Forums > MaxMSP

Happy, singing patches

Sep 22 2009 | 1:27 pm


A silly question, but I have to get it out of my system. I’m a Max beginner, and I’ve been wanting to build a Max patch ever since I first heard Jim O’Rourke’s "I’m Happy…". This album – especially the first two tracks – keeps puzzling and fascinating me every time I listen to it. Does anyone on this forum have an idea about what kind(s) of patch(es) he uses?



Sep 22 2009 | 2:52 pm

I just listened to a clip of I’m Happy (not heard of Jim O’Rourke before but I’m intrigued).

To me it sounds very similar to Louis Adreissen and Steve Reich. I don’t think a max/msp patch is creating/synthesizing those sounds……it sounds like manipulated audio samples.

I would say he may have even used Andreissen/Reich samples (a lot of it sounds pretty familiar to me but I can’t access my itunes atm to look up what I’m thinking of). Most of it sounds like reversed clarinets and piano ala. Reich, and there is a melodic part that comes in that sounds very much like Reich.

Although he could just be using similar harmony, I’m not sure. Sounds good though! I’ll check him out more.

You should look up Andreissen and Reich if you’re not familiar with their work already, seems like you might enjoy it. Especially Reich’s New York Counterpoint, Music for 18 Musicians and Andreissen’s Hout, De Staat……based on similarities to the clip I listened to.

If you made a patch that loaded 10 or so Reich-ish samples (New York Counterpoint kind of stuff) and allowed you to play them forward/backward, loop them on/off etc. you might get very similar sounds with a bit of keyboard jamming.

^^^ That’s just based on the clip I heard of I’m Happy, I’ve not listened to the rest of it yet!

Sep 22 2009 | 3:03 pm

Yes, I realize the tracks are somehow based on looping and manipulating audio samples, and I’ve managed so far to build an 8-track looping patch to play forward/backward, loop on/off, change pitch etc. just as you describe. But when you listen to O’Rourke the loops sound so organic, almost alive… there’s so much going on at the same time. I just wonder: How does he do it?

I love Steve Reich, by the way, but I wasn’t familiar with Andriessen. Thanks a lot for the tip!


Sep 22 2009 | 3:16 pm

i only seem to be able to find acoustic music of his, but from what you guys describe it seems the artistry might be more in the sample selection/creation than in the tools he’s using.

Sep 22 2009 | 3:35 pm

Are you sure he uses maxmsp for this type of thing? It can be far easier to do such things in a DAW where you have all the mixing/editing/spacialisation tools already there.

What I mean is, rather than improvising with a max patch, he could have done it in a DAW, spending lots of time tweaking, editing and livening up the arrangement for the final mix.

Experimentation is the only way to find out!

One way of making things sound more realistic/less computerised/sequenced is to deliberately put things slightly out of time (check out Flying Lotus for a good example). But that obviously doesn’t sound good all the time!

What is it specifically about your looping patch that you don’t think has the right "character"?

Another thing to think about is that if he is using samples of other composer’s work (likely is for the song I’m Happy) then the choice of sample massively influences the outcome. It can take a lot of time to find samples that fit together in the right way, and then its up to you to gel them together coherently into a different composition.

Sep 22 2009 | 4:17 pm

I definitely agree with what you’re saying, that it’s a matter of finding the right samples/selections. But I’m pretty certain he uses Max/MSP, and also that the tracks are improvised (or at least semi-improvised).

What makes me dissatisfied about my own looping patch is the lack of control, or influence, over more than one loop at the time. So far, the only things I can control are pitch, forward/backward, loop on/off, loop length and loop position. I want more! Smile I want the loops to sound as if they have a life of their own.

But, then again, I guess experimentation is the only way after all. Just wanted to know if anyone out there had some thoughts about this.


Sep 22 2009 | 8:33 pm

Yeah, I think that whatever tools you are using, it’s going to require a lot of practice before you can finesse it. Having said that, you might want to experiment with a subtle rhythmic delay effect, which can help the loops mesh with each other more easily. You could also experiment with 2d.wave~ for a different approach to loop-based improv/composition.

It’s also entirely possible that O’Rourke is using Live instead of Max.

Sep 22 2009 | 8:58 pm

Given the date it was recorded, it’s a safe bet it was an MSP patch.

Sep 22 2009 | 9:35 pm

As I recall: a basic "sync a bunch of audio loops to a rhythmic event" patch was sent as an example in the original MSP examples…
he well could be using something hacked outta that: I know I hacked that example up into something I used before Live came out.

Heck, he coulda used Radial! (also a MAX/MSP patch at root, right?)

Sep 23 2009 | 2:34 am

It was his own patching (I saw some of it, at some point). Anyone who was capable to reading the MSP tutorials and help files would have recognized bits of it, but it was considerably more involved than something you’d cobble out of a helpfile or patch grovel.

