MSP Polyphony Tutorial 2: Using the poly~ Object
Click here to open the tutorial patch: Media:02hUsingpoly~.maxpat
A different approach to polyphony
In an earlier MSP tutorial on using <link type="tutorial" module="msp" name="midichapter02">MIDI with MSP</link> , we demonstrated how to use the poly object to make polyphonic voice assignments in a simple case. This chapter will describe a more elegant and efficient way to handle polyphonic voice allocation - the poly~ object.
In the example in the previous chapter, we created multiple copies of our synthesizer subpatch and used the poly object's voice numbering to route messages to different copies of the subpatch. Our example could just as easily have used any kind of sound-producing subpatch.
- Take a look at the tutorial patcher. Open the patcher object
labeled 'thehardway'. The example inside uses the
littlesynth~ to implement a simple four-voice
While this method works, it has two disadvantages. First, there's
a lot of housekeeping necessary to duplicate and patch the multiple
littlesynth~ together. But there is also a
problem in terms of CPU usage. All four copies of
littlesynth~ subpatcher are always on, processing their
audio even when there is no sound being produced.
There is a way to solve this problem - the poly~ object allows you to create and manage multiple copies of the same MSP subpatch all within one object. You can also control the signal processing activity within each copy of the subpatch to conserve CPU resources.
The poly~ object
- Close the 'thehardway' subpatch and open the patcher object
labeled 'simple_poly'. Turn on the audio in the subpatch by
startwindow message to the dac~. Click
the toggle object at the top of the patcher and turn up
the volume on the gain~ slider.
The poly~ object takes as its argument the name of a patcher
file, followed by a number that specifies the number of copies
(or instances) of the patch to be created. You'll want to
specify the same number of copies as you would have had to duplicate
manually when implementing polyphony the old-fashioned way.
- Double-click on the poly~ object. This opens up the
subpatcher to show you the inside of the
Let's look at the
littlebeep~ patch for a minute. While you
haven't seen the in, out~, or thispoly~ objects
before, the rest of the patcher is pretty straightforward; it takes
an incoming MIDI note number, converts it to a frequency value using
the mtof object, and outputs a sine wave at that frequency with
a duration of 140 milliseconds and an amplitude envelope supplied by
the line~ object for
140 ms with an envelope on it.
But what about the in and out~ objects? Subpatches
created for use in the poly~ object use special objects for inlets
and outlets. The objects in and out create control inlets
and outlets, and the in~ and out~ objects create signal
inlets and outlets. You specify which inlet is assigned to which object
by adding a number argument to the object - the in
corresponds to the leftmost inlet on the poly~ object, and so on.
The poly~ object keeps track of the number of inlets and outlets it
needs to create when you tell it which subpatch to load.
Messages sent to a poly~ object are directed to different
instances of the subpatch dynamically using the
midinote messages, and manually using the
When poly~ receives a
note message in its left inlet,
it scans through the copies of the subpatch it has in memory until it
finds one that is currently not busy, and then passes the message to it.
A subpatch instance can tell its parent poly~ object that it is
busy using the thispoly~ object. The thispoly~ object accepts
either a signal or number in its inlet to set its busy state. A zero signal
or a value of
0 sent to its inlet tells the parent poly~ that
this instance is available for
midinote messages. A
non-zero signal or value sent to its inlet tells the parent poly~ that
the instance is busy; no
midinote messages will be sent
to the object until it is no longer busy. The busy state was intended to
correspond to the duration of a note being played by the subpatcher instance,
but it could be used to mean anything. In the example above, when the audio
level out of the *~ is nonzero -- that iteration of the subpatch is
currently busy. Once the amplitude envelope out of line~ reaches zero
and the sound stops, that subpatch's copy of thispoly~ tells poly~ that
it is ready for more input.
- Close the 'simple_poly' subpatch and open the patcher object
named 'poly_using_mute'. Start it running as you did the last
patcher, and double-click the poly~ object.
