Thursday, June 26, 2014

Max/Msp - Platform Overview and Getting Started

- Very mature platform.
- Large userbase with many power users
- Core synthesis
- Cleanest interface you could ask for
- Loads of 3rd party modules
- Extensive documentation - help files, tutorials, referances
- Max4live
- Video and graphical synthesis
- No limits

- Steep learning curve
- Programer mindset > musician mindset
- Far from instant
- "On the fly" sound quality

Max/Msp has been around for ages, and in a way, like my pal Phylum Sinter said, "you are about ten years too late". I think that might even be a good thing, as the platform is now very mature with endless amounts of documentation and learning tools at your disposal. Like I was told myself, the first thing you have to understand about Max, is that it isn't a modular, it is a visual programing platform. That is a big point to consider because I see it as both a pro and a con. On the one hand, yes, for a musician looking for a quick hookup to modular synthesis it is intimidating but on the other hand if you can learn and survive max, you will be able to master any synthesis platform. Learning Max means learning the very basic functions and why things work the way they do, and even if you don't stick with this platform in the long run you will still learn a ton by getting into the core of synthesis and digital audio. Getting more advanced, Max also includes a whole set of objects for video and graphical manipulation, that interact in the same environment with the audio objects. Max will also allow you to code your own objects with generative script tools and 3rd party integration with programs such as Csound.

The thing i liked the most about this platform is that whenever I hit a wall, a Google search for the problem always found me a solution - perhaps via a youtube tutorial, a forum post or a posted patch. In extreme cases where no direct onine information was found i was able to move forward by posting on max/msp Facebook groups or chatting with advanced users.

Max 4 Live brings in awesome direct sequencer integration that in my view enhances both Ableton and Live tenfold. It is nice to see DAWs adopting powerful design platforms, and while FL Studio's Flowstone is mighty impressive I think Ableton scores the biggest win by getting Max onboard.

So, you are convinced! You want to, you open a new Max 4 Live device, click edit and..... what now?!!?!?

If you are totally unfamilar with visual programing or modular synthesis, I can indulge and hit you up with my own modular synthesis course that will get you the basic ideas of what this world is about. But even if you are a synthesis and modular veteran, Max is a different animal and will require you approach it with a bit of a programing mindset like I mentioned.

The way I made the very first steps myself was by thinking of something very simple to build and then thinking about all the things I need to know in order to build it. For example, a simplest one oscillator synth with a filter and volume envelope. This will get you researching the things you will need to know in order to build this, like how to connect MIDI and hook up your filter knobs. Hit the Youtube channels in the bottom of this article for a bunch of tutorials to get going.

Every module comes both with a help file and a referance file and both are available with a right click on the module within any max patch. These are your best friends and your basic source of information. Both Max and Max 4 Live also come with a bunch of example patches that you can have a look at to get things going.

Once you start building, the online resources you can find provide a gold mine of solutions, I found that I can integrate various circuits and ideas from various sources into my patches. A lot of people share objects and ideas for free and you are encouraged to use them.

Sound quality in Max can be a dual-sword. Being as deep as it is, if you know what you are doing you can get into the core of things and get amazing sound quality out of it. BUT, if you are just connecting some core modules, don't expect it to sound like a Virus straight out of the box. This isn't to say you can't get amazing results, it just means it will take some work.

If you are looking for a quick modular system, maybe have a look at something else, but if you are looking for a deep platform with many aspects and great interaction with Ableton Live - dive right in.

Some links to get you started:
The program:
Obvious, but a ton of info and power users here:
Ableton integration:
3rd party module database:

Very good, very big, very serious PDF all about Max from basics to the hardcore:

Essential YT channels
Cycling 74 (Cool Max stuff):
Dude 837 (Tutorials):
Must 1002:(Tutorials)
Eric Ameres (Tutorials):

Facebook Groups: