+–: chance-based MIDI effect

Michael TerrenAbleton Super Powers, Free Downloads, Max for Live, noisemakerLeave a Comment

Download the new +- device direct.
When teaching Max to total beginners, the very first thing I teach is how to generate random numbers. Max, as well as other music programming interfaces/languages, have a long history of randomly generated, or chance-based music, sometimes called algorithmic music.

Algorithmic music is something of a byproduct of what’s sometimes still perceived to be a “problem” of music made with computers: it’s difficult for the audience to perceive that what a computer performer is performing live is *actually* live. The tedious cliche of “how do I know they aren’t just checking their email?” is still, sadly, an observation that computer musicians have to deal with to some extent.

Laptops are extraordinary instruments because they can afford actions that trigger actions that trigger actions etc. One parameter can change several parameters, which might in turn change something else. Ableton’s Rack macros are great for this, but Max takes this to an infinitely deep level.

The Max for Live device I have here is a MIDI effect made for beats. Admittedly it’s not quite “algorithmic” in nature, but it uses chance to either add notes or take away notes, and you can control how likely that will happen with the two dials.

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The ‘+’ dial will add random notes by copying a note that comes into the device and spits it out later, while staying in time with the music. The higher the ‘+’ dial is, the more notes get copied and played out, and sooner. With this dial set very high, the outgoing sound can get very chaotic.

The ‘–’ dial takes notes away randomly. The higher the ‘–’ dial is, the more likely it is of taking away notes.

A nice demonstration of this can be done using a very simple, looping, one bar drum beat. Put +– into a MIDI track, and your favourite drum rack after that, and create a beat over one or two bars, one that isn’t too busy and intricate. Moving each of the dials on +– should give you an idea of how much movement and dynamism it can give to a beat. Moving the ‘+’ dial up to its highest value might well result in IDM style mayhem.

The way ‘+–’ works is largely the result of generating random numbers, and using the ‘pipe’ object. ‘pipe’ delays anything that goes into it by a predetermined amount of time, including musical time (for example, a time of ‘4n’ will delay by one quarter note, or crotchet, ‘8n’ will delay by one eighth note, or quaver, etc.). As the ‘+’ dial increases, it becomes more likely to create delays for shorter times. It decides this using carefully placed bell curves (normal probability distributions), but to be honest that’s probably more difficult than it needs to be.

MIDI effects are great for these sorts of chance-based operations. I’ve tended to use them in the past as ‘set and forget’ devices, that continue to be interesting for some time without me actually actively controlling it, while I ‘perform’ some other sound in Live. As always, feel free to rip it up and make something new and tailored to your own performance, we’d love to hear what you’re up to.

Download the new +- device direct.
Michael Terren+–: chance-based MIDI effect

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