Ableton is announcing today they have fully acquired Cycling ’74, the California-based company best known for producing Max and Max for Live.

It’s perhaps an auspicious moment for Cycling ’74 as the company reaches its 20th anniversary – and 20 years of availability of the MSP tools for synthesis and sound processing. But if acquisitions would normally make you nervous, the close existing relationship of the two companies, and the plans as they’re describing them, should put those concerns to ease.

Gerhard Behles and David Zicarelli, founders and CEOs of Ableton and Cycling ’74, respectively, tell CDM that the deal will open up the possibility of closer collaboration on challenges and future products. Cycling ’74, now with 25 employees scattered around the world (so loosely that the company describes that as “approximately” 25 people), will continue to operate as before, the companies tell us.

There are no plans for personnel changes or redundancy or moving any locations. (Cycling ’74 already has a small office in Ableton’s headquarter city Berlin.)

What will change is that the two companies will now be more formally on the same “team.”

I sat down in May for an exclusive CDM discussion with Gerhard and David. See the full interview, but the overwhelming sense was of both mutual affection – and a desire to work more closely together on common problems. That shouldn’t come as any big surprise to followers of the two companies and users of their products. Max and Ableton Live have long shared a common set of goals, DNA, and meaningful overlap of user bases, even before the advent of the Max for Live product for integrating the two flagship tools.


“We have a long history,” begins Gerhard. “That somehow motivates the whole thing,” he says.

But whatever this may mean for the future, the immediate present won’t change – which should bring relief to Cycling’s own loyal customer base.

“It’s about the continuation of Cycling as it has always been – the same people, products, customers, vision, and so forth,” says Zicarelli. “But it makes it easier to essentially be on the same side as Ableton in anything that we do together. From the perspective of anyone dealing with Cycling ’74, I can’t imagine that anything really changes. That’s how we at Cycling are thinking about it.”

“We are continuing to be a separate company,” says Zicarelli. “It’s just that the ownership changes from me to Ableton.” [A US-based Ableton legal entity will technically become the owner.]

And for Ableton, bringing Cycling ’74 into the fold is somehow a return to roots.

“I literally grew up on this,” Behles tells us. “We were making music and making Max patches to make the music. And some of the Max patches were indicative of what Live would be at a point. Somehow to us, it’s part of our upbringing.”

Behles and Zicarelli talked at length with CDM about their ideas, how they came to know one another, and where they imagine the future might lead. We’ll have that full interview separately.

The acquisition is already complete and effective immediately. But now for Max and Live users, nothing changes for the moment. We keep making music, while we wait to see what these two music tool makers will create next.


A timeline of Cycling ’74 and Ableton

We’ve put together the major events in the history of the two companies, and verified it with representatives of the two companies. Let us know if we missed anything. Of course, this all begins in the 80s with the original version of Max and Miller Puckette, who went on to create Pure Data – and Pd and Max continue to share metaphors, code, externals, and communities. -Ed.

1989: Opcode Systems licenses Max from Paris’ electronic music research center IRCAM.

1990: Opcode Systems begins selling a version of Max developed by David Zicarelli.


1997: The “MSP” (Max Signal Processing) set of extensions is released, adding powerful audio synthesis and effects features to Max, built in part on work done by original Max creator Miller Puckette (in the open source Pure Data).

1997: Zicarelli founds Cycling ’74, with the name and images inspired by a 1974 bicycle catalog. Its first products are MSP, Pluggo (released in 1999), and the algorithmic software M (developed by Joel Chadabe’s Intelligent Music, and updated by David Zicarelli).

1998: Gibson Guitar buys Opcode; development of Opcode software will cease the following year.

1999: Cycling ’74 becomes the exclusive developer and publisher of Max and MSP.

1999: Ableton is founded in Berlin by Gerhard Behles, Robert Henke, and Bernd Roggendorf. Some Max patches will be used to inspire Live functionality, including past performance patches by Behles and Henke. There are also prototypes of some devices that will be built first in Max, like Henke’s original Operator prototype.

2001: Ableton releases Live 1.0 as a commercial product. (See Robert’s history on how it all began.)


2003: Cycling ’74 releases Jitter, which with processing of matrices of data can now handle 3D, video, and other applications.

2007: Ableton and Cycling ’74 announce a “strategic partnership.” At this time, there’s no public description of what any product collaboration would be.

2008: Max gets a major GUI overhaul, based on the JUCE C++ architecture (now owned by London’s ROLI). Zicarelli describes the resulting version, Max 5, as “the most significant and dramatic transformation of the software in its twenty-year history.”

