Things I wish people had told me, continued

I learned Max, MSP, and Jitter as a non-student, which meant that I pretty much taught myself by reading and making patches and then trying to make them work. That means that my following two pieces of advice may not pertain to you if you’re taking a course that involves you needing to learn Max/MSP/Jitter. But I think they’re useful to consider anyway, even if they might seem a trifle odd at first glance:

  • It’s perfectly okay to NOT use Max/MSP/JitterMy friend (and colleague) Jeremy used to refer to this with his students as “The Max as a Tool of Last Resort” postulate. While I am not nearly the brilliant and wry man that he is, I think I can explain what he means, because it’s a kind of profound truth.
    In the course of your work, there are a lot of very good reasons to use Max/MSP/Jitter; the usual reason is that there just isn’t an off-the-shelf solution for something you want to do, or some kind of special interactive/stochastic/L-systemic something you are dying to do that you can’t easily implement any other way.But I also think that there are a lot of what I’d consider bad reasons to use Max–places where other simpler, faster, or more elegant solutions exist (while I suppose that you might be the kind of person who learns best by attempting to precisely duplicate something like a sequencer, I’m not–this means that my advice is skewed accordingly). I would class making yourself a copy of Cubase SX or a Reaktor instrument of some sort using Max as a less-than-good reason to use it. In practical terms, you ought to feel free to let your ideas run freely and let the idea determine your choice of tools, rather than thinking you have to use Max to do something just because it’s cool. Oh yeah–and be ready to defend your choices (always thinking about building “character,” ain’t I?)
  • You don’t have to use Max for everything. This kind of follows from the first bit of advice. It personally took me some time to start using VST plug-ins instead of trying to learn what the plug-in did and to design one in Max/MSP; it felt like cheating, somehow. Ditto for using stuff like ReWire to glue cool Max stuff to things I already knew how to use. At some point, I started noticing that it was just me–probably the night I went to see some big star, sidled around behind him during the performance, and then noticed that he was playing soundfiles through a string of GRM plug-ins.
    You’re feeling hesitant? Fuggedaboudit! Using Max as a kind of interapplications “glue” is one of its great secrets and uses.

The basic idea behind both of these pieces of advice is that we’re living in a world where you enjoy a great number of possible tools you can use to realize your ideas, and that the “fit” between you and your tools and your tasks can be made for all kinds of reasons. You should feel free to make those choices–that’s one of the great gifts of This Age.