Cycling ’74: MaxMSP => Working with Max is not easy

Found an interesting thread on the Max list entitled Working with Max is not easy. But what is easy. Before we learn something we find it difficult. When we know it we find it easy. I guess a problem with Max, if it can be called a problem, is that its low entry-level (at least compared to many other programming languages) is that the user might be misleaded into thinking that this is something that can be mastered in two weeks. I think Trond responded in a good way:
Musicians have to practice their instruments, rehearsing scales, etc in order to develop technical skills that are a prerequisite for artistic expression. A composition student have to study counterpoint, harmonization, orchestration, etc. In the same way artists depending on digital tools have to continuously explore and learn about their medium, in particular so because the “instrument” we are playing is changing on a more or less daily basis. Reading mailing lists, books, searching information on the net, trying out stuff by patching, checking out 3rd party objects, etc. are my etudes, and I have to do them on a daily basis.

I totally agree. I still remember the thrill I felt when I managed to get some of the first Max tutorials to work in the basement at CNMAT back in 2001. I quickly managed to get to a level where I could perform with MIDI instruments, but even though I have been working with Max on a regular basis since then, I still feel I have a lot to learn. Learning Max is not only about learning a program. You have to learn to think like a programmer, you have to understand MIDI, sound theory and possibly also maths (trigonometry, linear algebra…) and digital video.

When I teach Max I try and tell my students that there is no shortcut in learning to program. It requires time and practice, and it is limited how much you can learn in one semester. The most important is to get a platform to work from, but then work actually starts.

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Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.