Max (software)

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A set of Max/MSP patches written and used by Autechre
Developed by Cycling '74
Latest release 5.0.3 / 2008-06-26; 286 days ago
Operating system Windows XP, Mac OS X
Type music and multimedia development
Website [5]

Max is a graphical development environment for music and multimedia developed and maintained by San Francisco-based software company Cycling '74. During its 15 year history, it has been primarily used by composers, performers, software designers, researchers and artists for creating interactive software.

The Max program itself is highly modular, with most routines existing in the form of shared libraries. An API allows third-party development of new routines (called "external objects"). As a result, Max has a large userbase of programmers not affiliated with Cycling '74 who enhance the software with commercial and non-commercial extensions to the program. Because of its extensible design and graphical interface (which in a novel way represents the program structure and the GUI as presented to the user simultaneously), Max is widely regarded as[weasel words] the lingua franca for developing interactive music performance software.


[edit] History

Max was originally written by Miller Puckette as the Patcher editor for the Macintosh at IRCAM in the mid-1980s to give composers access to an authoring system for interactive computer music. It was first used in a piano and computer piece called Pluton (written by Philippe Manoury in 1988), synchronizing the computer to the piano and controlling a Sogitec 4X, which performed the audio processing.[1]

In 1989, IRCAM developed and maintained a concurrent version of Max ported to the IRCAM Signal Processing Workstation for the NeXT (and later SGI and Linux), called Max/FTS (FTS standing for "Faster Than Sound", and being analogous to a forerunner to MSP enhanced by a hardware DSP board on the computer).[2][3]

In 1989, it was licensed by IRCAM to Opcode Systems, which sold a commercial version of the program in 1990 called Max (developed and extended by David Zicarelli). Never a perfect fit for Opcode Systems, the company ceased active development on the software in the mid-90s. The current commercial version of Max has since been distributed by Zicarelli's company, Cycling '74 (founded in 1997[4]), since 1999.

Puckette released an entirely re-designed free software program in 1996 called Pd (short for "Pure Data"), which, despite a number of fundamental differences from the IRCAM original, is superficially very similar and remains an open-source alternative to Max/MSP.

Max has a number of extensions and incarnations; most notably, a set of audio extensions to the software appeared in 1997, derived in part from Puckette's subsequent work in Pure Data. Called MSP (short for either Max Signal Processing or the initials of Miller S. Puckette), this "add-on" package for Max allowed for the manipulation of digital audio signals in real-time, allowing users to create their own synthesizers and effects processors (Max had previously been designed to interface with hardware synthesizers, samplers, etc. as a "control" language using MIDI or some other protocol).

In 1998, a direct descendant of Max/FTS was developed in Java (jMax) and released as open-source.

1999 saw the release of nato.0+55, a suite of externals developed by Netochka Nezvanova that brought to Max extensive control of realtime video. Although nato became increasingly popular among multimedia artists, its development was dropped in 2001. SoftVNS, a third-party package for visual processing in Max was developed by Canadian media artist David Rokeby and released in 2002.

In the meantime, Cycling '74 developed their own set of extensions for video. A major package for Max/MSP called Jitter was released in 2003, providing real-time video, 3-D, and matrix processing capability.

In addition, a number of sibling and Max-like programs exist.

Native Instruments markets a similar software called Reaktor. Reaktor is generally considered easier to use and learn than Max, though less powerful.

Apple has a very similar program called Quartz Composer focused on graphical compositions and there is also a free (for non-commercial use) software developed by meso called vvvv focused on real time video synthesis.

[edit] Language

Max is named after Max Mathews, and can be considered a descendant of MUSIC, though its graphical nature disguises that fact. As with most MUSIC-N languages, Max/MSP/Jitter distinguishes between two levels of time: that of an "event" scheduler, and that of the DSP (this is similar to the distinction between k-rate and a-rate processes in Csound, for example).

The basic language system of Max and its sibling languages is that of a data-flow language: Max programs (called "patches") are made by arranging and connecting building-blocks of "objects" within a "patcher", or visual canvas. These objects act as self-contained programs (in reality, they are dynamically-linked libraries), each of which may receive input (through one or more visual "inlets"), generate output (through visual "outlets"), or both. Objects pass messages from their outlets to the inlets of connected objects.

Max supports six basic atomic data types that can be transmitted as messages from object to object: int, float, list, symbol, bang, and signal (for MSP audio connections). A number of more complex data structures exist within the program for handling numeric arrays (table data), hash tables (coll data), and XML information (pattr data). An MSP data structure (buffer~) can hold digital audio information within program memory. In addition, the Jitter package adds a scalable, multi-dimensional data structure for handling large sets of numbers for storing video and other datasets (matrix data).

Max is typically learned through acquiring a vocabulary of these objects and how they function within a patcher. Most objects are non-graphical, consisting only of an object's name and a number of arguments/attributes (in essence class properties) typed into an object box. Other objects are graphical, including sliders, number boxes, dials, table editors, pull-down menus, buttons, and other objects for running the program interactively. Max/MSP/Jitter comes with about 600 of these objects as the standard package; extensions to the program can be written by third-party developers as Max patchers (e.g. by encapsulating some of the functionality of a patcher into a sub-program that is itself a Max patch), or as objects written in C, C++, Java, or JavaScript.

The order-of-execution for messages traversing through the graph of objects is defined by the visual organization of the objects in the patcher itself. As a result of this organizing principle, Max is unusual in that the program logic and the interface as presented to the user are typically related, though newer versions of Max provide a number of technologies for more standard GUI design.

A large number of people use Max, even if they aren't aware of it. Max documents (called patchers) can be bundled into standalone applications and distributed free or sold commercially. In addition, Max can be used to author audio plugin software for major audio production systems.

With the increased integration of laptop computers into live music performance (in electronic music and elsewhere), Max/MSP and Max/Jitter have received quite a bit of attention as a development environment available to those serious about laptop music / laptop video performance.

[edit] Notable artists

Many other artists use Max/MSP/Jitter, but prefer not to mention it.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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