S P: Intro & Versions



As in my other MAX/MSP patches, the Sequencer Playpen addresses a desire to be able to control and manipulate material in the act of composing in ways that I have found were not otherwise available.  Every feature, of which there are many that are completely new as far as I know, has grown out of actually composing while creating this MAX patch.  Technically some features are rather elegant if I do say so, and others are rather obvious and mundane.  The only relevant criteria are its COMPOSITIONAL elegance, not its TECHNICAL elegance, and this is the guidepost with which I measure each feature I create (or borrow).  Thus, I have found myself at times spending day after day in my search of a compositional tool, sometimes going through impossible hoops before nailing it (as in the elaborate Increment step features and pages, which uncover new territory in melodic processing).  And occasionally, I have been quite content to shamelessly derive from a MAX tutorial. No matter, as long as it works musically. 

Unlike my recently created Composer Playpen, which is based on realtime recording, the Sequencer Playpen is more concerned with a step recording process where each note (increment) has a life of its own, and can be changed in many ways, apart from its neighbors.  This allows for great flexibility in manipulative power, at the expense of broad phrases that are performed live in real time but have more limited manipulations, as in the Composer Playpen.  Both have arisen in a cultural context of increasing emphasis on varied repetition first introduced classically by Stravinsky and Orff, later developed by Riley, Reich, Andriesson and Adams, and brought to continuing development by the Bang on a Can folks.  Throughout this fascinating history we have seen the emergence of melodic repetitive processes over rigid form and continual variation (the anti-process). The Sequencer Playpen and its companion the Composer Playpen both seek to provide a full range of tools with which to further develop and enrich this, and other  creative environments.

Prior Knowledge:  Although this program can be operated by any musician, a basic elementary understanding of MAX protocol is necessary, especially in terms of understanding presets, saving material, the write, read operations on presets and tables, what a coll object and a table object is and does, and file paths that the MAX/MSP program will scan (file preferences under the options menu) while opening the program. 

A basic understanding of MIDI is essential, in terms of setting up your own synthesizers in Multi mode to affect individual control of each of 16 MIDI channels, and setting up MIDI controllers # 1 & 2 to control various parameters on your instrument. You would also need to understand program change (sometimes called “control change”) and how MIDI continuous controllers operate. If this is Greek to you, then your capabilities are such that you will have trouble understanding what follows.  But since the above criteria is pretty basic, along the lines of a beginning course in MIDI and MAX/MSP, I do not expect much trouble along these lines.  What may be more challenging is the vast array of creative possibilities that this program reveals.  Marrying these immense and diverse paths to one’s own inner creative vision is a scary proposition, and the learning curve (as must the learning curve for any deep, significant tool) may be rather steep at first.  Hopefully the rewards will more than compensate for the effort and that many productive and enjoyable hours await.

For those of you who are wondering how a semi geek who can create complex and useful patches like this can also compose music, I invite you to visit our McLean Mix web site, where all sorts of CDs (eight that are in print) and DVDs (three to date) are available on EM-Japan, Innova, CRI/New World Records, Capstone/Naxos, Folkways/Smithsonian, and Centaur.


The Sequencer Playpen once existed in three versions.  Currently, it is available by request, free of charge, in the .maxpat version, which means that all areas are open to editing.  This version was the last one developed, and is suitable for MAX/MSP version 5. 

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