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"Play" Documentation Pt. 1 - Readings

A overview of the primary 'textbook' I used to assist me with my learning this past semester; "Composing Interactive Music - Techniques and Ideas Using Max'.

Briefly: it's a little old and the information is very dated. Was missing discussion of important Max/MSP capabilities that would have been helpful for my project. The book wasn't completely unhelpful, just not as helpful as I would've liked.

Full write-up below the fold:

For my independent study this semester, I purchased a book to read and work through in an attempt to increase my familiarity with Max/MSP. I found a book that I thought was perfect; “Composing Interactive Music – Techniques and Ideas Using Max? by Todd Winkler. I really should have solicited advice from other interactive art grad and undergrad students, as this book was not as helpful for my project as it seems. I thought it was a perfect book to help me, but it was only minimally enlightening.

This book was first published in 1998, but my edition is from the 2001 paperback issue, and the information was really showing its age. Since the book was written so long ago, some of the functionalities that now exist in Max are not discussed, specifically in the realm of signal processing and generation. While not expressly necessary for my project, understanding signal processing in Max/MSP would have allowed me to significantly enrich my project in the areas of tone generation and effects processing. The book seemed specifically interested in processing MIDI data generated by a standard keyboard controller, but hinted at how alternative input devices could also be utilized. These hints were quite helpful.

The book wasn’t a total bust, however. Since basic MIDI processing inside of Max/MSP hasn’t really changed much in the last few years (and the MIDI protocol has also remained unchanged), so the sections on midi handling, translating and implementation were quite helpful. Basic programming practices and processing syntax was also covered in great depth, making structuring my program efficiently a lot easier to accomplish, This was specifically helpful, as in my initial prototype I struggled with processor over-utilization and memory leaks that occasionally let to crashes. In the rewrite, I was able to reduce processor utilization by nearly tenfold and eliminate memory leaks to create a much more stable and higher performing patch.

The book also contained conceptual development sections, discussing interaction methods, performance theory and basic approaches to computer composition. Since I had my interaction method designed and my output defined before I read the book, reading these sections wasn’t directly applicable to my project but it was enlightening for my understanding of interactive music composition in general.

Overall, the book was a solid read and provided great Max/MSP programming fundamentals. I was hoping it would provide more specific advice, but the book is nearly 10 years old. Maybe the interactive art and music community can convince Todd Winkler to write an update covering the upcoming Max/MSP 5 and fill in some information about signal processing. I know I’d appreciate it.