‘Programming’ a little bit for our ears …

I am getting back/breaking to pd (Pure Data) and Max/MSP since I’m stuck in a inspirational loop 🙂 (and have I mentioned that pd nowadays is also androidal http://droidparty.net/ !?!)

here are some resources:
* from the ‘master’, original author of Max and latter, of the open-sourced pd: Miller Puckette MUS171 Videos
* his book on EM (electronic music) using pd: The Theory and Technique of Electronic Music
* some other set of videos on pd: Pure Data tutorials by Rafael Hernandez
* a very nice book on Max: Max/MSP/Jitter for Music

a nice demo from the archives: why maxing

and here is a little ‘truth’ in few paragraphs from the preface of the Max book:

An interactive music system is a hardware and/or software configuration that allows an individual to accomplish a musical task, typically in real time, through some interaction. Though commonly associated with composition and performance, the tasks associated with interactive music systems can include analysis, instruction, assessment, rehearsal, research, therapy, synthesis, and more. These systems typically have some set of controls, hardware or software, such as switches, keys, buttons, and sensors by which musical elements like harmony, rhythm, dynamics, and timbre can be manipulated in real time through user interaction.

In this book, we use the programming language Max/MSP/Jitter to write custom software for musical interaction. We discuss the concepts needed to complete your project, complete many projects in a step-by-step style guide, and look at examples of working systems. Emphasis is placed on the pedagogical implications of software creation to accomplish these tasks. Whether you want to create a program for composers that explores relationships between two modes or an exercise for beginners that helps improve finger dexterity, you will soon learn how writing customized software can supplement and complement your instructional objectives. We also discuss ways to interact with the software beyond just the mouse and keyboard through use of camera tracking, pitch tracking, videogame controllers, sensors, mobile devices, and more.

Why Design Custom Software?

Today, there are software applications for just about everything, but to what extent do we allow music software to dictate how we teach musical concepts? After installing a software application, it’s normal to look at the program and ask “what does it do,” “how can I perform with this,” and “how can I make a demonstration or instructional activity out of this for my class?” There’s certainly nothing wrong with this, but you may already have some musical ideas in mind and are looking for a way to express them using the efficiency and interactivity of technology. However, existing software may not be able to address the particular concepts you want to address from the angle you prefer.

Imagine teaching harmony with the aid of a specialized program that showed common tones between the chords and scales, or a program that used the fi rst seven number keys to play the seven diatonic chords of a key. Imagine composing a piece of music with a program that showed how chord functions tend to resolve in a given key.

Software developers typically design a program’s layout to be accessible and intuitive, but in doing so, they are bound to show certain biases toward the visibility of what are considered the more common features. In an instructional setting, if the feature that is going to help the instructor explain concepts of rhythm or harmony is somewhat buried in the program’s menus, he or she may be less inclined to teach those musical concepts right away because there is too much requisite knowledge of the soft ware involved just to get to the desired menu. Instructors would have to teach a number of soft ware concepts just to get to the place where they could teach the musical concept they wanted to address in the fi rst place. It’s not the soft ware company’s fault; aft er all, they don’t know what and how you teach. However, it’s a common case of technology dictating the instruction instead of instruction dictating the use of technology.

This problem is not unique to technology. Even the conventions of traditional notation using staff paper can dictate how we’re going to teach; if we don’t enjoy counting notes on ledger lines, we just stick to writing notes on the staff . In the same way, it’s just as easy for soft ware to confi ne us. If we want to teach some musical concept in an interactive way using the effi ciency of technology but can’t fi nd the technology to support it, the notion of an interesting approach to teaching the concept likely gets dropped.

At the same time, teaching with technology can be seen as trendy and gimmicky. Suppose you decide to write a program that plays diatonic chords in a key by using the buttons of a videogame controller. Th e activity in a classroom setting can be fun, but at the same time, it can be pretty pointless if the program doesn’t address some musical concept and the activity isn’t accompanied by solid teaching. However, if these things are in place, the student is then able to accomplish some musical task using a controller that is easy to use—and probably more familiar than that one-octave xylophone he’s hated using all year. It’s easy to worship technology because of its “ooh wow” factor, especially in a classroom setting. However, aft er the novelty of the technology wears off , we’re still music educators fi rst and technologists second. A good interactive system should allow a user to do musical things with effi ciency, greater control, and clarity; it should not just exist for the sake of having technology in the classroom.

Technology in the Classroom

Having an arsenal of customized soft ware to explain specifi c musical concepts can make your teaching life so much easier. How many times do you really need to write out the whole step and half step patterns of a major scale on the chalkboard? What if you had an application that showed the pitches, and steps for a scale, any scale, starting on any pitch? Not only will using such an app save you time, but it’s a program that you could allow your students to download and interact with on their own.

Many teachers are terrifi ed of teaching “technology lessons” because they don’t want to be in the situation where some little kid knows more about technology than they do, when the reality is that having a kid like that in class can be an incredible benefi t! Th at kid already understands the technology, so fi rst, he’ll be the cheapest and most accessible tech support you’ll ever fi nd when something goes wrong in the classroom—let him troubleshoot for you and his peers when things stop working. Second, and more important, since he already understands the technological side of things, it helps you to conceptually explain to him the musical side of things, which I guarantee he doesn’t understand nearly as well as you. Musical concepts, as you’ll recall, are the sorts of things you went to school to learn about.

These days, you can’t walk into a convenience store without seeing seven or eight computers being actively used for a specific intended outcome — why should the music classroom be any diff erent? Even band classrooms! Technology truly can help facilitate our teaching objects. However, students don’t just need teachers to show them new tech toys or cool soft ware; they can fi nd that on YouTube, from their friends, and in their local music store. What they need is for a trained musician to help them make sense of the musical world around them — the use of interactive music systems can make this process richer and more palatable. That’s knowledge students can’t find just anywhere.


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