Cycling ’74 has posted a fascinating set of videos of artists talking about how they use Max/MSP/Jitter. (Thanks, Kevin!)

Jamie Lidell talks about approaching Max as a vocalist and being a “one-man funk tornado.” It’s interesting to me that Max/MSP has made the transition with him from his classic IDM style to funk — solid proof that tools are what you make them.

AGF sings a song about a Max patch she made, which earns extra geek points for sure. (I could write songs about the mistakes I’m making learning JAVA programming, but that’s another story.)

Kevin Blechdom, who is actually female (just to warn you in advance, blokes), talks about the need to put something out there in live performance and not worry about whether it’s good enough. (Just sing / sing a song … I’m with you, Kevin. Something us obsessive perfectionists could probably stand hearing, so we just go play.)

OSU professor Matthew Lewis has students using video tracking to make music and connecting Max to MySpace. (And, I hope, makes CDM required reading — right?)

North Pitney builds giant mazes and tracks movement through them.

The one element in common in all these stories: the ability to experiment with new, custom ideas for making music, all while rapidly prototyping ideas. That definitely sums up the visual patching experience for me. I like the video inspiration; it’d be great to see users of other tools assemble something similar as a grassroots effort.

  • Tom

    I don't want to be negative, but if Max/MSP is so incredibly versatile, how come 80% of the music made with it is the same random bleeps, rumbles and clicking art gallery music?

  • benko

    If an electric guitar is such a versatile instrument, how come 80% of the music made with it is the same boring rock music?

  • G-ravity

    Tom and beno, you two should just hush it up already. Neither of you are making any kind of serious inquiry without providing evidence for your assertions. If you two are in second grade, then I understand. If you two are adults, what a pity.

    Thanks for the article and links, Peter. For me, at least, the interviews were quite inspiring.

  • Well, I can't resist some kind of response here, because this comes up so often. Max is capable of doing just about anything with MIDI, audio, video, 3D graphics, and now network communication. (And, of course, there are various other tools that cover one or more of those areas, too, not just Max, so we're talking about computer creativity in general.) If your imagination is limited, the results will be limited, just as with any tool. And because it's open-ended, it becomes even more important to develop your skills over time to make Max your own, just as with any instrument. And, sure, there are easy ruts to fall into with Max, as with computers, pianos, guitars, singing, etc., and it's possible to get stuck copying and pasting example code rather than figuring out how to realize your own ideas. But the best answer to this is to practice. And even if Tom's right, I'm still interested in the remaining 20%.

  • Tom

    That's why I said 80%, not 99.999%.

    I guess I don't know enough about the field to name 20 great songs written with Max/MSP.

    Historically, limitations have been very beneficial for the production of popular music.

  • Since when is music limited, popular or otherwise? Those limitations have to be provided by the musician/composer. (Sometimes they're called limitations; sometimes they're called craft, tradition, vision, etc.)

    If it's a great song, you probably don't know what it was written with.

  • Tom

    And another thing!

    benko –

    The guitar is a fundamentally limited instrument. Plug it in, play it, it basically makes a handful of different sounds, even when you add effects. It would be remarkable if 95% of music made with it didn't fall within pretty tight parameters.

    Max/MSP is a totally unlimited instrument. It can sound like anything. It can do anything. That's why I'm surprised that most people I've encountered use it to make a fairly narrow range of music (particularly when compared to guitar/voice/analog synth/piano. Try searching for 'max/msp' in myspace and see what comes up.

  • Tom

    Peter – I meant technical limitations, the old poind about people making incredible music with very primitive tools, whether its anyone on an acoustic guitar or Liam Howlett on his Roland W-30.

  • Matt

    Off the top of my head… Have you heard of Vytear or Black Unicorn? Do a search on MySpace. He uses Max/MSP solely, or did, until recently. Again, it's that 20% I'm listening to and maybe 1% of the 80%. I think it's going to be the same no matter what tool you're talking about. Tom, you and I both own the G2… How many people do you think bought that to make 'better' trance? I bet quite a few.

  • So maybe Max/MSP isn't strictly an instrument in the traditional sense. It's more akin to instrument building and composing. Speaking as a composer, that blank slate (sound like anything, do anything) is all too familiar. And it's all too easy to do something, well, lame. But I'm glad that hasn't discouraged anyone. And there's likewise no saying you can't make pop music if you want with Max, I think increasingly so as musicians become savvy with tech and the basics of synthesis and MIDI.

