Max for Live, or How To Make Music Nerds Lose Their Minds

A celebrity wedding, in the audio software world

To say there is a lot of buzz around the launch of Max for Live is something of an understatement. It’s done nothing short of send Live-loving music geeks into a frenzy around the potential for new ways of processing audio and connecting technologies. This last point is what I’m interested in, and seeing as I’m doing a lot of chatter around OSC for my Sound Media 2 / Advanced Multimedia Authoring project, I thought I should take a quick look at what Max for Live means for anyone else dealing with OSC.

MaxMSP and its (less attractive, but nonetheless charming) open source cousin PureData both allow for custom routing of not just audio signals, but a wider range of protocols. MIDI has been hanging around for a long time now, and it’s ability to communicate a large amount of data is pretty poor. This is why we’re now looking to protocols like OSC to deal with higher bandwidth inputs.

When I began working on my data[origin] project, I did take a look at the ability to tap into the LiveAPI via Python script, but pretty quickly I realised that with my limited knowledge of code, I was going to spend more time trying to understand it than moving forward. In the end I converted OSC to MIDI, which has it’s own set of problems but was a little bit more entry-level friendly. The addition of Max for Live will basically make OSC natively available within the Ableton environment.

In addition to the routing power of Max, there will also be live visual capabilities in the form of MaxMSP’s sister software, Jitter. This makes the package more exciting to me, because it will mean that much more can be done directly out of the single Ableton environment. It also makes the US$299 price tag (for owners of Live 8 – more confusing if you’re not an owner) a little more palatable.

Of course, if you’re just a music producer, Max may not offer you enough to justify the high price tag. I think it’s a more interesting prospect for those looking to extend live performance from the laptop to allow inputs from weird and wonderful controllers and output to screens, lighting, or really anywhere that your imagination takes you. If you’re a Live 8 user, you can download the public beta of Max for Live. I’m doing just that and will report back with my experience over the next couple of weeks.

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