Max (software)

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Developer(s) Cycling '74
Stable release 7.0.6 / September 30, 2015; 4 days ago (2015-09-30)
Written in C/C++ (on JUCE platform)
Operating system Windows, Mac OS X
Type music and multimedia development
License Proprietary

Max is a visual programming language for music and multimedia developed and maintained by San Francisco-based software company Cycling '74. During its 20-year history, it has been used by composers, performers, software designers, researchers, and artists for creating recordings, performances, and installations.

The Max program itself is modular, with most routines existing in the form of shared libraries. An API allows third-party development of new routines (called "external objects"). As a result, Max has a large user base of programmers not affiliated with Cycling '74 who enhance the software with commercial and non-commercial extensions to the program. Because of its extensible design and graphical interface (which represents the program structure and the GUI as presented to the user simultaneously), Max has been described as the lingua franca for developing interactive music performance software.[1]


Miller Puckette originally wrote Max at IRCAM in the mid-1980s, as the Patcher editor for the Macintosh to provide composers with an authoring system for interactive computer music. It was first used by Philippe Manoury in 1988 to write a piano and computer piece called Pluton, which synchronized a computer to a piano and controlled a Sogitec 4X for audio processing.[2]

In 1989, IRCAM developed and maintained a concurrent version of Max ported to the IRCAM Signal Processing Workstation for the NeXT (and later SGI and Linux), called Max/FTS (FTS standing for "Faster Than Sound", and being analogous to a forerunner to MSP enhanced by a hardware DSP board on the computer).[3][4]

In 1989, IRCAM licensed it to Opcode Systems, which sold a commercial version in 1990 called Max (developed and extended by David Zicarelli). As the software was never a perfect fit for Opcode Systems, the company ceased actively developing it in the mid-90s. The current commercial version of Max has since been distributed by Zicarelli's company, Cycling '74 (founded in 1997[5]), since 1999.[6]

Various synthesizers and instruments connected to Max.

Puckette released an entirely re-designed free software computer program in 1996 called Pd (short for "Pure Data"), which, despite a number of fundamental differences from the IRCAM original, is superficially very similar and remains an open-source alternative to Max/MSP.

Max has a number of extensions and incarnations; most notably, a set of audio extensions to the software appeared in 1997, derived in part from Puckette's subsequent work in Pure Data. Called MSP (short for either Max Signal Processing or the initials of Miller S. Puckette), this "add-on" package for Max allowed for the manipulation of digital audio signals in real-time, allowing users to create their own synthesizers and effects processors (Max had previously been designed to interface with hardware synthesizers, samplers, etc. as a "control" language using MIDI or some other protocol).

In 1998, a direct descendant of Max/FTS was developed in Java (jMax) and released as open-source.

In 1999, Netochka Nezvanova released nato.0+55, a suite of externals that added extensive real time video control to Max. Though nato became increasingly popular among multimedia artists, its development stopped in 2001. Canadian media artist David Rokeby developed SoftVNS, a third-party package for visual processing in Max, and released it in 2002.

In the meantime, Cycling '74 developed their own set of video extensions. They released a major package for Max/MSP called Jitter in 2003, which provides real-time video, 3-D, and matrix processing capability.

In addition, a number of Max-like programs share the same concept of visual programming in real time—such as Quartz Composer (by Apple) and vvvv, which both focus on realtime video synthesis and processing. Pure Data also remains in widespread use.

A major update to Max/MSP/Jitter, Max 5, was released in 2008. It included a revamped user interface and new objects.

In November 2011, Cycling '74 released Max 6, a major overhaul with further improvements to the user interface and a new audio engine compatible with 64-bit operating systems. Gen, an add-on for patching and code compiling [7] was also released.

In November 2014, Cycling '74 released Max 7, an update that featured an optimized interface, higher performance, and new tools for organizing files and tutorials.[8]


Screenshot of an older Max/Msp interface.

