is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Discussion of music production, audio, equipment and any related topics, either with or without Ableton Live
Angstrom
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is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by Angstrom » Thu Apr 30, 2015 2:02 am

I want you to look at these two pictures

Image

on one side (A) we have something which is a very flexible synthesizer, within certain limits.
On the other side (B) we see a selection of electronic parts which can be connected together to make nearly anything electronic, so you could make the synthesiser of your dreams without limit, or a sequencer, or a sampler!!

Take Derek. Derek likes making music

With system (A) Perhaps Derek is a beginner and might struggle a little, there are oscillators, filters, and envelopes he recognises those names. Perhaps a beginner might understand that connecting cables might make a noise. Leave a beginner alone and they might soon connect an oscillator to an output and make a pitched screaming noise. but that screaming noise told them something. They panic at the loud high pitched noise and turn the Oscillator pitch control down, that mistake too taught them something!
In User Experience design this is called "learnability". Even the mistakes are lessons. So, they might even then go on to build on what they have constructed and connect an oscillator to a filter to an output. If they do it right it makes a noise, if they do it wrong it will make a very bad noise. They learn by feedback both positive and negative. They probably wouldn't need a manual of any kind during this learning process, in fact I bet by the end of a week they would have a patch where one oscillator is cross modulating another and a sample and hold is modulating a cutoff. Because each facet they learn on each area can be utilised in an other area, the system has a commonality of design, the learnability is built on "repeatability" . A Pitch input on a filter, is like a Pitch input on an oscillator.


Now lets look at the infinite possibilities of System (B). there are capacitors, resistors, and diodes. perhaps a beginner might get a book on how to make a simple circuit. Soon they have made an op amp but it makes a weird screaming noise. They look up a helpful electronics forum to find out why it's behaving this way - a forum user informs them that Op amps are usually unstable at unity gain. The user is confused and a bit stuck and a helpful forum user diagnoses the issue as a feedback issues relating to phase and gain margins and fixes their circuit. The user is slightly demoralised, however the promise of making the ultimate synthesiser will keep them going, and the helpful electronics community assures the user that anything is possible! After a week the user is attempting to make an oscillator and a ladder filter, but the circuit doesn't make a noise. It fails silently. The user once again visits the helpful forum. The user really needs to go on a course and learn the basics of electronics, because electronics is not inherently "learnable" in the sense that a resistor connected to another resistor will not inform the user of a mistake through positive or negative feedback, the circuit will merely fail silently. By the end of a week they would have a circuit which lies silent and dormant, perhaps a component is burned out, perhaps they used the incorrect IC, the numbers and letters are confusing.

Why is Derek doing this
What does Derek want? Why is Derek even approaching either of these systems?
Well, Derek wants to play electronic music, and he feels limited with what he currently has. He wants a personal system that suits him. He has been playing his DX7 and he wants it to have a nicer filter, he wants to customise it. He wants instant control and flexibility, he wants to have an intuitive musical experience which has fewer limits on his sonic creative potential .

To expand his sonic arsenal Derek can either feed his DX7 through the filter module of A, or he can make a WHOLE NEW DX7 with B, a whole new instrument with unlimited possibility.

Is it possible to make a WHOLE NEW DX7 he asks the B community?
"Of course it is! Anything is possible with B, just take a look at this link to a man who made his own DX7, and this man who created a controller which perfectly suited him, in fact . Truly anything is possible with system B. With one or two caveats, but we don't need to tell you about those just now"


So, Derek signs up on a course to build one of these
Image

Derek is now an amateur electronics engineer struggling to build something from components, and not at all sure if what he is aiming for is even possible. he will only find out in a years time.

Where did Derek Go wrong?
Derek never wanted to be an electronics engineer, Derek wanted to make his DX7 go wawawaWAWAwawa. Derek is listening to electronics engineers and people who have an affinity for that as a pastime, they are talking about chebyshev polynomials and other amazing things. It's dazzling.

Derek listened to electronics engineers whose pastime was building instruments.
Derek wanted to make music, not instruments. Derek only needed to connect musical components together as part of a musical creative process.

Moral of the story
Max for Live is a wonderful thing, it has a lot of benefits and the potential is huge and although it has pitfalls I'm sure they will be overcome by the developers over the next few years.
However, I feel it is the wrong solution for the use-case.

Ableton Live is a modular synthesiser. It has sound sources, modulators and processors. We have learned to connect A to B to C.
Most people came to Ableton Live because of the intuitive Learnability. This made it the perfect tool for intuitive musical creation. Terms we know are represented visually and use familiar paradigms and terminology. We can plug-in an effect and modulate a sample, we can route through a filter and tweak the cut-off.

We need flexibility, but at a granular level above that of engineers. If engineers need components we need modules. We need Dieter Doepfer to make us a solid reliable Filter module, because frankly we would fuck it right up.

Ableton Live was created by passionate engineers, and their own passion is visual prototyping in Max by Cycling74.

