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 widely used by composers, performers, software designers, researchers, and artists for creating innovative recordings, performances, and installations.

The Max program itself is highly modular, with most routines existing in the form of shared libraries. As a result, Max has a large userbase of programmers not affiliated with Cycling ’74 who enhance the software with commercial and non-commercial extensions to the program.

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 the original software’s author Miller Puckette’s subsequent work. 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).

Max is named after the late Max Mathews, computer music pioneer, and can be considered a descendant of MUSIC, a program written by Mathews in 1957 at Bell Labs. 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. With the increased integration of laptop computers into live music performance (in electronic music and elsewhere), Max has received quite a bit of attention as a development environment available to those serious about laptop music / laptop video performance.


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