Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Max/MSP: Computer Music for Performers and Composers
Music 404A, Fall 2006
Instructor: Stephen Taylor
Tuesdays, 10:00 - 11:50 am; Thursdays, 10:00 - 10:50 am
CAMIL I lab (MB 5047)
School of Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Office hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9am; either room 5042 or 5047.

Course Description:
Composers and performers will collaborate to create interactive works for instruments and singers, using Cycling 74's software Max/MSP.

Course Objectives:
  • Learn the basics of amplification, microphones, mixers, digital audio interfaces, and midi
  • Learn how to make patches in Max/MSP
  • Learn the basics of Jitter, a set of video extensions to Max
  • Collaborate with your colleagues to make new music
  • Perform your completed works in early Spring 2007
  • For performers: learn Max well enough to make adjustments and small patches yourself, and perform without requiring someone to set up equipment for you.
  • For composers: make your patches bulletproof, so performers can use them without having you there to help them.
Required materials:
Max/MSP, available from Cycling74 for Mac and Windows. Max/MSP is a graphical programming environment for music, audio, and new media. It's installed on all the computers in Camil I, but you are welcome to use it on your own computer if you have one. There are student discounts (including a $59 9-month authorization) here. Also, you can download and try it for free for 30 days.

Max has a steep learning curve. Because it is a powerful program that lets you do almost anything you can imagine, it doesn't force you into one way of doing things (for example, pressing "Play" or "Record"). But Max comes with massive documentation, and there are lots of good online tutorials:
  • Cycling74 has some entertaining tutorials by Gregory Taylor; I'd start with this one.
  • Also on Cycling74's website, check out the Max/MSP forum.
  • Peter Elsea at UC Santa Cruz has taught Max for many years, and created a wonderful set of tutorials. I recommend starting with MAXintro.pdf and BasicMSP.pdf. These are a few years old but still very useful.
  • Peter Elsea, What is Max?
  • Peter Elsea, Solving Musical Problems with Max
  •, a directory of thousands of external objects created by Max users around the world.
  • Perhaps the single best tip: to get help on any object box in Max, you can option-click it.
As an alternative to Max/MSP, you can try the open-source Pure Data, developed by Miller Puckette, the original creator of Max.

Although we will supply microphones to use in the CAMIL lab, you need to bring your own headphones to listen to your computer output.

60% projects; 40% assignments. I hope for this course to be an opportunity to explore, meet new musical collaborators, and have fun. But I also want you to work hard! I'll give you verbal feedback on each assignment and project, and after the midterm project I will email you a written evaluation to let you know how you're doing in the class. If you have any questions on your grade or anything else, please ask me anytime.

For advanced theory credit, please see me or email me and we'll work out the necessary arrangements.

Performance opportunities:
Since I want you to have time for a polished performance of your final project, we will have a concert in early spring 2007 (possibly at an off-campus venue like the Canopy Club or the Highdive). At the end of this semester I want to see a substantially complete version of your piece or project; for performers, I expect you to have recorded any necessary samples or other materials for your piece. Then, over the break you can make necessary changes or adjustments.

Also, during the semester there is a series of lunchtime concerts at the Beckman Center on south campus. I would like us to present a plugged-in concert there at some point in the semester, possibly improv; we'll have to bring our own equipment; it also pays up to $75 for each performer. Performance date (tentative): 10/12.


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