Sep 23 2009 | 8:35 pm

I just got the I’m Happy album……I can see why you’re so inspired by it, it’s very involving! I’m enjoying the Fenn O’Berg stuff as well. It has been a while since I heard exciting electronic music, I find much of it dull (I’m not trying to start an electronica bashing/defensive argument btw).

Pleasantly surprised. Listening is giving me patch ideas that I’m not clever enough to build yet!

Sep 23 2009 | 10:41 pm
timlloyd wrote on Wed, 23 September 2009 22:35
I’m enjoying the Fenn O’Berg stuff as well.

a rehberg vocoder is not the worst compagnion for an
innovative max patch.

Oct 03 2009 | 4:19 am


I have a sneaking suspicion that ‘I’m Happy’ was made with just two samples. The long cello-sounding notes we hear swelling throughout and the sliced up sample we hear at the very start before the main section kicks in. It sounds like Music for 18 musicians to my ears, sort of. He has the main theme stated at the start, then he expands upon it in long sections (that’s where the comparison ends) focusing on snippets being looped and delayed. From what I can hear he has a stereo delay and filters/EQ/whatever you want to call it on them, and that’s it. He can control the volume of the original signal, the delayed signal, as well as filter/EQ signal, and on top of that he has control of his elegant cello-type sound flowing in over and underneath (Which has a rasp that I’d associate with being something like a really slowed down string sound or something like the smoothly played pump organ or something. It’s the rasp that makes me conclude that!).

Not sure how helpful that is, but that’s what I’ve heard.

I’m singing… That’s another story.


Oct 03 2009 | 10:42 am

Thanks, Blair, for your analysis. I also think that he uses a minimum of samples on that first track. But I’m really more intrigued and puzzled by the second track, "…and I’m singing". As you say, that’s definitely another story. I think the techniques he employs are not that unique (panning, reversing, scrubbing, delay, filter etc.), but what blows my mind is how he seems to be able to control so many loops at the same time but still individually, i.e. every loop seems to live its own life.

Well, I don’t know… I guess I’ll just have to keep experimenting and let the mystery remain a mystery. Smile


Oct 05 2009 | 7:32 am

If you want to control lots of loops at the same time, look to [pattr] if you haven’t already, that will give lots of possibilities. [mtr] is another great one for this, you can record your changing parameters and play them back (speed, pitch, loop position with waveform~, etc.) And any changing value from [line] or a [cycle~] will give you ramps or LFO’s that can be used for anything, not just what typical LFO’s are used for. Any parameter can be controlled in any way you can imagine, and if you have [pattr], a single parameter can control lots of others, so definitely go for it!

If you’re doing pitch-shift stuff (gizmo~ ?) it’s amazing to experiment with that in combination with the speed control, your sounds will range from the original to completely wacked out and everywhere in between. Also you just gotta have filtergraph~, I particularly like the "resonant" filter with a steep Q and long, slow sweeps through the frequency range. Add a bit of noise~ and you’ve got a very cool soundscape.

Oct 06 2009 | 3:03 am

They certainly do have a life of their own. I found this great article* on the web where he lists the software he uses and with some research I’ve concluded that perhaps an older equivalent to LiSa X was used in executing ‘And I’m Singing’. It is for essentially manipulating a pastiche of samples and by the looks and feel of LiSa*2 (I’ve been working my way through as much as one can on the demo version…) that is the software he may have used for it. Though it requires a midi controller to function and I have heard that he’s not much a fan of midi, so who knows really. Most likely he made his own magnificent patch on MSP and we’re all headless chickens.

I just wish I could have seen the installation that he made ‘And a 1, 2, 3, 4’ for in New York. It would be interesting to see it in a presentation in a museum.

Any other theories?



Oct 06 2009 | 3:59 am

no theory, you simply have to read what he says about it:

"Because that for me what’s interesting about that stuff
is that you start throwing things together that doesn’t
relate to the normal logic people use in music making.
Things happen that wouldn’t happen in any other way."

Oct 06 2009 | 4:25 am

Those hardy souls who actually invested time in listening and trying to imagine how (given the stuff in Max) a given thing *might* be done probably don’t even realize how much smarter they are already. Of that number, those who actually fired Max up and tried to reverse engineer the stuff *do* realize how much smarter they are now. Don’t tell anyone, though – making your own patches remains the most secret Max trick of all.


Oct 06 2009 | 4:28 pm

Oh, you’re totally right there. Critically listening and interpreting is where it’s at. Asking yourself "how could I possibly achieve this with the given tools?" is about the most exciting thing in the world, as it leads to some incredible rewards. It just all goes towards strengthening your own outlook.

And I really like that quote. That quotable bastard.

Viewing 19 posts - 1 through 19 (of 19 total)

Forums > MaxMSP