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Max/MSP in the context of composition.

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Gnome, Sep 12, 2008.


  1. Gnome

    Gnome

    Jul 27, 2006
    Mexico City, MX
    So, I've recently been learning a bit of Max/MSP. Mostly doing the tutorials that come with the programme (any recommended literature would be appreciated).

    This got me to wonder, I learnt about Max from modern orchestral composers like Pierre Boulez, and even Jonny Greenwood. But I don't exactly understand how they mix the software with instruments, or how they balance generative aspects of the music with actual composition.

    Does anyone know how contemporary composers use Max/MSP in this context? I reckon perhaps it has something to do with Serialism, of which I don't understand a lot but think it's something to do with systems and series (hence the name, duh). Perhaps it's an evolution of this composing technique applied to modern technology?
     
  2. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Cincinnati
    At the SEAMUS convention a few years back there were quite a few compositions that featured Max with live performers. There are a lot of different ways to do this depending on your musical needs and desires. What I witnessed mostly was Max being programed to trigger different sounds and sequences by certain pitchs played by the live instrument. You could also use MIDI triggers (like drum pads etc etc) to cause Max to respond in many ways.

    Its a complex program that is very usable for a huge number of diverse musical needs. I don't know the program, but I've used many bits of software created with Max. (Cycle 74's "Pluggo" is a great example). If I were to buy the software and use it, I'd spend the extra time and money getting together with someone who knew the program well.
     
  3. this reminds me of what my jazz instructor once told me when i was pestering him about modes. he said "focus on the music you hear in your head and use theory to explain what you just did" I think this applies to MAX/MSP just as well--MAX/MSP seems to be able to do anything (to me at least) from triggers to effects to routing systems--think about how you can use that to achieve the music you want to make.
    What would you like to achieve with MAX/MSP?

    As far as Johnny Greenwood, The only thing I get from his playing with max/msp is to create different textures of sound. The song is already laid out, but he is adding to the top of it IMO. I can't answer for modern composers serialists or not, though--i don't listen to them lol
     
  4. winston

    winston Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    Berkeley, CA
    I haven't used MAX/MSP but I have messed around a bit with Pure Data (PD), which is the open-source version. Both MAX and PD were written by Miller Puckette, who teaches at UC San Diego and wrote a very informative book called The Theory and Techniques of Electronic Music

    I downloaded that book a while ago and felt it was a little advanced for me at this point in time. So, I've been working my way through Curtis Roads' "The Computer Music Tutorial". This book is giving me a great foundation for understanding digital audio, music programming concepts, and synthesis techniques.

    As superbassman2000 notes, the key to using these kinds of wide-open sound environments is coming up with an idea and then trying to implement it. For instance, here's an interview with the band Menomena where they talk about a looper widget called Deeler that they made in MAX to facilitate their songwriting process. Here Autechre discusses their use of MAX.
     
  5. Gnome

    Gnome

    Jul 27, 2006
    Mexico City, MX
    Right, thanks for the links. That book by Miller Puckette is really interesting!

    If anyone's also interested in my question, I've kind of developed this idea of designing a Max patch that will take input from everything I do on my computer during the day, such as mouse movements, clicks, keyboard strokes, etc. and turn that input into series of notes.

    This means at the end of the day, I'll have a sort of set of raw ideas that came from my own activities on the computer, from which I can now take and arrange, produce, etc.
     
  6. Liking this thread, ive always wanted to learn how to use it.

    Didnt realise it had so much potential as when you first see the interface, it looks pretty basic!
     
  7. Hoover

    Hoover Banned

    Nov 2, 2007
    New York City
    In my admittedly limited experience with MAX I've found that it's more instructive to find a complete fully-functional patch that does something cool (designed by someone else, obviously) and try to "reverse engineer" it -- see how everything is interconnected & understand how that affects the end result -- before you try building anything from scratch.
     
  8. Thats a cool idea, but you are going to have a lot of data throughout the course of a day on the computer as far as mouse clicks and keyboard strokes go--maybe just take like a 15 minute interval--but its a cool idea--everytime you hit a key, it compares it to the last key struck and turns that into an interval--i'd like to hear how it turns out--although i have a feeling its be in the "because I can" category of music, but that kind of stuff can be cool :)
     
  9. Hoover

    Hoover Banned

    Nov 2, 2007
    New York City
    Ever play with Laurie Spiegel's MusicMouse on a Mac? Way too much fun.
     
