Project 1

Project 1: Data-driven Performance Piece

In the last exercise we explored the control of Max using external hardware. This capability leads to the development and performance of data-driven instruments. This term describes a system composed of three parts: an external hardware device that allows for the encoding of human gesture as data, software that maps these data to musical parameters, and a sound-synthesis engine that renders sound as a direct result of human movement.

In this project you will create your own data-driven instrument, develop a short composition, and perform it. The hardware device can be one of the ones discussed in the last exercise. Or, if those prove unworkable for you, it can be a MIDI controller of some kind. But please don’t use a MIDI keyboard as a conventional way to play notes. We want to be more experimental in this project.


  • You will perform your piece, which should last 2-3 minutes.
  • Your piece can include improvisatory elements, but you must plan the basic sound ideas and continuity of the piece. The goal is to make some kind of musical statement.
  • You must practice your piece!
  • Lay out your patch clearly, and use comments to explain the basic ideas of your design.
  • Set up your patch to open in Presentation Mode, and arrange the objects you — as performer, not as programmer — need to see while performing. That will include any user interface objects, such as buttons and sliders, as well as labels for every object. Don’t assume that you are the only person that will perform your piece! Consult Part 5 of the Project 1 Max Tips to learn about Presentation Mode.
  • Make a video of your performance, using whatever means are at hand. We want to see you performing, not the Max screen. You will find that working on the video will help you refine your ideas about the piece and its performance.

    To record the video, you might be able to use your webcam with a simple video recording application, such as QuickTime Player in macOS. Or you could use your phone, especially if you have some way to mount it securely.

    You might want to dump the sound generated by Max to disk while you perform, using Extras > Quickrecord. Then you can edit this together with the video in Adobe Premiere, iMovie, or another video editor. You would want to do this in the following scenarios.

    • Your video recorder cannot record computer audio in stereo, or at all, while recording from the webcam.
    • You record video using a phone but need to combine this with high-quality audio from the computer.

    We’re not expecting a high degree of polish from your video, given the present circumstances. Do the best you can.


  • During the piece, you may want to change the mapping of your movements to synthesis and processing parameters, as well as change the sound world you create. Keep this in mind when choosing hardware to perform your piece: it should allow you to do something that can be read as a button press that changes the state of the patch.

    The easiest way to change sound worlds is to store each of these in presets and then switch them in response to a real or simulated button press.

    At the same time, you may wish to change the routing of data from one parameter to another. Study Part 2 of the Project 1 Max Tips for advice about doing this using the gate object. To store the routing in a preset, use a number box to hold the gate outlet number.

  • There are other potentially useful bits of Max code in the Project 1 Max Tips folder.


  • Be sure you satisfied the criteria listed above.
  • Submit your Max patch and video in Canvas. If the video is larger than about 200 MB, store it somewhere in the cloud, and provide a link here. Please be sure that the video file is readable without requiring a login!
  • Submit a short description of your project: what you’re trying to achieve musically and how you want an audience to perceive your control of the sound. Plus anything else you think is relevant to appreciating your work.

Grading Criteria

The project patch and your performance together receive a single letter grade.