The thispoly~ object can also control the activity of
signal processing within each copy of the subpatch. When
mute message is sent to thispoly~ followed by
1, all signal processing in that subpatch stops. When
mute 0 message is received, signal processing starts again.
In this patcher, we've rewriten the
to take advantage of this by turning off signal processing when a
note is finished and turning it on again when a new event is
received. While this doesn't change the function of the patch,
it would be more efficient, since the amount of CPU allocated is
always based on the number of notes currently sounding.
Targeting individual voices
- Close the 'poly_using_mute' subpatch and open the one
named 'poly_using_target'. Start the program and examine the
patcher logic both inside and outside the poly~ object.
Another way to allocate events using poly~ is through
target message. Sending a
target message followed
by an integer in the left inlet of a poly~ subpatch
tells poly~ to send all subsequent messages to that instance
of the subpatch. You can then use poly~ in conjunction with
the poly object to create a MIDI synthesizer.
In this example patcher, pairs of incoming MIDI pitches
and velocities are used to synthesize a sine tone. When a list
is received, the subpatcher sends a
bang to thispoly~,
causing it to output the instance or voice number. In our tutorial
patcher, the voice number is sent out an outlet so you can watch it
from the parent patch.
In the parent patch the poly object assigns voice
numbers to MIDI pitch/velocity pairs output by makenote.
The voice number from the poly object is sent to poly~
target message prepended to it, telling poly~
to send subsequent data to the instance of the
subpatcher specified by poly~. When a new note is generated,
the target will change. Since poly keeps track of note-offs,
it should recycle voices properly. The second outlet of poly~ reports
the voice that last received a message -- it should be the same as
the voice number output by poly, since we're using poly to
specify a specific target.
Using poly~ for audio processing.
- Close the 'poly_using_target' patcher and open the one
named 'poly_using_signal_input'. Turn on the audio by clicking the ezdac~ object, raise
the gain~ slider, and start the metro by clicking
the toggle object. Change the value in the rightmost inlet
50. and listen to the result.
The floating-point number box can be used to specify
parameters to specific instances of a poly~ subpatcher.
By connecting a loadbang object to thispoly~, we
can use the voice number to control the center frequency of a filter.
- Open the
littlefilter~subpatch by double-clicking
the poly~ object.
littlefilter~ abstraction uses the voice number
from thispoly~ and multiplies it by the base frequency
received in the second inlet. The incoming signal is filtered
by all sixteen instances simultaneously, with the output amplitude
of each instance being controlled by an integer coming into the
The metro object in the main patcher is hooked up to both
a counter and a random. The counter, which
target message, cycles through the 16 voices
littlefilter~ loaded into the poly~ object,
supplying each with a random number which is used to control the
amplitude of that voice.
A signal connected to an inlet of poly~ will be sent
to the corresponding in~ objects of all subpatcher
instances, so the noise~ object in the example
above feeds noise to all the subpatchers inside the poly~.
The second inlet (which corresponds to the in
in the subpatcher) controls the base frequency of the filters.
Note that for the frequency to get sent to all poly~
iterations it is preceded by a
target 0 message. You
can open a specific instance of a poly~ subpatch by
giving the object the
open message, followed by the
voice you want to look at.
- Open voice
by typing that number in to the number box attached
open message. The patcher assigned to voice
number 15 should look like this:
As you can see, the base frequency of this particular iteration
littlefilter~ is 1500. Hz, which is the multiple of
the voice number (15) with the most recently entered base frequency
into the second inlet (100. Hz).
poly~ is a powerful way to manage multiple copies of the same subpatch for polyphonic voice allocation. The thispoly~ object works inside a subpatch to control its busy state and turn signal processing on and off. The objects in, in~, out, and out~ create special control and signal inputs and outputs that work with the inlets and outlets of the poly~ object.
poly~ - Polyphony/DSP manager for patchers