  10. Gnome

    Gnome

    Jul 27, 2006
    Mexico City, MX
    Yeah, the intervals idea sound quite cool. It's still very much just an idea, and I'll continue to refine it until I have the Max chops to implement it. But yeah, I'd also like to have a method for selecting certain things out of the mounds of raw notes generated during the day.

    Also, you could say it's in the "because I can" category, or you could say it's experimental music. In any case, that's where the next part in the process comes in, because I don't plan on publishing this music, but rather taking the best and arranging it using other programmes such as Ableton Live or Logic, adding elements of my own (recording a bass, etc.)

    So, you can express yourself through the way you "produce" this music and add to it, but it's also completely relevant to you life in that you're getting the raw product from your own daily activities, AND it's a sort of avant-garde use of Max to make music.

    I was kind of thinking out loud there, but I'm really starting to like this idea.
     
  11. What I visualize here is using the mouse pad as a kaoscillator of sorts, with say the X-axis as the pitch and Y-access as some kind of modulation or something like that. Maybe something cool would be two pitches, the X-axis is the main pitch, and the Y axis controls the ratio of the second pitch--0 would be 1:1, 1 would be 1:2, 2 would be 1:3, and going backwards -1 would be a pitch below the main note -1 would be 1:1/2, -2 would be 1/3 and so on--you'd have some weird chords in there lol

    or you could say they are one in the same
    but i find that a lot of experimental music focuses on how the music is made, compared to the actual musical content. Not that there is anything wrong with that lol
     
  12. winston

    winston Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    Berkeley, CA
    Creating novel systems to organize chance elements has occupied many composers since John Cage. Composing becomes less about specifying particular musical events and more a process of setting parameters for possibility.

    Some classics include Steve Reich's tape pieces It's Gonna Rain and Come Out, Terry Riley's In C, and Cage's 4'33". There's also a lot of over-intellectualized crap.

    Michael Nyman's Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (Music in the Twentieth Century) is a great account by an active participant in the movement.

    Brian Eno has made some lovely music, taking the best of the systems approach and introducing the element of taste and a fascination with the sensuous nature of sound itself.

    Here's a very cool interview where John Luther Adams talks about using natural cycles and events as part of his compositional process. At the bottom of the page there's an audio link with some huge, crazy orchestral textures.
     
  13. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Cincinnati
    I love that program. But she didn't do a OS 10 version or Windows. That's a shame. Laurie Spiegel as done so much for electronic music. She's a great musician and deserves much more credit than she has gotten.
     
  14. Hoover

    Hoover Banned

    Nov 2, 2007
    New York City

    I'm pretty sure it's in that Nyman book where he made what I found to be a powerfully useful distinction between "Experimental Composers" and "Avant-Garde Composers": He said (I'm paraphrasing, obviously) that Avant-Garde Composers are concerned with proscribing a defined time-object...iow, they want to hear the musicians produce specific events which happen in a specific temporal relation to other specific events. Whereas Experimental Composers are concerned with creating a process field within which a situation can be explored by the musicians...iow, a set of rules are defined that govern how the musicians play, but the specific events are determined extemporaneously by the performing musicians (so long as they conform to those governing rules).

    Being able to quickly refer to Situational Process Fields versus Proscribed Time Objects became a very handy tool for me when I was composing actively.


    There's a fascinating interview with Eno in a late-1980's issue of Keyboard Magazine where he outlines one such process he used, based on a very simple manipulation of an improvisation recorded into a MIDI sequencer:

    He recorded an improvisation that was, say 100 bars long (although since I believe it was an out of tempo/rubato improvisation, the "bars" are arbitrary durations imposed by the sequencing program, not a musically relevant term).

    He then split that MIDI track into three or four different tracks based on register; i.e., everything between C0-C2 was on a separate MIDI track from the C2-C3 range, & C3-C4 was on yet another track etc.

    He then removed 10 or so bars from the second split out MIDI track, and removed 20 bars from the third split out MIDI track. And then he looped all these separate tracks from their (new, no longer coincident) end points back to bar #1.

    So what he winds up with is a piece of music that for the first 80 bars is exactly as he played it...but from that point on it becomes arbitrarily and continuously "reshuffled" with themes, motifs, and harmonic simultanaities ripped asunder and recontextualized/reharmonized. Cool concept.


    fwiw John Luther Adams (not to be confused with John Adams) is probably my favorite contemporary composer...or certainly my favorite contemporary composer whose name gets mentioned in the same sentence as "minimalist", a designation which I normally abhor. His piece "In The White Silence" is sublime, I highly recommend checking out that CD.
     

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