Why Max for Live?

So, as those of who follow me on Twitter may be tired of hearing about, I’ve been working with my main man Nate to get together some basic video tutorials together on how to use Max for Live. But it might be worth taking a moment asking ourselves, Why do we care?

As many of you know, Max for Live is basically a port of Max/MSP, a graphical programming environment that can be used for normal computation (boring) or Audio Video applications (huzzah!). What this means in human-speak is that, instead of programming by staring at a black screen full of green text, you can program by connecting pretty little boxes and, when they inevitably don’t do what you’d like them to do, you just unhook them and connect them to something else. Think about like the modular synthesizer of the programming world. And Max for Live extends this functionality by allowing Max to run inside of Ableton as a Device, the format that we are all so fond of.

For many true-blue geeks, like myself, this is exciting simply because it is. Game of Thrones isn’t on Netflix, so what else am I going to do?

But for the novice, you might need some convincin’. So here’s why I think learning Max for Live is worth your time.

Extend MIDI Controllers with Max for Live

This is one of the principal benefits of Max for Live: you can convert the button presses that come from your MIDI controller and make them mean whatever you want. To me, this means an end to the forest of intermediate “apps” that lie between your MIDI controller and Ableton. Remember having to open a whole different application to turn a button on your MPD from “Toggle” mode to “Note”? No more. You can even invent new “meanings” for MIDI actions. One good one might be to have different results when you press a MIDI note once, twice, or three times quickly. Since MIDI is just numbers, a lot of this is just going to be simple math.

Ableton Control with Max for Live

There’s also times when we are struggling to implement a very specific control scenario in Live and there’s just no clean way to do it. Let’s say I want to be able to have a Clip’s play position be dependent on the parameters of my Overdrive effect. Lesser Abletonians would take to the forum and start cursing the Germans for not implementing this CRUCIAL feature. But we, enlightened Max users, can whip up a custom patch using the Live API. And now, there’s no reason to curse the Germans.

And my favorite…

Learn Something

Some of us understand everything that is happening under the hood of Live. Some of us have no idea and, frankly, don’t care. But the majority of us have a lot of half-baked ideas about what what’s happening (I think it has something to do with…algorithms?). For those of us in this vast middle, learning how to use Max can be a great learning experience whose fruits extend far beyond just Ableton. Because in that little box (where you make Max patches), you can’t hide. You actually have to understand the different parts of a MIDI signal and you have to realize what happens when an audio sample plays back. Making even simple Max patches will help you crystalize what you know and figure out what you don’t. And since it’s done with picture, even us illiterates can learn a thing or two!

I am going to be posting the inaugural Max for Live video on Saturday, so be sure to watch out for that. I don’t like to post on Saturdays, but I’m too excited to wait!

If you have specific questions about Max for Live, make sure to put em in the comments!

3 Responses to “Why Max for Live?”

  1. Mark April 20, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    Needless to say, M4L confuses the hell out of me.

    I tried slogging through some of the tutorials they included, but I gave up a while ago. I guess I’m still learning the ins and outs of ableton, so M4L will be like graduate school when I’m more confident with abes.

    There ARE some sweet patches I’ve been making use of though. Sadly it’s still a bit buggy.

    • Anthony April 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

      I actually think that Max suffers from too much documentation. It’s just sort of hard to penetrate for the uninitiated. I Just posted a very basic Max for Live video on the blog (first in a long long series), so be sure to check it out!

  2. fraxyl May 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    Totally agree with Mark. I started going through the documentation and was going fine for a bit, I was even able to tweak one of the patches to do something a little different, but having a lack of ideas tends to stop me from delving into it more. The odd occasion when I do get an idea, I’ve no idea how to even start implementing it, or I start and just hit a wall somewhere.

    Will check the videos out when it’s not 2am and see what happens though. :)

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