Composition with MAX/MSP: ‘Snobbish’ or not ?

Or how to get on partisan and opponent’s bad side…

(auto translation)

Yes, the title is provocative … For in this interrogation there are postures of principle and an allusion to passionate discussions between pro-and anti-. More broadly, it is around the philosophy of the composition/programming approach and the improvisation that this debate can take place. What do I think after testing? Could this type of tool help me and be integrated into my approach?

It is already recalled that Max/MSP of Cycling74 or its free pendant (PureData, the fire Jmax) derives from a program intended initially for signal analysis and mathematical computation. Music is an audio signal, it doesn’t sound silly. The effects being mathematical operations, there too it seems rather relevant. The basic idea is to create a musical project from A to Z by choosing, arranging and programming the bricks that we need. This means that to create a sound, one uses for example an oscillator to generate a signal, a ‘ virtual cable ‘ to bring this sound in a box in which will be applied a mathematical function, before feeding by another “cable” the audio output of The sound card. This principle allows a total freedom since one can interact any element (motion sensor, sound recording, iphone, Wii …) with any sound or logical treatment (choice of sound or other, control of an effect or of a External device According to the sound socket …).

A visual illustration here (Thanks Judikaël for the link):

In theory it’s not bad all that, and I looking to interact with my computer should be filled! Yes but, to build something interesting musically, it must already:

-Be able to use the basic bricks (requires a bit of relentlessness, but still accessible)
-Imagine the overall setting that will allow:

  1. To get interesting sounds
  2. To have a rich and coherent sound progression

And there, for these two points, I have for my part big difficulties with these softwares! And I don’t think I’m the only one. If you take the time to watch some of the videos posted by users, you may be impressed by the variety of concepts used:



On the other hand, to get a variety of sounds and a certain complexity by mastering their evolution, you need an important mastery. It seems very easy to fall back into “100% computer” sounds that will not be as original as they claimed to be.

The approach with this type of software presents for me an important handicap: a project of type Max/MSP begins with a thrust abstraction that is not compatible with projections, initial sound intuition. On my side, I build my compositions by assembling sounds in the search for an integration of interesting sounds in connection with a harmonic construction. The choice of a concept under Max/MSP would my fields of experimentation with certain sound elements or effects, at the expense of the natural balances of sonorities and harmonies, (unless you spend a lot of time in experiments).

I therefore prefer to use less open tools (using virtual instruments or effects made by third parties), even if they divert them from their initial function. My ideas can result from the test of this or that preset, which I will then adapt according to my expectations. It allows me more intuition while pushing back my research on controlled borders.

With Max/MSP, too much to seek freedom in the tool, I have the feeling that one does not really choose the sound limits on which one wishes to work, this one appearing as the programming of the concept. The choice of more modest and pre-programmed tools allows to choose the freedom that one will leave to a particular sound dimension.

It can also be noted that my approach is not unique. Indeed, the difficulties of apprehension of the tool make that the latest developments of MAX/MSP go towards more ergonomics and integration. Through the proposal of pre-programmed modules and interfacing with other software, Max/MSP is moving towards more easiness for the composer. In addition to a possible integration into more successful products like Ableton Live, the final use can rely more and more on various patches and plugins, making sound design steps more intuitive and fast. The consequence of the use of pre-programmed bricks is, however, that it is tantamount to clamping or influencing the initial approach, inevitably limiting the total freedom initially desired.

If this trend is confirmed, it will mean that I could try again to use this product, but with my current composition philosophy! Nothing is definitive …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *