The most powerful impact anyone can have in music is not just to find their own voice but to help others find theirs. It means that song echoing across the hills. And across hardware and software, few have shared passion and understanding of DIY musical expression quite like Darwin Grosse.
It’s unlikely that anyone you know who uses Max and Jitter and Max for Live would have the same understanding without Darwin. He shaped not only a significant amount of documentation and support but also the wider vision of what these tools were for and how they could be used. For the past couple of decades, it’s hard to talk about patching generally and how to use it, both internally with Cycling ’74 and Ableton or in broader conversations, without either Darwin’s name coming up or running across a lesson, a tutorial, a podcast, a reflection, or some essential insight. Losing Darwin will feel a bit like losing some of the connections of our own neurons.
So it’s simply stunning that in a matter of days, one of California’s best-known hardware makers (Sequential) and one of the area’s best-known software patching brands (Cycling ’74) would lose a major public and community face.
Cycling ’74 has written a short statement:
We’re deeply saddened to share that Darwin Grosse has passed. We’ve lost a dear friend, a mentor to many, and a tireless force for both Max and the wider community of musicians and artists surrounding it.
We invite all to share their appreciation and memories of Darwin in whatever form you prefer.
I understand they’ll do more to chronicle Darwin’s contributions over the coming days, both through that call externally and internally.
Before I write another word, I think it’s just as important to cue some of Darwin’s music. It was always sensitive, delicate, bubbling in some alive way. Most times you would want to sketch out an idea for a patch or musical notion in silence, but this is music that seems to embody some emotional center of thought.
Synthtopia already wrote a perfect summary of Darwin’s contributions and their meaning:
Composer, Developer & Podcaster Darwin Grosse Has Died [Synthtopia]
Looking back, I think the Art + Music + Technology podcast Darwin hosted may be one of the largest and broadest archives we have of electronic music technological history. The 380th and final episode was posted last month, followed by a finale when he revealed that health issues with his battle with cancer had halted production.
The array of composers and technologists and major figures is simply stunning, and particularly with the demise of many print magazines, it’s one of the few such repositories left. Even listing highlights feels a bit unfair – it’s the sum total that gives you such a unique picture of a scene. But yes, the likes of Herbie Hancock, Morton Subotnick, Dave Rossum, Tom Oberheim, Roger Linn, Robert Henke, Margaret Schedel, and Pauline Oliveros are there. And you can needle-drop onto a vast array of different artists and inventors, as well as talking to other writers and personalities. Darwin was always inquisitive, curious, humble; it’s always great listening.
The podcast is just one side project, though, even across all those hours. There’s almost too much to list:
Director of Education and Customer Services at Cycling ’74 (and you’ve read a ton of his work if you’ve ever used Max / Jitter / Max for Live)
ArdCore Arduino-based platform for modular synths (with a bunch of firmware possibilities)
20 Objects curriculum for learning Max and Max for Live
20 Objects YouTube series, covering a wide array of software and hardware and lessons and hacks
Three solo albums on Bandcamp
Now-defunct CreativeSynth blog (available via archive.org)