Composing Interactive Music: Techniques and Ideas Using Max

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MIT Press, Jan 26, 2001 - Music - 368 pages
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Interactive music refers to a composition or improvisation in which software interprets live performances to produce music generated or modified by computers. In Composing Interactive Music, Todd Winkler presents both the technical and aesthetic possibilities of this increasingly popular area of computer music. His own numerous compositions have been the laboratory for the research and development that resulted in this book.

The author's examples use a graphical programming language called Max. Each example in the text is accompanied by a picture of how it appears on the computer screen. The same examples are included as software on the accompanying CD-ROM, playable on a Macintosh computer with a MIDI keyboard.

Although the book is aimed at those interested in writing music and software using Max, the casual reader can learn the basic concepts of interactive composition by just reading the text, without running any software. The book concludes with a discussion of recent multimedia work incorporating projected images and video playback with sound for concert performances and art installations.


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This book is still one of the major books anyone interested in working with interactive music or video should read. Even though it was first published in 1998, many of the concepts it explains are still fully valid today.
I do not agree with the previous reviewer that the books "dependence" on Max is an issue. All the code examples can be just as easily (and in most cases literally) be re-created in Puredata (or many other languages for that matter). And whatever programming environment one uses, I would in any case recommend any reader of this book to re-create all the patches from scratch, so as to fully understand their logic.

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There's two serious problems that make this book(along with truckloads of others from it's era) completely dated.
1) It relies on Max/MSP, and not PureData for it's instruction. I couldn't stand
reading it because the whole thing pretty much assumes the use of closed source/proprietary software Max/MSP. Granted, in 1997-1998, this may have been about all that was available, and for that I have to give the author some credit; it's a well written book, and it seems to be fairly coherent, at least somewhat illustrative of what it's trying to teach.
However, non-free software is outright dangerous, and use of this book is essentially asking to lose some degree of autonomy to Opcode or whoever ends up keeping the copyrights on Max.
I do not at all blame the author, but the days when this sort of thing was acceptable are past, and we need to move on, and get, find, write or otherwise produce some better textbooks.
I do have to wonder, how much of Max *has* been ported over to PureData; I haven't dug very deep on that question, and I'll grant it's entirely possible that this book could be saved from this failing on this count.
2) It presumably relies on the software and media on the disc included with the book. This means that as CDs are phased out as a technology, this book will find itself on the same part of the bookshelf that books that came with 5 1/4" floppies(actually not too uncommon in the 80's) are today, and all the effort and value on that disc will be essentially lost(if it's readable at all). I am not a fan of these CD-Textbook combo deals, and I don't think they've ever really been appropriate.
Also; very, very little that could possibly have anything to do with speech recognition here. However(and as much as it doesn't help me right now, I have to admit it's a valuable resource); A lot of MIDI stuff. I don't have pretty much any kind of MIDI-Friendly hardware, so this too was pretty much useless to me, but this must have been quite the find in 1998 in that regard.
I'm just hoping MSP's "Theory and Technique of Electronic Music" is more for what I was actually looking for.
I hate to imagine what the OpCode MAX/MSP Manual was like; Although much more eloquent in it's prose than a technical, this book read very much like a manual should be. Especially since it seems to have a decent index.
Also; I do not appreciate the author not putting his references on Google Books. Why on earth would he want to prohibit Google and others from ensuring that he wasn't plagarising, or that his claims were actually founded?


Defining Relationships Between Computers and Performers
Graphic Programming with Max
Program Structure and Design
Interface Design
Analyzing and Storing Performance Data
Composer Objects
Sound Design
Compositional Strategies Structures and Timing Mechanisms
Interactive Multimedia and New Controllers
Master List of Examples

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About the author (2001)

Todd Winkler is an award-winning composer whose works for interactive technology and mixed media have been performed at major international festivals. He is Assistant Professor of Music at Brown University, where he is Director of the MacColl Studios for Electronic Music.

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