2009: Ableton and Cycling ’74 announce Max for Live. The software allows Max’s sound processing and visual capabilities to run as devices inside Ableton Live. The companies preview the technology by late in the year, and ships Max for Live to the public with a release of Live 8. (Read David’s insightful commentary from the time.)

2011: Cycling ’74 ships Max 6, with an improved UI, 64-bit support, and Gen.

2012: Ableton announces Live 9 and Push – and Live 9 Suite becomes the first release to ship with Max for Live included, rather than as a separate purchase. Live 9 Suite also includes a number of instruments and effects built in Max for Live.

2014: Cycling ’74 ships Max 7, with performance and usability improvements and a new tutorial system for learning Max.

2016: Ableton announces a desktop version of Ableton Link – with support included in Cycling ’74’s Max/MSP.

2017: Ableton announces it is acquiring Cycling ’74, via a US subsidiary entity.7r1a9634

Photos courtesy Ableton.

For more on the history of the two companies, what this will mean as they go forward, and their shared vision of the future, we spoke with founders and CEOs David Zicarelli (Cycling ’74) and Gerhard Behles (Ableton):

A conversation with David Zicarelli and Gerhard Behles

The Schwinn bicycle catalog that started it all.

The Schwinn bicycle catalog that started it all.

Ableton's Operator is native, not coded in Max. But Robert Henke produced this Max/MSP prototype.

Ableton’s Operator is native, not coded in Max. But Robert Henke produced this Max/MSP prototype.

Ableton Live, unveiled at NAMM in 2001.

Ableton Live, unveiled at NAMM in 2001.

David and Gerhard ten years ago, as the partnership first becomes public.

David and Gerhard ten years ago, as the partnership first becomes public.

  • Derp Nerpson

    I see many free copies of Max LE Lite in my future as new controller/interface purchases are made.

  • Armando

    this actually makes sense. great news!

  • Clif Marsiglio

    Does this mean we can get a lite version of Netochka Nezvanova as well?

    I loved Max back in the day, but what Antiorp / NN did with it was amazing.

    • William Conlin

      omg. I loved reading about Antiorp. such a fascinating period…

      • Clif Marsiglio

        She was something. She was a member of the Kurzweil mailing list I ran years ago…accidentally unmasked herself to the administrators when she forgot to send everything through her proxy, but luckily enough it got caught in the spam sieve waiting for us to approve it.

        Either way, she had shared quite a bit of custom work with us, and I actually used an unreliable arp she either wrote or suggested that was barely tameable for live use (back when I had a Powerbook 140!!!)

        She showed that this stuff wasn’t just a toy, and could be used for actual art…just don’t mention her name to anyone on the Cycling team…which is sad because her stuff really took this from 100% obscure nerd only usage…to only mostly obscure nerd usage!

        • Ashley Scott

          heh – and the Soundhack list way back when…

        • dalas v

          Wow, I would love to hear more.

          • Clif Marsiglio

            Most of what I had to share wasn’t public. I actually tried getting a hold of her a few months ago at her ‘real’ ‘grown-up’ job…denied it was her, but signed off with a phrase that pretty much confirmed I had the right person.

            Before all the Max stuff, she was a Kurzweil / K2000 freak. Some great programs…some great programs that forced you to reset your FX board if you abused it too much because the off the shelf digitech board it used was really designed for set and forget guitar type of work, not an integral part of the synthesis engine on a machine like this! I think I still have some of that on floppy…sadly, not Kurz with a Digi board these days (I’m down to a K2600 and a PC3…now that I’m no longer a pro, no need to keep a warehouse of instruments around).

            But the KurzList is still archived out there somewhere from the pre-YahooGroups days…you can probably find conversations where she pissed off literally anyone without a sense of humor! All the while showing techniques any of us should have been listening to if we could get past the style of the message. Anyhoo…

          • dalas v

            Nice 🙂 Hit me up at my username at gmail if you feel like sharing the non public stuff. That was a big part of my life at the time. I ended up getting a Fulbright Scholarship to live in Norway because of my work with Max and Nato.

        • Lindon Parker

          “..just don’t mention her name to anyone on the Cycling team…” – yes she was strange but they didnt treat her very nicely at C74 (I remember the message board missives..both hers and theirs) – partly I think because they were making MSP at the time. It left me with a bad taste about C74 and I’ve pretty much never seriously been back there since.

          • Clif Marsiglio

            “yes she was strange but they didnt treat her very nicely at C74 ”

            I met several team members at a conference years ago, and I ended up pulling out a laptop to show one of them something I had been working on based of some of the code that was shared to me — I was a sound designer for a few synth companies, but I really wanted to get into programming performance and I had mentioned her name. The one person I was showing the code to walked back to the others at C74…and they all came back and asked me to leave saying that I had chosen the wrong side and we were going to lose all the lawsuits — and they “WILL sue anyone that interferes or sides with her”.

