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GENIUS! #26: Miller Puckette and Max

Jon Chapple 8 April 2015
Miller Puckett, Genius!

While computer-generated music can be traced back as far as the 1950s, by the late 1970s, when a young mathematician named Miller Puckette took a computer music course at MIT, the hardware and software necessary to create music in realtime on a computer still wasn’t available. “I was frustrated by having to wait for the sound to come out of the computer. So I got busy trying to find a way to get the sound to come out in real time”.

That development wasn’t easy. While at IRCAM in the mid-80s Puckette developed Patcher, a GUI programming environment which could control MIDI, but still had no real-time audio of its own. The patching style however, caught on as it enabled musicians to quickly visualise what they were programming without having to learn a complex coding language. “I wanted Max to be easy to use so that musicians would be able to work directly with it without having to rely on a technical assistant”. Not until 1989 did the IRCAM Signal Processing Workstation – a NeXT computer with three expansion DSP cards – finally provide Puckette with the necessary DSP to run real-time audio and Max/FTS (Faster Than Sound) was born, enabling real-time audio signal creation and processing. The original version of Max, without the FTS extensions, was licensed to Opcode in 1990.

Max screenshot, Genius!In the mid-90s Puckette, now at the University of California San Diego, sought to remedy some of the weaknesses of Max/FTS, and began work on Pure Data (Pd) as an open-source patching language. Inspired by Puckette’s real-time audio in Pd, David Zicarelli then re-used the audio side of Pd in Max, and in 1997 launched Max/MSP which is now developed and maintained by Cycling ’74.

“It was pretty clear to me from the beginning (1998-ish) that Max/MSP was going to be widely used. The Macintosh and MIDI synth platform was catching on quickly and there weren’t any other easily useable programming environments for it”. Puckette continues to work on and with Pd at the University of California San Diego.

Hail to the boffins! Genius! is all about celebrating those clever people whose inventions have transformed the world of professional audio. Mailed out with the February print edition of PSNEurope, the 36-page supplement is also available to read in handy digital-edition form. Read it online, or download as a PDF, at

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