Look at the picture at the top.
Who is system A appealing to, Musicians or Engineers?
Who is system B appealing to, Musicians or Engineers?

beats me
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by beats me » Thu Apr 30, 2015 2:18 am

Image


Pull it together, Derek

Machinesworking
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by Machinesworking » Thu Apr 30, 2015 3:33 am

I agree, but here's the rub. I don't really pay attention to Max 4 Live much and just use Live for what it's good for.

Yes, it's a weird thing that the #1 intuitive, get you in and making music DAW decided to go and out geek everyone except the PD crowd.
I still don't get how that happened? If Ableton was releasing and hosting a library on the likes of the Reaktor library I would get it but they aren't. It's a if they stopped working on having the best part of Apple's attention to UI, and just adopted the absolute worst part of Windows, this sort of random feature grabbing, then stopping right before it's something amazing thing.


I mean no disrespect to them, but I think the main appeal of M4L is this whole feeling like they have an ecosystem of engineers developing third party devices and solutions for Live. As nerds themselves they see this as an amazing thing, a community etc. but of course as an end user.... well, I wanted more modularity built in to Live, more integration with the outside world, and more solutions to playing live. What I got was Push, and M4L. Push is pretty cool, if I can get it to stop stealing control of Live from all other control surfaces.. :x

oblique strategies
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by oblique strategies » Thu Apr 30, 2015 4:59 am

Angstrom wrote: Image
This image sums it all up quite graphically:
Do you want to turn the knobs of the device at the far left, or solder together the components on the far right?

Angstrom wrote:Max for Live is a wonderful thing, it has a lot of benefits and the potential is huge and although it has pitfalls I'm sure they will be overcome by the developers over the next few years.
Optimist. :P I have been waiting for software engineers to sort it all out for decades...
Last edited by oblique strategies on Thu Apr 30, 2015 10:09 am, edited 1 time in total.

moscom_musik
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by moscom_musik » Thu Apr 30, 2015 8:09 am

Maybe to nuance the topic, you can use BEAP or Oscillot (although you have to pay for this one on top of max 4 live) to get closer to the left image.

On my side, it allows me to dig into many modular synthesis tutorials such as those by Rob Hordijk or Roland Kuit in a way close to that of the nord modular, at a fraction of the price of the modular synth depcited in the left picture, and with patch memory. So, I agree that Max for Live may be a little steep to learn, but to claim that we are not given tools that allow us to write music intuitiveley with an easy-to -use interface seems a bit wrong to me, as higher-level patching tools have been developped and work quite well, although they are not easy on CPU's...

Moreover, I like the fact that on top of these tools I can decide to go a little closer to the root of things if I read more technical documents about sound generation in synthesizers. It is not what I do every day, but when I do it, it expands my understanding, and Max/MSP and Max for Live are then fantastic tools. YMMV.
Macbook Pro Retina 2015, Live 9 Suite, Push, and a bunch of plug-ins I like :)

TomViolenz
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by TomViolenz » Thu Apr 30, 2015 10:20 am

For me the issue is not the differentiation between both of these pics. Both have their merits. That's why I welcome the existance of Max and Reactor for people, who are into this sort of thing. Who knows maybe one day I will be too.

What I take maximum issue with is forcing it down the throats of all of us Live users, who don't have these very specialized interests.

It starts with all the wasted programming time that M4L has taken and that all the regular users pay for. It continues with the lack of developing things in Live further that would be of real use to everyone and that the Feature Wishlist section is filled to the brim with. It doesn't stop with the audacity to develop important utilities like an LFO and Envelope Generator in M4L so that Standard users don't get to use them and which are absolutely half assed (look at things like LFO Tools and Volume Shaper/Midi Shaper to see what a versatile LFO/Envelope Generator looks like - Or I guess just look at what previous Ableton programmers accomplished in this regard with Bitwig :x ). It culminates in the inherent instability and CPU drain that ALL M4L devices bring to the table. I mean even the commercial M4L devices that people like to parade around like big achievments, are usually followed by long threads here about all the issues that users have with them that a comparable vst wouldn't!

I would warn Ableton to continue down this road any further! Make Live itself better again and make all the devices that you as a company released as M4L devices proper native ones. Leave further Max programing in the enthusiast niche were it belongs.