            And then as I was leaving, one of them ran to me and started asking me questions…demanding…asking if I knew who she was and where she lived and blah blah blah…it was SURREAL. It was like they had an instant repulsion for me where I had legal threats thrown at me, and yet they wanted my help. At the time, I was on the dime of a major synth company, pulled off my badge just before someone decided to start taking photos and demanding to know my name…and I walked away.

            So yes, this whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth too. I LOVED the product. I used it before the whole MSP aspect was in place (i.e., the only portion that was truly theirs). After this, I went back to my synths and not thinking much about it. The Cycling team really were unprofessional and it is sad…I loved their product and wanted to know more.

            I still want to use something similar — which is why I click on these kinds of posts because I’m hoping there will be something that forces me to get out of the world I am in today (i.e., as far away from music / entertainment industry as possible) — and bring me back. The closest I’ve found has been AudioKit on iOS. I’ve looked at PD, but never even tried pulling up its code…just looked at the documentation in passing.

            So yeah…similar feelings. I mean, it isn’t like any of us in the industry are normal nor have weak opinions…art wouldn’t be art without taking unreasonable stances and hoping the world sees it the way you do!

          • Lindon Parker

            Well “what goes around comes around”.

        • Bob Ovison

          Thanks for sharing all this

    • Dubby Labby

      NATO.0+55+3d is legendary!

    • dalas v

      I had a license and some typically strange conversations with NN 🙂

  • Graham Metcalfe

    That’s cool. I’ve had their products in one form or another all the way back to “M”, Music Mouse (yay Laurie Spiegel!) and Jam Factory (which if I remember correctly came in a coffee can). I even think I still have my copy of the MIT press article back from the 80s that David wrote on algorithmic composition.

    This seems like a logical and mutually beneficial marriage.

    • Oh yeah, indeed!

      Note that Music Mouse was published/distributed(?) by Opcode, not ever Cycling ’74 to my knowledge?

      M definitely was, as David was one of the developers, and M was alongside MSP as one of the first two products, with Pluggo the following year.

      Found this on Jam Factory. I had forgotten, but I used this alongside M, too, when I first saw the two programs at Oberlin in 1995. Someone else can probably fill in the connection of the two.

      • Graham Metcalfe

        Oh yeah. I forgot that was under Opcode. I worked in Palo Alto at the time and hung out in their offices when they just had a little storefront/office off of University Ave. Here’s that article from MIT Press:

      • Philippe Loiseau

        I think I remember it was published by Intelligent Music, with Joel Chadabe…
        I got M back a few weeks ago, and it’s still way head for generative fun than a lot of major DAW I know…

    • Eric Ameres

      The one that came in the “coffee can”-like packaging was actually “Ovaltune” I still have my copy autographed by all of the Intelligent Music crew. I remember David showing Joel Chadabe Max in that ’88-’90 time frame…

    • Benny

      Most of what is written below is true, and Eric remembers well. But since I was in the middle of it, and someone will someday write this down as the earliest history of music technology, I feel obliged to type.

      Music Mouse was written by Laurie Spiegel and published by Opcode Systems, starting around 1986, until it moved back to Laurie (date unknown). I was working at Opcode as the liaison to Laurie for some time.

      M and Jam Factory were written by David Zicarelli while he was a student at Bennington, after which they were published by Joel Chadabe’s company, Intelligent Music, starting about 1987. David Zicarelli developed Ovaltune, the music/graphics software that came in a can, and it was published by Intelligent Music, starting in 1988.

      I went to Intelligent Music in 1989 and helped to get the rights to Max from IRCAM (France), but Max’s life at Intelligent Music was extremely short-lived, as the company folded that year and the rights to Max went to Opcode and the rights to M and Jam Factory reverted to David Zicarelli. David Zicarelli and I both went (back) to Opcode at that time, and Opcode continued commercial development of Max. As Opcode moved to more mainstream software in the mid-1990s (and was eventually sold to Gibson), David regained the rights to publish Max and started his own company, Cycling ’74.

      Congratulations to all and to everyone who continues to make interesting work with these creative tools.

      • Graham Metcalfe

        Cool. Thanks for the history. I think of those early days of midi fondly. I remember going to a conference over at Santa Clara University the year MIDI was announced. It was all very new and exciting. That’s also when I got started using computers for design.

