Retrospective: Max/MSP/Jitter at GAFFTA from an Educator and a Data Scientist

Programming can seem rather daunting when you’re a novice. Now, imagine programming for a person that considers their learning style much more conducive to visualizing a process versus seeing in code and plain text. Max/MSP/Jitter helps patch this gap for individuals seeking a dynamic toolset that allows mapping of code, and programming that enables processes to be charted and visualized. Max is predominantly used by musicians and visual artists interested in incorporating sound into immersive and interactive environments, and serves as a fantastic medium for anyone interested in creating music sets that are both dynamic and engaging.

What exactly does this mean for new media artists and musicians? It means a relatively robust visual language for creative coding which can quickly result in new multi-sensory experiences. I caught up with a couple of the most recent MAX students, Cory Knobel, Ph.D., a professor in Informatics from the University of California – Irvine and Catherine Reid, a music teacher and musician based in Phoenix, Arizona. Both travelled all the way to San Francisco to take Max/Msp/Jitter course taught by GAFFTA faculty member and Bay Area artist, musician, and educator Matt Ganucheau. Here’s what each had to say about their experience.

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What prompted you to take the Max/MSP/Jitter class? Do you have any other programming experience?

Cory Knobel (CK): I have a programming background in statistical languages and general web technologies. Data and scientific practices are converging with artistic and design work, particularly audio and video, and I realized that there were entire toolsets missing for me to express research findings most effectively. I took both Max/MSP/Jitter and Visual Scripting in Arduino to bring new robustness to my skills, research, and rhetorical style.

Catherine Reid: I took the Max/MSP/Jitter class for two reasons. The first was to satisfy my own curiosities as a musician, as I have had ideas for projects but not enough experience with computer programming to realize them on my own. Also, during graduate school at Arizona State University I saw performances that employed the use of Max/MSP (not Jitter) that provided a concrete example of how Max/MSP could be used in live performance. The second reason I took this course was to be able to compile and share resources related to Max/MSP/Jitter with other members of the Consortium for Digital, Popular, and Participatory Culture in Music Education and, in general, serve as a resource for other teachers and artists in Phoenix who may be interested in Max/MSP/Jitter.

How do you envision using this new visual programming language? Do you have any current or future projects using Max/MSP/Jitter?

Cory Knobel (CK): Sound and image are a vernacular that the text-centric world of academic and scholarly communication is only beginning to embrace on a widespread scale, and I envision using Max/MSP/Jitter in a few ways. First, it is a fantastic tool for generating new experiences and engagements with primary research data. Working with a visual scripting language is accessible for many who find the learning curve for command-line programming to be off-putting. Second, making the flow of data manipulation explicit through representations like Max diagrams has the potential to transform the way we communicate data methodology, and link our data practices to the specific tools of data/sound/image processing in research to the data themselves. Looking at a Max diagram is much more enlightening than reading a vague and often incomplete description in the methods section of a journal article. I’ll be using Max/MSP/Jitter both as a tool for working with my own data, as well as lens through which we might glimpse one of the futures of scholarly communication.

Catherine Reid: I am not currently working on any of my own projects. Since the class ended I have been studying and exploring pre-existing examples of other peoples’ code to better understand how all of the objects in the code interact with one another. In the future, I would like to use Max/MSP/Jitter during live solo performances, as well as with other musicians and visual artists.

Please provide a comment on the overall course experience that you would like to share with other potential students.

Cory Knobel: The course was fantastic for some easily identifiable reasons. First, GAFFTA is in touch with the most contemporary, cutting edge technological creatives and knows “where the action is.” As a result, the topics and instructors are unparalleled in knowledge and ability. Second, the types of people drawn to the courses don’t fit an easy mold, so you’re guaranteed to be working alongside smart, driven, and creative people…who invariably think and see the world differently than you do, and are generous in sharing and listening. You’re guaranteed to walk away from a GAFFTA course with new skills, perspectives, and friends. Finally, from both the classes I took, the groups have kept in contact and I’ve found myself part of a vibrant, energetic, and self-sustaining community of makers and thinkers.

Catherine Reid: The most useful aspects of this course were all of the resources provided for further study. Since the course is so short, not everything can be mastered during the two weeks. Matt provides an easy-to-understand tour of potential uses of Max/MSP/Jitter and resources (in the software, online, and his own examples) to help realize whatever project ideas one may have once the class is over.

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GAFFTA will be hosting a Max for Live Hack Night on Thursday, August 23rd from 6-10pm. Max For Live allows you to create your own tools for music and multimedia production, and the Max for Live Hack Night brings this amazing tool’s users together in one place. With the intention of developing a community around sharing and creating new custom-made devices and ideas, The Max for Live Hack Night is for anyone interested in building their own instruments, interfaces, or performance systems.

Learn more and register now here. View all of GAFFTA’s upcoming Creative Technology Studies classes here.

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Instructor Bio

Matt Ganucheau is a San Francisco based artist, composer, designer, and educator with a passion for exploring the boundaries of interactive digital culture. He creates physical and sonic environments that engage his viewers by evoking a deeply reflective internal space. His installations achieves this by immersing the viewer in a realm of digital projections linked to innovative and interactive physical objects. Musically, he realizes this by building a unique harmony of electronic and acoustic elements within traditional compositional forms.

Over the course of his multi-disciplinary professional career, Ganucheau has worked for software companies such as Apple, Native Instruments, Cognito Comics, and The BEAM Foundation while teaching at educational facilities such as E’xpression College for the Arts, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, and Cellspace. As an artist, he has exhibited work in the U.S. and internationally and has been featured in publications such as WIRED, CNET, Adbusters, and The Huffington Post. As a musician, he has shared the stage with artists such as Flying Lotus, The Glitch Mob, Amon Tobin and Les Claypool.

Ganucheau graduated from the Berklee College of Music with a Bachelor in Fine Arts in Music Synthesis and received his Master’s degree from New York University’s Interactive Technology Program.

Class Participants

Cory Knobel, Ph.D. is with the Department of Informatics – Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences at University of California, Irvine

Catherine Reid is a Music Teacher and Musician from Phoenix, Arizona





Dorothy Santos

Dorothy Santos is a freelance art writer, blogger, and photojournalist based in San Francisco. She is the arts contributor and curator for Asterisk SF Magazine + Gallery and blogger for GAFFTA and zero1. She holds Bachelor degrees in both Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisc... more