    As for Max users, there are plenty of brilliant people laboring in relative obscurity, but if you want the big names, we could start the Aphex Twin, Radiohead, etc. litany. But is this really about using what anyone else used, or is it about what works for you? I'm interested to hear how Thom Yorke and Liam Howlett work, and hear their music, but that doesn't mean it'll have any bearing on how I work.

    PS — to anyone making music in 2060, Max/MSP may look like a primitive tool. It can do a lot, but nothing is really unlimited. (That's why people have taken to extending it with JAVA, JavaScript, and C when it doesn't do things they need.)

  • Tom

    I think I've realised my real gripe with Max…

    Hardware Rulez!

    Software Suckz!

    Go hardware! Go hardware! Go hardware!

  • Tom

    Matt – Thanks for the Vytear tip, I realised I'd already downloaded his sElf mix…

  • benko

    Tom et al

    just to clarify, only point I was trying to make is don't blame a instrument/tool/whatever for all the people doing less-than-interessting stuff with it.

  • I agree/disagree regarding the Guitar…its not the instrument that is as limited as the minds of the people who tend to play it. Walk into any guitar shop and count the number of players who are doing some kind of blues-based music (not that there is anything wrong with that – it just tends to always "follow" the same rules). Its always easier to fall back on tradition than to chart your own course (and the chicks like you better too…)

  • I think it's silly to compare guitars to software. Although a good guitar player that sings even moderately well will capture and engage an audience much more than ANYONE with clever shit on the laptop.

    That's why Jamie Lydell is successful – it's not his max/msp patch – it's that he's singing, performing, dancing, and being an entertainer.

    As much as intellectually I appreciate clever software, it's the human element that's important in a performance. And unfortunately, the people most drawn to max/msp are usually not good entertainers. Pretty much I'm sick of "music" that sounds like crickets and dolphin squeals. I'm sick of "how many plugins can we drop into each track".

    Hardware does rule – because it limits you to a fixed interface that doesn't change. You are forced to learn it, and work with it's limitations.

    The best thing I've done for my music in the last couple of months was move the focus in my studio from the computer to the instruments. The computer is relegated to being a recorder. My music is created with a collection of old and new electronic instruments, hardware effects, guitar pedals, etc. And I'm forced to WORK to make the system do what I want.

    I didn't do this because "software sucks" and "hardware rules" – I did it because I wanted to make my music be a creative, intuitive process again, not an intellectual exercise, focused on a very limited visual interface (the computer screen).

    It's nice to touch sliders, knobs, keys, etc that are physically limited to a single function. It's fun to bash rubbery keys on my little electribe. And plug it into a $5 distortion pedal I picked up at a fleamarket. It's nice to smell my old musty analog synths. 😉

    I can't seriously discount software as a creative tool, but the users that transcend it's inherent limitations and create emotive human music with it are rare and far between.

    My challenge to anyone making music with software – Ableton Live, Reaktor, MSP, etc – is make and finish a song outside of your normal process. Don't use shit like beatslicers and Reaktor factory ensembles. Don't load up loops from sample libraries into Live. Don't rely on DestroyFX and other stuff like that. If you don't play an instrument, use your voice. Record it, multitrack it, etc – don't focus on the processing – focus on the music.

    I guarantee you'll be surprised by the results.

  • G-ravity

    Tom's assertion makes implications. My point is that if he does so then he should support it with some evidence. Has Tom listened to 100% of the available music made with MaxMSP in order to be able to quantify that 20% of it is actually different from the other 80%? Of the remaining 20% has he listened to 100% of that to make a qualified statement on that 20%? Has he taken MaxMSP to the point where he is pressing against the boundaries of the capabilities of the program? Does Tom have a database, mental or otherwise, where he has catalogued all of those rumbles, bleeps and clicks that provide evidence and show that they are all indeed the identical from one recording and performance to all others in that 80% that he refers to?

    Further, his initial question contains so many logical fallacies I hardly know where to start. Does the potential and capability of Max/MSP really determine the kind of music that those who use it will create? Does it determine how much of that music will be appealing or appalling to him?

    I can ask a ton more of these kinds of questions based on Tom's initial question but I won't. His type of questioning is designed to cause conflict and to create an audience that is both agreeable and disagreeable to his assertions. Whether it was his intention or not. And that's why I'm saying anything at all because I disagree not only with what he says but I also disagree with the implications of what he has said.

