Please put Max to sleep

in Blog

3 December 2006

Max is not keeping up with trends in software design and because it cannot evolve (see below), another solution should be found.

Whether or not you agree with the following argument will depend on who you think Max is aimed at (programmer or artist?). But since artists have no other option than to use Max/MSP for interactive works (as for musicians and live electronics), I will take their side.

In my blog entry “Max Workshops: Introduction to Max/MSP & Jitter”, I said the following:

“Max/MSP was developed in Paris in the 1980’s. Paris was at this time, and still is, a center for new music. For this and other reasons, the vast majority of works which incorporate any form of electronic processing use Max/MSP to realise the live electronics. These early Max/MSP patches still need to work today and consequently, each new version of Max/MSP has to be 100% back-compatible. Max/MSP, therefore, cannot evolve.”

The problem

There are two problems:

  1. Max has a very steep learning curve,
  2. It won’t improve because it cannot evolve.

Although Max cannot evolve, extra libraries and support for other programming languages can, and are, being added, but the concept of Max has to remain the same.

Therefore, after using Max/MSP almost every day for about three years now, I have come to the conclusion that Max/MSP no longer takes advantage of modern computer operating systems. It’s clumsy graphical user interface objects are still based on Mac OS 9 (or even earlier, but that’s before my time). One only needs to look at Shake or GarageBand to realize how old-fashioned Max is. As for the user experience, it scores very badly indeed. It’s a hack of a hack of a hack.

The solution

The solution I propose (and I’m thinking about how I want to work, not what the market dictates) is put Max to sleep and develop something new which reflects the modern user’s needs and background. That something should not be another environment which strives (but will always fail in my opinion) to allows the user to do anything, but should alternatively be a collection of several specialist applications which do their own job well and simply. An analogy may be made with Apple’s software – iCal, Address Book, Mail, Safari, Stickies, TextEdit etc. There is no single bloated, over complicated programme which tries to do all of this on a Mac. On Windows, there’s Entourage.

I don’t think it is an argument to say that and artist should have the freedom to do anything within a single software application. Artists and musicians have for centuries being limited by their tools. Indeed, (as I paraphrase Gyorgy Ligeti writing about Pierre Boulez when the boundaries of musical construction broke down in the 1950’s) “once the composer had built his prison walls, he was free to do what he wanted within them.” Igor Stravinsky I think also famously suggested that complete freedom would be a barrier.

Cycling ‘74 should still maintain Max and ensure it’s compatibility as new operating systems come into use so old works which require Max can still be performed.

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