MIDI Utility Software
MAXplay opens a window on a world of MIDI applications, including MIDI analysers, harmonisers, editor/librarians and much, much more. Kendall Wrightson investigates.
Back in July '91, these pages were graced with a review of MAX, an object-orientated MIDI programming language named after avant garde composer Max V. Mathews. Devised by a Tennessee mathematician called Miller Puckette at the Paris-based Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), MAX was originally developed to control IRCAM's unique 4X synthesizer. Subsequently, MAX was ported over to the Apple Macintosh and revamped to utilise its Graphical User Interface (GUI). Californian music software specialists Opcode acquired MAX in 1989, expanding it into a commercial application capable of creating anything from a simple MIDI filter to a complete synth editor.
As a MIDI applications generator, MAX shares the market with several public domain and shareware programs, including MIDI Control and HyperMIDI (<9456>see Mac Notes July '92). However, MAX is unique in that MAX applications ('Patches') are generated by connecting special 'objects' together using on-screen patch leads. This graphical approach greatly simplifies programming, making it possible to generate a sophisticated application with just a few hours work. However, such facilities don't come cheap: MAX is a £395 experience.
After three years in the field, a diverse library of MAX Patches has been created, though so far only MAX owners have been able to run them. MAXplay changes all that, being a run-time only version of the original application — editing facilities are disabled — that costs a more modest £80.
Apart from a Mac, a mass storage device — hard, optical, floptical, etc. — and a MIDI interface, MAXplay requires at least 2MB of spare RAM. In other words, your Mac needs a minimum of 4MB. In fact MAXplay's 'suggested' memory setting — accessed from its 'Get Info' dialogue box — is 2.5MB RAM, and you'll need a further 2MB if you intend to run MAXplay with another MIDI application (such as a sequencer) via MIDI Manager.
If you're lucky enough to own an 68030 Mac running System 7.0, virtual memory might be the answer, though performance will suffer when running certain applications. For everyone else, a journey to the local chip shop is the only solution (1MB SIMMs cost around £35).
Before any serious MIDI manipulation can begin, the copy-protected MAXplay application must be installed onto your mass storage device. Opcode's software protection scheme allows two copies of MAXplay to be installed from one master disk. This means that you can install a working version of MAXplay onto two separate drives, or keep one in case of emergency. Soft protection is generally more flexible than hardware dongles; however, 'installs' can be lost if a disk crashes. Installs should also be removed before running disk de-fragmentation utilities.
In addition to an excellent user guide, the MAXplay package also includes two more floppy disks. One is packed with 17 (free) MAX Patches, while the other contains a collection of MAX 'objects' — data files that MAXplay accesses when running Patches. Objects must reside in the same folder as MAXplay.
The 17 MAX Patches included with MAXplay fall into five basic categories: control panels for specific hardware, performance Patches, MIDI manipulators (that may be used via MIDI Manager with other Mac software such as MIDI sequencers), utilities and editor/librarians (see box).
Some MAXplay patches hide all the wiring — object patching — that goes into the construction of a MAX patch. However, many others, like the Sample & Hold simulator S/H 2, pictured here, reveal all, and may appear rather intimidating to the first time user. However, only the knobs, sliders toggles and little boxes with triangles in them are actually important from an operational point of view. The latter are 'number' boxes that can be edited by clicking them (whereupon the triangle will turn black) and typing in a suitable number. (In addition, dragging the mouse up/down increments/decrements number box values.)
The current MAX Patch appears in its own window, and more can be opened — though not active. The number of Patches you can open is limited only by available RAM. Connecting applications such as sequencers to MAX Patches via MIDI Manager is no problem but, due to its processing overhead, MIDI Manager doesn't run properly on the lowly Mac Plus/SE and Classic.
MAXplay also supports the Opcode MIDI System (a system extension that dynamically informs compatible applications about port assignments, interface types, and the direction of MIDI traffic — see Galaxy review, SOS Oct '91). However, many MAX Patches were written before OMS, and are therefore OMS unfriendly.
There are four other windows that MAXplay uses to interact with the user: a MAXplay window that displays error messages and free memory, a Text window for typing in lists of numbers, a Table Editing window — a sort of mini MacPaint program for mapping X values to Y values graphically, and a Librarian window that displays Patch names. The latter three are only used if their function is an integral part of the current Patch.
MAXplay has the potential to be the ultimate Mac utility, if only hardware manufacturers can be persuaded to include MAX patches with their new products (and old ones, for that matter). For example, synthesizers and effects units could be supplied with simple librarians or even an editor.
Manufacturers would be more inclined to write MAX patches if there was a large MAXplay user base. Users will be encouraged to buy MAXplay if manufacturers begin to supply MAX patches. Whether you find the Patches bundled with MAXplay useful will depend both on the hardware you own and on your predilection for MIDI manipulation and utilities — the latter can save a lot of time and frustration in the studio. In any event, MAXplay is an excellent concept that — with the right support — has a great future.
Opcode MAXplay £79.95 inc VAT.
MCMXCIX, (Contact Details).
Review by Kendall Wrightson
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