Otherwise Bitwig 2.0 might just be my next DAW, and I doubt that I will be the only one going that route :x :(

pencilrocket
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by pencilrocket » Thu Apr 30, 2015 10:36 am

"Fu*k programming. I just want to make music."
This sort of whining makes so much sense.
Image

Daniel Morgenroth
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by Daniel Morgenroth » Thu Apr 30, 2015 10:46 am

From what I've seen so far (as a Windows 7, 64-bit-user), M4L doesn't answer any questions. Not even the wrong ones.
It just opens up A LOT of new questions.
Seems to be the wrong method with the wrong technique.
As Dave said, it's just completly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9RjVT5eM-E

TomViolenz
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by TomViolenz » Thu Apr 30, 2015 10:47 am

pencilrocket wrote:"Fu*k programming. I just want to make music."
This sort of reasoning makes so much sense on a forum of a music software company.
couldn't agree more ;-)

re:dream
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by re:dream » Thu Apr 30, 2015 10:56 am

pencilrocket wrote:"Fu*k programming. I just want to make music."
This sort of whining makes so much sense.
IF Angstrom's thoughtful and articulate post, which goes to the heart of what's wrong with the M4L concept, is to be dismissed as 'whining', what does that make your response?

jbw
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by jbw » Thu Apr 30, 2015 11:59 am

It's kind of a niche extension to Live, and building probably doesn't appeal to the majority of Live users. However, when one device gets built it is potentially available to all. Though yes a lot of the devices are niche too.

I personally like the idea of it. Just wish it was a touch more user friendly.

tedlogan
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by tedlogan » Thu Apr 30, 2015 12:33 pm

I tend to agree with the OP. Building blocks (modules, NOT components) as native Live devices: LFOs, Envelopes, Expression controls and so on, mainly for stability and lower CPU consumption, and implemented how Bitwig's done it.

I'm lucky that I have no crashes and I do use LFO, Envelope and Expression control quite often, but CPU-use is an issue, and I'm gonna upgrade my PC at some point, when I too will possibly step into this world of frustration.

While I like building things on a deeper level (I'm rigging in Maya etc), I absolutely and simply do not have the time to learn M4L.

Good point just above though - once a device is built it's available to all, but there are still stability issues and higher CPU drain.

Give me the world of picture A!

Perhaps Ableton should start building native Live devices based on the most popular M4L ones, via user feedback/research/voting...or something. At least introduce the basic modules like LFO and Envelope. M4L enthusiasts can still carry on doing everything they want, while the rest can use stable devices, and hopefully a modulation drag and drop system like Bitwig's. Wishful thinking, I know.

moscom_musik
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by moscom_musik » Thu Apr 30, 2015 12:41 pm

TomViolenz's response sounds the more sensible to me. It is indeed weird that stuff such as the MIDI LFO is accessible only through M4L.

This may be an issue too regarding Oscillot, although this one would be arguable. Bitwig's modular environement remains to be seen, and if it is as low-level as reaktor or max, the problem will be the same as the one raised initially. In the end, I think it is just incorrect to compare Max to a modular synth: BEAP or Oscillot are the real contenders, and they provide the musician sound creation tools that do not exist in Live (at least from the modular synth standpoint), such as a broad range of oscilators, filters, etc all patchable freely by the user. You can even create audio effects!

Max does much more than just synthesis. Learning BEAP, Oscillot, Vaz Modular or whatever other modular softsynth will answer the questions raised in the original post. Derek will be happy with these synths, if he also dives deep in their documentation and philosphy.
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oddstep
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by oddstep » Thu Apr 30, 2015 1:02 pm

I'm quite into M4L, it does divert attention away from making music into sound/instrument design - but the same could be said of learning how to work with compressors or eq or step sequencers. Currently, electronic music has a technical component which you are either interested in or bored by. I've made m4l devices for shows that allowed me to play in a way that I wanted, rather than being constrained by the environment I was using, clearly that's a good thing.
The greatest negative impact of M4L is that it is being used as a fix for deficiencies in the host program - midi lfos, timstretching in sampler and control routing within Live have all been addressed via M4L; now the software is part of Suite perhaps it matters less than it did. However, most of the interesting Live devices that have come about since 2012ish are max based, leaving Live standard to develop through sample pack bundles and code leases.
I don't think that m4l devices inherently have a massive overhead: for example Granulator doesn't rinse my laptop to the same extent that Collision does.

login
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Re: is Max for Live the wrong answer to the wrong question?

Post by login » Thu Apr 30, 2015 2:30 pm

TomViolenz wrote:
It starts with all the wasted programming time that M4L has taken and that all the regular users pay for. It continues with the lack of developing things in Live further that would be of real use to everyone and that the Feature Wishlist section is filled to the brim with. It doesn't stop with the audacity to develop important utilities like an LFO and Envelope Generator in M4L so that Standard users don't get to use them and which are absolutely half assed (look at things like LFO Tools and Volume Shaper/Midi Shaper to see what a versatile LFO/Envelope Generator looks like - Or I guess just look at what previous Ableton programmers accomplished in this regard with Bitwig :x ). It culminates in the inherent instability and CPU drain that ALL M4L devices bring to the table. I mean even the commercial M4L devices that people like to parade around like big achievments, are usually followed by long threads here about all the issues that users have with them that a comparable vst wouldn't!
Kind of this, I have no problem with m4l, I think it's great but I would like more official m4l devices ported to native Live versions. It's good they prototype stuff in Max, but in the long term they should incorporate them in to Live.

So I don't think m4l is a bad answer, I think it is answer which suits some users, not all of them. And Ableton could answer the questions in other way too.

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