Max is named after the late Max Mathews, and can be considered a descendant of MUSIC, though its graphical nature disguises that fact. As with most MUSIC-N languages, Max/MSP/Jitter distinguishes between two levels of time: that of an "event" scheduler, and that of the DSP (this corresponds to the distinction between k-rate and a-rate processes in Csound, and control rate vs. audio rate in SuperCollider).

The basic language of Max and its sibling programs is that of a data-flow system: Max programs (called "patches") are made by arranging and connecting building-blocks of "objects" within a "patcher", or visual canvas. These objects act as self-contained programs (in reality, they are dynamically-linked libraries), each of which may receive input (through one or more visual "inlets"), generate output (through visual "outlets"), or both. Objects pass messages from their outlets to the inlets of connected objects.

Max supports six basic atomic data types that can be transmitted as messages from object to object: int, float, list, symbol, bang, and signal (for MSP audio connections). A number of more complex data structures exist within the program for handling numeric arrays (table data), hash tables (coll data), and XML information (pattr data). An MSP data structure (buffer~) can hold digital audio information within program memory. In addition, the Jitter package adds a scalable, multi-dimensional data structure for handling large sets of numbers for storing video and other datasets (matrix data).

Max is typically learned through acquiring a vocabulary of objects and how they function within a patcher; for example, the metro object functions as a simple metronome, and the random object generates random integers. Most objects are non-graphical, consisting only of an object's name and a number of arguments/attributes (in essence class properties) typed into an object box. Other objects are graphical, including sliders, number boxes, dials, table editors, pull-down menus, buttons, and other objects for running the program interactively. Max/MSP/Jitter comes with about 600 of these objects as the standard package; extensions to the program can be written by third-party developers as Max patchers (e.g. by encapsulating some of the functionality of a patcher into a sub-program that is itself a Max patch), or as objects written in C, C++, Java, or JavaScript.

The order of execution for messages traversing through the graph of objects is defined by the visual organization of the objects in the patcher itself. As a result of this organizing principle, Max is unusual in that the program logic and the interface as presented to the user are typically related, though newer versions of Max provide a number of technologies for more standard GUI design.

Max documents (called patchers) can be bundled into stand-alone applications and distributed free or sold commercially. In addition, Max can be used to author audio plugin software for major audio production systems.

With the increased integration of laptop computers into live music performance (in electronic music and elsewhere), Max/MSP and Max/Jitter have received attention as a development environment available to those serious about laptop music/video performance.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Place, T. and Lossius, T.: Jamoma: A modular standard for structuring patches in Max. In Proc. of the International Computer Music Conference 2006, pages 143–146, New Orleans, US, 2006.
  2. ^ Miller S. Puckette. "Pd Repertory Project - History of Pluton". CRCA. Archived from the original on 2004-07-07. Retrieved March 3, 2012. 
  3. ^ "A brief history of MAX". IRCAM. Archived from the original on 2009-06-03. 
  4. ^ "Max/MSP History - Where did Max/MSP come from?". Cycling74. Archived from the original on 2009-06-09. Retrieved March 3, 2012. 
  5. ^ About Us. Retrieved March 3, 2012.
  6. ^ "FAQ Max4". Retrieved March 3, 2012.
  7. ^ "GEN - Extend the power of Max".
  8. ^ Cycling '74 (2014). "Max 7 is Patching Reimagined."

External links[edit]

  • lloopp a ready to use modular and experimental software built in Max/MSP/Jitter
  • Lobjects, a set of external objects developed by Peter Elsea
  • RTC-lib Software library for algorithmic composition in Max/MSP/Jitter
  • List of powerful librairies References & links of a bunch of librairies & externals
  • Max Javascript Reference – complete Javascript Reference for Max/MSP/Jitter
  • Klankwereld Software, tutorials and resources to learn Max/MSP/Jitter.
  • Percussa AudioCubes is an electronic musical instrument that allows you to create your own Max/Msp patches using an OSC server and flext external
  • [1] Ligeti's Artikulate was created entirely with Max / MSP / Jitter.