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Max is a high-level visual programming environment available from the fantastic people at Cycling '74. It was originally designed as a tool to intercept, manipulate and sequence MIDI messages, but with the addition of a serial in/out tool, a DSP environment called MSP, and a psychotically elegant video mixing/compositing environment called nato+0.55, it has become, in my opinion, the most exciting multimedia software on the market today.
I just started working with Max in February 2000, through Daniel Palkowski's MIDI Workshop class at ITP. I had seen it on screens around the school every now and then, and I was drawn to the look of Max patches, which are composed of objects (boxes) connected by patch cords (lines). When I finally began to use it, I realized that its combination of math, music, visual aesthetics and alchemical process-oriented creation made it the ideal vehicle for my ideas.
Max 4 was released at the end of May. It has all sorts of important enhancements and updates, not the least of which is the ability to script patch generation. This makes Max truly object oriented, instead of just a pale graphic shadow of object oriented.
I consider Max incomplete without some specific groups of third-party externals. These are links to the externals that have made my life a little easier.
nato+0.55.36 modular and its friends 242.axial, 242.parazit and 242.nr+. If you like Max, you'll love nato. Axial is a fantastic file path aggregator- useful for MSP by itself. Parazit extends nato greatly by hosting image/Ine plugins. nr+ turns nato from a live curiosity into a mature video authoring tool. I have programmed video effects while they were rendering, and I felt like some sort of multimedia deity. if you use max on a g3 or above, you owe it to yourself to investigate nato modular, even if nn/antiorp/=cw47tabs drives you completely insane. there is nothing like it.
Peter Elsea's Lobjects-- a must have. Combining, building, slicing, analyzing and messing with lists, with some other goodies thrown in for good measure.
Miller Puckette invented Max at IRCAM; he has written a few externals for pitch tracking and sound input analysis.
David Zicarelli's unsupported externals, which are primarily useful if you are still using Max 3.x... I believe all of them have been wrapped into M4 at this point.
Jeremy Bernstein's bootsquad externals are a welcome addition. Gradiated duotone transformations, fast offscreen-grafport resizing, and more! Jeremy also has an extensive, albeit unauthorized and discredited, review and description of nato modular on his site. In addition, please investigate his 'nato.matrix', which applies matrix transformations to nato image data without using 242.collage. When used with 242.collage4, which is the fast collage object that does not have matrix functionality, you can achieve truly amazing collage frame rate.
Dan Trueman and R. Luke DuBois wrote PeRColate, which is the largest collection of open-source Max/MSP/Nato externals out there. Artificial MSP-based instruments, color filter manipulation, table generation, meta-imaging, new york mafia cheese.
Kurt Ralske's miau-miau collection. Range fixing, bell simulation, coordinate fixing and regular flickeriness.
Eric Lyon's objects, including the nifty granola~ and the FFTease spectral package.
Timothy Place has developed the tap-tools, a collection of MSP extensions, as well as a set of help patches for nato.
My patches... here's a sampling in order from most recent to oldest. The oldest are getting to be really embarassing. Take them as a representation of evolution. Some standalones, some simple patchers. The non-standalones need externals from the above section! Needless to say, this is my code. If you recontextualize (uh, steal) it, it's ok as long as I get some credit. Please don't make me put legalese on my site; it will make me cry.
Shimmer - a lovely teaching patch for using matrix operations with 242.collage3.
Video_Distort (a standalone)- it was an assignment for Leo Villareal's Experimental Digital Video class. Ruthlessly messes with a television signal. Channel distortion, pupille/decoupage, velvetrope fun.
The Popcorn Patch - written for the artist Nina Katchadourian for her show "Talking Popcorn, Paranormal Postcards and Indecision On The Moon". Listens to an audio source for spikes- ie the pops of a popcorn machine- and translates it as if it was morse code. Then it speaks the words.
Tapestry- in both patch and standalone versions. Turn your computer into an abstract expressionist video box. Uses drunk to make custom lookup tables for 242.plasma.
velvetrope- there's a 1 in n chance that data will be forked. doesn't work with signals (yet). but it does wonderful wonderful things for nato images. If I ever learn how to program externals, this one will be the first.
plaz- a healthy mix of 242.plasma and 242.displace.