    Some might think I have read to much into Tom's question but the truth is that I listen. Tom could have just said, "Most of the music that I've heard that is made with MaxMSP sounds the same to me." That's a statement that I do not have a problem with because it limits its perspective to Tom and Tom only and it makes an assertion that can only be proved and supported to himself. His initial question is the kind of rhetorical attempt at persuasion that makes it really hard for me not to come off sounding pedantic.

    Long and boring, I know, but he's talking about music and I just couldn't resist voicing my own perspective.

    Back to music.

  • Gustavo, I think you'll find most of the "software people" on *this* site will agree with most of what you're saying. Without speaking for anyone else, I'm perfectly all for emotion, physical control of instruments, adding the human element, going beyond presets and factory ensembles, shaking up workflows, discovering equipment at flea markets, creative, intuitive processes … the lot.

    In fact, the only area I disagree is on the point of open-ended possibilities, versus arbitrary restrictions, being a handicap. Composers face this every day, every time they look at a blank page. Musicians face it every time they look at their instrument. Even that $5 pedal could theoretically have unlimited possibilities, talking strictly combinatorics here. I think our musical aesthetic, feeling, and training comes across in whatever tools we use.

    I think we agree here that it's about the music, so here's my advice as far as Max/MSP: if it seems too intellectual, or seems to restrictive, try making choices in your software patch and then living with them like an interface for a few hours, or a month, or a year. Sure, it may not be an instrument with hundreds of years of history, but all instruments had their moment of invention. You just get to be present at the birth of one that's specific to you. (And I think this goes for all synth programming, too, hardware and software.)

  • G-ravity

    I just wanted to also add that even "if" most of the music made with MaxMSP does seem to sound the same to someone it is probably because the listener is listening to the music of a specific culture or subculture. One could say that about the use of any instrument or tools.

    Users of CAD in the auto industry tend to design transportation that look like cars, trucks, buses, and so on. Switch to architecture and you get radical departure in design using the same CAD software. Still it's the field of design to which MaxMSP/Jitter clearly belongs to.

  • Lidell makes wonderful music but I would prefer to know how he programs his beloved patch, or if it adapted from someone else's work. Many Max/MSP users are cagey about the details of their patches and whether or not they even created them. I have a hard time believing most musicians would actually sit there with a blank screen and code something up from scratch, which many insinuate they do.

    It's like a lot of owners of large modular synths don't even record/make music… some people are into the 'process' and other the 'product' – each to their own – but I think there is a huge gap there with Max/MSP.

  • LightHeaded

    I love seeing cool things being done with music and computers… I don't really care what program does it. MAX/MSP is obviously very powerful. I only wish I could get better at it…

  • TylerDurden31

    Gustavo, I'd agree with you in the focus aspect. I'm a drummer and I also play with some electronics. Any time I'm in a stale place on the drumset, I tend to remove my rack toms from my set and it makes me focus on using the basic parts of the kit to make the beats more interesting. Last night I removed about 50 or 60 samples from my Electribe ESX-1. I left 2 drumsets, a bass, an ambient sample and a static noise sample on it and it forced me to learn the interface to make the music more interesting. I've had this thing for almost a year and I've had so many sounds on it that I was more concerned with which sound to use than what to do with it. I personally have never used MAX/MSP but it seems like Reaktor in some aspects and I'd say if that's true, you'd have to limit yourself or you wind up in the non-creative hole that I wound up in.

  • Angstrom

    I asked Jamie about his Max patch a while back, being a nosey bugger.

    He said he made it about 4 years ago and hasn't really changed it much since. He said it is very very simple and most peple assume it is much more complex than it is, it was about the second thing he ever made.

    He also said that he had talked to the people from Cycling about it / or they had asked him about it and they were more than a little suprised at the brutality and wonkiness of it.

    I don't know the fella by the way – I just chatted to him for a bit early last year sometime.

  • I guess I came across as trying to fuel the "hardware vs. software" debate. That wasn't my intent at all.

    I am very much a software person too – every single one of my 5 releases has everything from Ableton to Reaktor and was mixed in Logic. My Nord modular is my best friend – and that's a software synth in hardware. 🙂

    I've worked at many of the big companies in the music tech industry – from designing user interfaces to designing midi interfaces. I teach music production classes, and do tutoring, as well as get hired to do remixes and engineering for people. Software is vital for that.

