AV Summer Fun

I’ve always been into deep immersion and I have to say, lecturing and tutoring is a major distraction; splitting my life into such quadrants means I pay little attention to anything. I’m an obsessive and need unrestricted time to immerse. Here comes summer, just in the nick of time!  Brisbane summer humidity makes me feel like broccoli in a steamer, therefore the pull towards research in the air-conditioned office and getting out and away from home is so much stronger.

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Of major interest is the Re:live 09 conference which I am attending mainly as it features some key theorists mentioned in my Lit.Review / ACMC Paper. It also looks like the academic equivalent of a music festival with a smorgasbord of ideas, related in various tangents, to where my focus is.
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Also happening around about now is the Electundra Audio Visual festival (thanks to DC for pointing me in the direction of this one), a kind of mini-Electrofringe with a history spanning back to 2006. Over three weekends, three afternoon/evenings, a variety of different modes and expressions are in evidence. I’m going to make only the last one as sadly I live in the frogspawn art capital, not the full blown cane toad army that is Melbourne.  For my research I need to interview a broad cross-section of the AV community with a view to highlighting some of the key issues of practioners and outlining more in-depth case studies of divergent forms of practice. If you are an audio-visualist and feel like talking to me, i’m all ears and portable recorder. I’ll be the bearded sober one scribbling insanely on a A5 notepad. I believe this field is expanding to the point of explosion due to a combination of complimentary portable systems for audiovisual deployment with increasingly versatile mixed media compositional systems and accessible communities.  I’d prefer to reflect the reality, than my lone diagetic mythos.  Tell me what you do, what you like, what you want, where you want to go etc…  It’s all for the greater good!

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The upcoming release of Max for Live is a milestone event for the performing audio-visualist. Despite shedding a slight tear at the lost ability to construct VSTs from Max Patches (Pluggo effects are included with Max For Live) the optimist in me considers the addition of Max to Live as adding a sophisticated user-definable media system to one of the most ubiquitous and accessible musical performance platforms in use worldwide. A glorious handshake that has the potential to provide heterogeneous scope for creative audio and visual performers with a relatively flexible and reliable framework for delivering audio and video material in real-time and the extensibility and divergent approaches to performance design fostered by programs like Isadora and VDMX.

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I’m going to start blogging on the relative merits of different digital media performance platforms very soon, however as a brief aperitif to the main course, I think Max 4 Live has a lot of potential but my experience with the Beta has generated a few reservations:

  • Max For Live is a $99 wrapper (for those of us that already own Live 8 and Max 5) that simply allows you to run Max/Msp/Jitter patches as effects/instruments in Live. It does not add extra functionality to either program – merely allows them to work together in Live. Why I mention this is that Native Instruments plugins like Reaktor have allowed you to do this for ages, since they run as VSTs / AUs. So what’s the big deal? Live.api seems to be just Ableton style GUI elements; though I have read you can do tricky things like adding extended functionality to “Follow Actions” and use Max to manage clips, these things are not so well documented at the moment.
  • You will need Max 5 to create your own patches and (by the looks of it) to edit provided and downloaded ones. Run-time mode is running the patches as effects without the ability to edit them.
  • It’s still Max/MSP/Jitter: with all the features of Max 5 and the same steep learning curve. For some of us this is very good news, it doesn’t appear crippled compared to Max 5 standalone, but I wonder about Live users coming into this. I’ve always thought the strength of Live lies with ease of use. You can do some quite complex things, but it has a very mild learning curve and it is easy to just get in and do something, working complexity in later. I don’t want to get into the Max VS Reaktor argument since I love both programs for different reasons – but personally i’ve found Max easier to get into as I know a little bit about object oriented programming. Either way these are programs that will eat your time getting them running and Max For Live runs a little contrary to the usability of Live.
  • Cycling ’74 has a fairly solid community and I imagine the thought is that all these little M4L patches will be shared, either through the C74 forum or using the upcoming “Share” functions. Having said that, unless Ableton / Cycling’74 are going to provided free content updates (which I doubt) there will need to be a community willing to make and share M4L patches. The Reaktor forum is very generous and the library there features so many great ensembles, it’s no wonder i’ve made no head way in learning how to program that beast. C’74 on the other hand has some useful extractions but more of an “educational” approach. Full featured patches are less common than building blocks, meaning you will need to read A LOT and learn. How many low attention span Live users will be into that?
  • Finally, while the dream of an integrated AV system is a compelling one, it may remain a dream. I’ve spent the last 6 months experimenting with different types of VJ and AV performance software and have to say that my recent attempts to create Jitter patches that I could run in Live have lead to sluggish frames and stuttering. A confession: I’m relearning the ‘Cycling 74 Way’ after about 2 years playing with different tools and i’m probably not doing things efficiently. But the streamlined nature of something like VDMX comes from many years working to build a tool for very specific purposes, as opposed to Max/MSP/Jitter, designed to suit YOUR specific purposes. I’m going to have to keep working at this so lets just say i’m interested to see whether Max For Live will replace my current Live + VDMX setup, or just provide some useful data routing alternatives.

Alongside ArtMatic Pro, Max for Live is my Christmas fun time project. Oh yeah, I have to finish the next Secret Killer Of Names album also i’ll talk about that a little in the next post.

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