Max/MSP & Pure Data: Miller Puckette

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By Ivan Reese and Future of Coding. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Miller Puckette created "The Patcher" Max (the precursor to Max/MSP), and later Pure Data, two of the most important tools in the history of visual programming and computer music. Max was designed by Miller in the mid-1980s as an aid to computer-music composers who wanted to build their own dynamic systems without needing write C code. Max had no facility for sound generation at first, but that would come eventually with the addition of MSP. A decade later, after some academic politics nonsense forced him away from Max, Miller went on to create its successor, the open source Pure Data. Both Max/MSP and Pure Data have become wildly popular, with Max/MSP as a more polished-looking commercial product developed by Cycling '74 (now owned by music behemoth Ableton), and Pure Data as the thriving independent community project of hackers and techno-punks. Node-and-wire visual programming languages are almost a cliche at this point, as the vast majority of them either borrow heavily or at least reference the visual design of Miller Puckette's original Max patcher and its MSP/Pd offspring. Though as you'll hear in the interview, many of them are poorer for not rethinking some of the underling assumptions of their inspiration.

I decided to bring Miller on the show after hearing a fabulous interview of him by Darwin Grosse on the Art + Music + Technology podcast. (Tip: subscribe, it's good.) Miller gave a great retelling of the history of Max and Pure Data and the forces at play when he created them, and that episode is a tidy complement the more design-focussed interview here on our show. Miller mentioned in passing that one of the three books he has yet to write would be his thoughts on realtime scheduling, so that was the initial hook for my interview. Looking back on the 30+ years of Max/Pd history, what has he learned about the design of tools? What were the alternative ideas that he didn't pursue? Where is there room for improvement, perhaps by others picking up where he left off?

In this interview, Miller said a handful of things that were, well, painful for me to hear as a dogmatic champion of visual programming. So if you come into this thinking it'll be a well-earned hour of congratulation and adoration, sit up and get ready to flip the dang table. This interview was a blast; on a personal level, I was thrilled to have the chance to talk to such an influential figure in the history of my field, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Quote of the Show: "It's not only powerful, but it's also inadequate."

The transcript for this episode was sponsored by Repl.it. For the full transcript and links go to https://futureofcoding.org/episodes/047

Chapters

1. Intro (00:00:00)

2. Part 1 (00:03:13)

3. Sponsor: Repl.it (00:53:12)

4. Part 2 (00:55:39)

5. Ending (01:08:43)

48 episodes