    But I am exposed to a lot of people who use more abstract software generators as a replacement for writing melodic content, or use randomness as a arrangement tool. That's fine in an intellectual level, but you reach a point very quickly where it's really not enough.

    I'm friends with a lot of the more serious MSP heads – I'd rather not drop names, but they work at c74 and have put out some of the most amazing music I've heard in the last few years. And guess what? One of them is just doing mastering now, since he's not very interested in doing that type of music anymore. Another has been learning the piano. Another is trying to add more vocals and other performance elements, etc.

    Basically, software is so open-ended that before you know it you've dissapeared up your own ass, and lost any contact with what makes music important in the first place.

    Set some limits. Be productive. Finish your tracks.

  • G-ravity

    Nice post, Gustavo!

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  • ive never known anything but software…

    mostly because of financial limitations

    of course now that i can afford to drop money on things i tend to buy vsts and weird controllers…

    max/msp reaktor pd supercollider are all nice and dandy and excellent for adding a little bit of life to the mix from a creator stand point.

    a good bit of randomness here and there makes for a non-boring 12-18 hour production session

    and thats all im gonna say about that

    that and "why is there not a forum post about this already?"

  • Hawk

    I came across this discussion as part of my never-ending quest for interesting music/art production tools and techniques. I find in refreshing to even see/hear anyone discussing the basic question of being creative. We live in a time where the tools for creating are very powerful, but as humans we are bound to the level of understanding that we are comfortable with. The individuals that are driven to reach the edges and be really creative have always been a small percentage. It takes a type of questioning and effort that most people to not get to, unless pushed or driven by some unique circumstance. Personally I would prefer to be motivated by inspiration than tragedy (having experienced both). I believe that this truly creative mode can be taught and/or cultivated by coming in contact with someone who is operating from that place. There is a magnetic dynamic about encountering someone creative. It is life affirming and basically feels good. It adds fun and pleasure to life, which is the payoff for making the effort to stand outside the knowns of the mainstream in one’s culture. Having said this…I feel that it really does not matter if you are tweaking hardware or software…they are both just different tools for being creative. What matters is what you do with them. They reflect different aspects of your total being…hardware being perhaps more physical, where software is perhaps more mental…but we are all operating on both levels all the time anyway. It is in the mixture that we define ourselves. Historically, it has always been the exploration by the small percentage of individuals that push the envelope of understanding in any area that shapes the culture and lives of everyone else. This is why it is important. We are only limited by our understanding…and those who make the effort to enhance or enlarge that understanding provide a valuable service to the mainstream of everyone else. I commend you all for having this discussion and having opinions to express. Truthfully this is vital stuff.

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  • Well, i've just come across this rubbish after searching for some beginners Max stuff for a friend! I've been using Max/MSP+Jitter for 4 years now, i'm competent but not a "power user" but the ignorance here is incredible enough for me to read through it all and actually reply!!! The Max/MSP "music" which gets out there, (the stuff that's full of bleeps and ticks etc), isn't representitive of the type of stuff that Max is now commonly used for…have any of you heard of Ableton Live? It was originally developed in Max/MSP! Personally i'm a plugin developer, i provide the .dll files that end up in your VST plugins folders and how do i develop them? Use your imaginations! If you're in a creative pit that's your problem but i don't have time to be, i'm too busy developing stuff for that! Most of the musicians out there using Max are in a completely different paradigm to the minds here…so of course without boundaries an empty mind will be without creative capacity. By the way, i'm also a musician too and my side of things represents a lot more than 20% of the Max community! Instead of spouting off without any knowledge of the subject, why not look into the facts first rather than generalising?

  • Pa

    Cheers for the thoughts Gustavo.

  • NEEL

    everyone who is making this max msp stuff amazes me, until i figure out 100 other ways to do granular or midi stuff, i think max is popular with big names cause they find patches to either modify or work with- might be wrong, but there is alot of programs now, i infact dare someone to say i work with "building blocks" or infinity, why,,,'

    cause there are no patches out there for those programs

    although i wonder if there is anything more we can do with sound besides 4'33 performances for audiences who wanna hear clicks and cuts…

    its all about the melody which is a harder to build patch.

    just use dblue glitch to fk it up.