David Zicarelli – on women and Max/MSP

David Zicarelli, founder and CEO of Cycling 74, company behind Max/MSP, introducing the design decisions behind the very different Max 5. The design improvements really reflect an attempt to incorporate creative users needs, aiming for fluency in programming so that the creative process is allowed to take the foreground.

I particularly liked the feature of presentation mode which recognizes the different processes of building/programming and testing, allowing two different views of the same patch to be open and worked on at once. This division of the programming process and the interface starts to recognize the conceptual mismatch between the process of technical design and the creative goals. Why is it that many Max users play around with their patches without having a predefined idea of the outcome that’s needed? Why does Zicarelli express surprise at this? Musically, how close is this kind of working to improvisation rather than composition? Does Max/Msp facilitate a way of working that allows fluency of conceptual musical ideas and not just technical fluency?

In using Max/MSP I tend to push the material around until I get the sonic results I want. I don’t try to define the outcome before embarking on it, I concentrate on the process. I aim to let the ‘material’ – the data I’m processing for example – find characteristics audible in sound that I wouldn’t be able to predict before I hear it. Sound is not programming! There needs to be a possibility to play with the sound while building, to play with the programming, to change, to tweak, to experiment, to allow mistakes, to allow the possibility of discovering new ideas, and to ultimately shape sound in ways that are not limited to the conceptual thinking of the programming language that it’s built in. 

This is why I like Max and still work with after 10 years as the program of choice for the work that I make. But, as was pointed out by Zicarelli, I am one of a shocking minority of women in the Max/MSP community of users. Why? Why do I like it? Why am I one of only 4 women in the room? It points to a larger problem visible in the minority of women in electronic music.

David’s attention to the male dominance visible in Max, is at least an acknowledgement of the problem. But it cannot be seriously considered by following with jokes on the female nature of the roundness of button/bangs in the graphic interface ;-) a joke that made all the men in the room laugh, alienating the women, and continuing to talk on a male level.

4 Responses to “David Zicarelli – on women and Max/MSP”

  1. jamie says:

    jokes. does roundness imply a less male interface? i think it might. i also think people tend to laugh at trivialities of that kind because they have trouble believing that “serious” issues can be highlighted and reinforced by something so simple – complex and intelligent as we like to think we are. roundness offends my masculinity?! how absurd! chuckle, snort, snort.

    it seems to me (and gloria steinem, i suppose) that its often these kinds of insidious details that keep subtle hierarchies and oppressiveness working as well as they do… i don’t think i laughed (i don’t remember now), but i know i didn’t think the idea was brought up in a mocking spirit or was a joke. its an uncomfortable topic, as the best thing most of us could do is just off ourselves…

    would be great to migrate such a discussion to the STEIM blog: http://steim.org/jamboree08/. i’ll give it a go, with your permission to link to your initial thoughts above. :)

  2. admin says:

    i agree, i think one way to get somewhere with this issue is by taking the details seriously. i’m happy for you to link to these thoughts in a discussion!

  3. [...] David Zicarelli – on women and Max/MSP @ scorescapes.net [...]

  4. Tomasz Kaye says:

    (@jamie: This was already posted on the STEIM Jamboree blog on Monday. http://steim.org/jamboree08/?p=268 )

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