

Now adjust your soundcard's volume levels. All mixer channels are muted by default. You must use a native mixer program to unmute appropriate channels, for example alsamixer from the alsa-utils package. Note that some usb-audio devices do not have internal mixer controls. Run:

alsamixer


/usr/src/alsa/alsa-utils-1.0.22# alsamixer
(this works)
but...
alsamixer says my card is an HDA ATI SB-- the one integrated into my motherboard.
If I F6: select sound card, the HDI is the only one available... so no sign of the one I just installed.
And finally:
Note:

Debian GNU/Linux users need to save this information into a file in the /etc/​modutils/ directory (eg. /etc/​modutils/​alsa) and run update-modules.

Note also that the kernel module soundcore has been renamed in Debian kernels >2.6.23 into snd. A workaround is to put a symlink at /lib/modules/x.x.xx/kernel/sound/soundcore.ko pointing to snd.ko


# ALSA portion
alias char-major-116 snd
alias snd-card-0 snd-ice1712
# module options should go here

# OSS/Free portion
alias char-major-14 soundcore
alias sound-slot-0 snd-card-0

# card #1
alias sound-service-0-0 snd-mixer-oss
alias sound-service-0-1 snd-seq-oss
alias sound-service-0-3 snd-pcm-oss
alias sound-service-0-8 snd-seq-oss
alias sound-service-0-12 snd-pcm-oss

And I don't know what to make of that, since modutils is obsolete and I have
'soundcore' installed.

Feelin' pretty stuck