  • Matt Jackson

    Max 7 allowed loading of Max for Live .amxd devices

  • William Conlin

    switches to #supercollider

  • chaircrusher

    OK so… interesting but not sure what it will mean for either company. Cycling 74 gains a supply of money, but I’m not sure how far they’re really into doing a whole lot more, and I know they’re concerned with keeping focus.

    Ableton gains some influence over where Max goes with respect to Live, but again, how much are they going to really want to change Max?

    Interesting to watch.

    • Yermom

      I think they will probably let Max maintain it’s trajectory and development, but by bringing it in house, they can do more native stuff with Max on the Ableton side, like integrate the codebase so that it’s an integral part of Ableton, rather than an add-on. It will also probably help with a user based marketplace when all versions of Live can have access to Max, which is where I see this headed.

  • Alien Syndicate

    Ableton murdered Pluggo, and Cyling74 fucked up every user he paid for and spent his time learning.
    It is probably time to say goodbye to the possibility of exporting and build “standalone”, and export code in gen ~ as well.
    All the time that people invest in learning a language, is subordinated to the decisions of some merchants.

    Bye Max Msp

    • Clif Marsiglio

      Isn’t PD (PureData?) compatible with the language? I’ve thought of trying it out as it can run on Auduio/RaspberryPis. And I think it was written by the original author of Max. I’d suggest checking it out if you don’t like the direction Cycling is going. I do know they went on a public relations kick years ago against the public release of PD and tried to intonate that it was an illegal version of their software, even though the original programmer had put it into the public domain much earlier than the commercial efforts.

      At least if you go that way, you can have something to fall back on…I’m sure the commercial release has a lot of the sharp edges polished off…

    • maxforcats

      Murdered? Pluggo was dying anyway thanks to the quirks of idiosyncratic implementations of VST specs of multiple daws…And the rest is wild speculation and quite unjustified…

    • Elekb

      I think you’re overreacting.

      There is no indication at this point that Max Msp will disappear – obviously it is possible it might happen in the future, but right now that is just speculation. There will be changes of course, and future versions of Live and Max will be even more closely integrated with each other.

      If features like exporting and building standalone apps are removed in the future, programmers will simply migrate to other platforms such as Pure Data.

  • itchy

    this is great news to me lets see some even more seamless integration

  • Travis

    They did to buy Cycling 74 IP’s. If they already integrated this much of Max/MSP into Live then it makes sense for them to just purchase the company and get total access to their in-house technology. I imagine that at this point any changes to Live will involve heavy use of Cycling74 tech so why not?

  • JonYo

    Small bit of fairly useless history from me: My 2nd job after college (the first one is always terrible and short lived isn’t it?) was working for Opcode from about late 1997 to its demise in 1999-ish. Mostly it was tech support for Vision and later Studio Vision Pro and Opcode’s midi interfaces. Because I had some limited familiarity with Max from a brief introduction to it at CNMAT at UC Berkeley, they made me sole tech support rep for Max amongst the other products we supported. There was no one else, just me, and they gave me ZERO resources. I had the manual, Max installed on my test machine, that was literally all I had to go on. Whatever work was going on with Max’s development during that time, I was totally uninformed about, and I never once talked to or met a coder or QA person working any anything Max-related. Needless to say, I provided support that was not very in depth nor very informed. If you tried to get tech support for Max 3 back round 1997-1999 from Opcode, I’m sorry for your terrible experience!

    That said, I was so glad Max went to cycling74 and didn’t wither on the vine like the aging code base of the flagship products did. Studio Vision Pro and Galaxy were great for their day, but then died quickly of neglect as the lawyers circled and we all got fired by Gibson.

  • Elekb

    I was somewhat surprised when I first read this – but when we think about it, it makes sense. Ableton and Cycling 74’s have always been deeply intertwined.

    One of the questions this raises is whether Live and Max will simply merge into one product at some point in the future – but at this point, I’m guessing Max will carry on existing separately since there is a considerable user base made up from people who like to patch and design their own tools.

  • Jacopo Belbo

    thanks god we have PD, free and without fancy graphics that use tons of memory for nothing.
    Max is on a dead end path, linux SBC are taking over the interactive installation scene…
    Who will need expensive windows and mac laptops to make computer music in 2020 when you will do the same job for 40$? The future is portable, unexpensive linux devices.

  • Dotan Brand

    what schwinn has to do with cycling74?

  • Great moment, Peter.
    Actually, I didn’t see anyone except you for that exclusive news!

  • Maybe c74 can help ableton create a stable version of live lol. Also, it’s interesting to read all these comments about the past (i’m especially fascinated by this antipo character), it helps me better speculate on the future so thanks folks.