The recent passing of our friend and colleague Darwin Grosse was the occasion for a number of us at Cycling '74 to share our own reflections about working with him every day. One of the things we didn't say much about was the way in which Darwin's contributions to the Cycling '74 website were a source of inspiration to us individually. I'm sure that that's also the case for many of you reading this, so I thought I'd compile a "greatest hits" listing of Darwin's Cycling '74 life — those articles or reviews that Darwin penned and patched for us that we found useful or important.
Darwin's emphasis on sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm certainly didn't start the day he started working with us, as anyone who's ever read his Kurzweil K2000 tutorial from back in the days before he joined us will attest to, and we were so fortunate that he shared his passions here. I asked a number of Darwin's colleagues to help create a "Greatest Hits" list of his C74 postings, and here's what they said. We'd love to hear your own greatest hits list in the Comments section!
Andrew Benson: The first thing that springs to mind is Darwin's MSP synthesizer tutorials. They were so clear and organized compared to any other explanation of how to imagine a complete instrument in Max. Similarly, his guitar series went well beyond just plugging in a guitar to Max and laid out a fully realized rig with a smartly conceived control and preset system. Darwin's Big 3 Max for Live devices are truly unsung in their impact. It would be hard to accurately trace that, but I've always had the sense that they deeply impacted music made at the time. They were a beautiful introduction to what is possible in the context of Max for Live, and mapped out a bit of musical territory that we think of as "Max stuff." Darwin was a big believer in assigning someone to learn something new and then write about it and provide patching examples. He did this himself with his JSUI Canvas examples, and through organizing the various team effort Patch-a-Day series (physics, gen, JSUI). This leading-learning-by-example approach, which is a staple of our engagement with the community, is something we can thank Darwin for.
Ben Bracken: I've got two greatest hits which will probably be covered by others. First, his last album release Fresco on the One Instrument label was a quiet masterpiece. I especially love the track 'Santa Cruz'. It is gorgeous and lush, and evokes an unquenchable expansiveness, like my many memories of staring out into the ocean from the countless coastal beaches around there. The broad pacing of the album is so lovely, and it is so cool to hear a bunch of different ideas on a single piece of hardware. I see myself in this album. Second, his 20Objects series changed the way I think about teaching Max. It expands Max knowledge by slowly growing outward around a handful of "core" objects. It applies a truly visionary technique of showcasing functionality through "friend" objects. It doesn't try to overload you with the width and breadth of what you can do with Max, and it doesn't really even concern itself with showing you around the application itself. You learn by doing, and as such, it is a very content-focused approach. With each lesson, Max literacy spreads out like a patch itself, making connections between things to reinforce techniques and increasing comfort with the environment. Andrew Benson and I taught a version of the curriculum to high school students, and it was so cool to see the light bulbs constantly blink on. Whenever anyone asks me how to get into Max, this is always in the list of links I send them. Like with everything that Darwin did, it invites extension and expansion. It is a template that I've always hoped we could investigate further.
Maddie Fernandez: Darwin’s 20Objects series was a project of his that I loved because of its simplicity and ability to connect the dots between objects. It was the first learning material for Max recommended to me when I started at Cycling ‘74. At the time it wasn’t clear to me what everyone in the company did, and I only really knew Darwin because I was the bookkeeper half of the time and needed receipts from him. When I learned the history of what it was intended for, it made sense to me why it was effective and where the pain points were, and that immediately dispelled some self doubt I had in my abilities to learn. It’s still one of the more popular links on the website, and I can see why. I recorded an interview with Darwin about how the 20Objects came about, and I thought I'd share a little of the transcript of it here:
Darwin: The Initial idea came from a conversation I had with Mike Dubinsky who was part of a videotaped user study at a Clementina office. Mike is one of the strongest Max users you're going to ever see….he was really helpful for sort of getting an advanced user's view of the software, but also he's a teacher, and he's always been involved in teaching. We got involved in a conversation afterwards, he and I and flagged Spears. We were joking about what would be a different way of teaching because it was clear that we were trying to figure out how people learn to use the software. He was like, ‘I don't know, but if we could just do something where we just sort of focused on 20 objects instead of 700 of them, that would be, that would really help make it digestible.’ That stuck in my head, and I carried that around ever after. So, it was one of my master's degree projects for a course, and it was quite well received by the instructors to the point that then they asked me to teach Max in the school.
Alex Van Gils: I love Darwin's mgraphics/JSUI patch-a-day series. In contrast to some of his other more structured educational postings, it was deeply instructive to me to see Darwin learning in real-time and engaging the community with in this way.
Tom Hall: Darwin's greatest hits for me consists of two things, really. Darwin's series on synth building with Max/MSP helped me take my entire MSP practice to a new level, I'll never forget it, and whilst I'd already seen Darwin's name around the place plenty of times, this was where I felt I started to know the guy as more than just a name or picture. His second big hit for me was his editor for the SCW editor. Darwin's SCW editor is still a blast to play with and is super useful for generating sounds to be used both inside of Max and far beyond.
Lilli Hart: As many already know, Darwin had a talent for interviewing people (which he practiced constantly), and I thought this relatively recent interview on collaborative performance with Node for Max captured that well. The conversation just seems to flow. Darwin's personality comes through in a complementary way to the interviewees'.
Mattijs Kneppers: Since I knew how carefully Darwin looked at the work of others and knew how hard-won his praise was, I'd have to say that — for me — my most inspiring experience of reading Darwin's work was the day that I read his update article Videosync 1.1, a project I'd been working on. His praise meant a lot to me.
Rob Sussman: That's an easy one — Darwin's series on building a guitar processor with Max immediately popped into mind for me.
Sam Tarakajian: I don't know if this counts, but I love the ddg.mono Max object. I've been using it literally since my very first computer music class. I didn't know what it did at the time, or even that the "ddg" part referred to someone's initials. My professor was showing off how malleable sound was (or else maybe he was making a piece of cutting political satire) by chopping up a George W Bush speech and making a drum machine out of it. Each of the samples was triggered by midi, and the whole thing was behind a few ddg.mono objects. Since this was my very first exposure to Max, you could argue that in some sense I knew who Darwin was before I knew who David Zicarelli —or Miller Puckette— were.
Gregory Taylor: Over the years, I'd ask Darwin to contribute to our collection of Book Reviews or hardware reviews. I never told him what to review and instructed him not to tell me what he was going to write about, because it was such fun to see what caught his attention and to see what he had to say. You can find a great selection of his book and hardware/software reviews here and here.
We'd appreciate hearing from you about your own version of Darwin's Greatest Hits. Add 'em to the Comments section!