Section A: Introduction

A-1.   THE COMPOSERS’ PLAYPEN is a program developed by me on MAX/MSP which enables very sophisticated MIDI control of existing synthesizers, sound modules, and samplers.  Originally inspired by “M” and “Jam Factory,” it builds on these seminal programs by offering many more ways and different approaches of manipulating note and chordal material.  It uses a collection of single-track sequences and MIDI loops as its basic units.  Once these are recorded, they are manipulated in many ways, some never before seen in programs of this nature.  There is opportunity to keep everything completely live, or to save some or all of the material for future performance.

Like my recently-completed SEQUENCER PLAYPEN, the COMPOSERS’ PLAYPEN is also completely MIDI-based, and as such, utilizes the MAX part of MAX/MSP exclusively. But there are vast differences between the two.  The COMPOSERS’ PLAYPEN allows an infinite number of notes to be recorded (and in chords as well) live, and the program will remember exactly the velocities and rhythms as recorded. The SEQUENCER PLAYPEN has 24 notes per each of three tracks, but these notes have a much higher degree of manipulative ability. The COMPOSERS’ PLAYPEN has 14 separate modules or tracks that exist independently, whereas the SEQUENCER PLAYPEN has three tracks of a very finite 24 notes per track, existing as it does in the step-record mode.  The COMPOSER PLAYPEN is somewhat limited in its manipulative capability, since it is somewhat bound by the live recorded phrase as a gestalt, whereas the SEQUENCER PLAYPEN treats each note as a compete entity in itself, to be modified, combined, muted, transposed, etc. on its own.

Both programs have the advantage of using an elegant MAX/MSP program for unique and comprehensive areas of control while maintaining  utilization of any existing MIDI synthesizers or samplers.  As such, they will not make existing  setups obsolete, but rather will enhance them. 

The original impetus for The Composers’ Playpen was a residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I thank my friend and colleague Joe Koykkar for inviting me to try it out on his students.   Halfway through its development, however, it took on a life of its own, and wound up as more elaborate and powerful than I had first imagined.  In Macintoch System 9 it had a useful life, with two major works composed and performed on it by me in dozens of venues in McLean Mix concerts. 

Recently, I have completely reworked the program to be completely compatible in MAX/MSP 5 with Macintosh System 10.6 (Snow Leopard), and it is now available for free on my web site at:

A-2: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN ORDER TO USE THIS PROGRAM; No particular skills on MAX/MSP are necessary, but you should be somewhat familiar with MAX presets as well as how the coll object works.  You will also need to understand the MAX object “loadbang.” Far more important for you is the ability to set up sounds on your synthesizer, sound module, or sampler, ready to be controlled.  You should also have a good knowledge of MIDI, program change, MIDI controllers and how they operate, how various kinds of MIDI data control various parameters of synthesizers.  You should also have a working knowledge of Macintosh protocol in terms of files, saving material, mouse and keyboard usage, etc. 

First, a rough guide to the Composers Playpen.  Then what follows will be a detailed summary of exactly how to work with each section.

Composers Playpen Manual: Preliminaries

Before the preliminaries, I invite you to take a peek at another YouTube video to the right.  It’s my Magic at Xanadu, which I performed live using the Composers’ Playpen.  Too many times the MAX/MSP projects on the Cycling web site lack a follow through to the actual musical result.  These works addresses that situation.  Happy listening!