Last weekend I attended the Communikey Festival of Electronic Arts at the Atlas Center in Boulder, Colorado where I was lucky enough to be one of the first to see Max for Live in action. Cycling '74's Director of Engineering Darwin Grosse gave an hour and half seminar offering an preview of Max for Live. In this post I'll share my notes. Alas I only had my iPhone with me so some pics are low resolution.
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Overview of Cycling ‘74 Products
Darwin began the talk by describing Cycling '74's existing product line.
- Max – a graphical programming environment that provides user interface, timing, communications, and MIDI support
- MSP –for real-time audio synthesis and DSP
- Jitter – for video and matrix data processing
Max for Live
First Darwin gave us an overview of what Max for Live does. Rather than type my notes I’ll share the concise description from Communikey seminar description:
Cycling '74 and Ableton announced Max for Live, the integration of Cycling '74's Max/MSP environment into Ableton Live. Available as an add-on product to Ableton's newly announced Live 8, Max for Live permits users to create devices that extend and customize Live by creating instruments, controllers, audio effects, and MIDI processors.
Devices developed with Max for Live utilize the same features as those created by Ableton engineers. This includes UI controls, MIDI mapping, multiple undo, tempo-based effects, sample-accurate automation, and comprehensive file and preset management. Devices created in Max can be shared with Ableton's new web collaboration features. An innovative “preview mode” feature permits editing in Max while devices continue to process audio and/or MIDI as if they were inside Live. When an edited device is saved, it updates in place inside Live's device view.
Something For Everyone with Ready Made Devices
While the primary audience of Max for Live is certainly Tweakers who want to extend Live, it’s worth mentioning that Max for Live will ship with ready mad devices. Darwin demoed:
1. Step Sequencer
“Play up to four concurrent sequences, each with up to 16 steps and each playing a different instrument. It also features adjustable step size and step probability, sequence shift buttons (up, down, left, right), a "random" mode and comprehensive real-time MIDI options.”
2. Buffer Shuffler
"Shuffles incoming audio by buffering the audio, then replaying it in whatever order you've specified. Each channel of the stereo signal can be shuffled with different patterns (unlike Beat Repeat) and there is also a "dice" mode that randomizes the shuffle pattern at each bar crossing. Finally, a smoothing setting limits the amount of clicking at each transition point. Use sensibly to add subtle variations or go full-on to see where it takes you.”
3. Loop Shifter
“This instrument is essentially a creative loop playback device that generates some surprising and innovative results. If there was ever a "sound of Max," this device embodies it. It uses MIDI notes as triggers for playback states, each MIDI note representing one such "state": a combination of playback rate, loop points and filter settings. Although the Loop Shifter is a relatively simple device, these functions don't exist yet in any other commercial loop playback products.”
4. APC 40 Extension
Darwin didn’t demo this, but Max for Live will ship with an extension that “turns the APC40's button matrix into a hardware interface for programming MIDI sequences in Live. A mode switch on the APC takes you in and out of sequencer mode, where you can set and clear notes in a MIDI clip just as you would with an 808 or analog step sequencer.”
Live as a Real-Time Max Editing Platform
One of the downsides of working with Max Plugins is the workflow isn’t real-time. You have to edit, then compile, then preview as a VST. If something isn’t to your liking you repeat the process.
According to Darwin, Cycling ‘74 was looking for a platform that would support real-time workflow for device creation – which of course is why they partnered with Ableton.
So in Max for Live you simply click the edit button top on the top right hand side of a device and you enter the Max Editor. Close the editor and you are back in Live. In either mode, Lives audio engine doesn’t stop. The device actually operates while editing with no need for compilation! While demoing this feature he popped in and out of edit mode and built and played devices on the fly.