When you want to quickly pull together a combination of media and user interaction, looking to some building blocks for the heavy lifting can be a lifesaver. That’s the idea behind Max, a graphical programming language that’s gained a loyal following among anyone building art installations, technology demos (think children’s museum), and user Kiosks.
Guy Dupont gets us up to speed with a how to get started with Max workshop that was held during the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon. His crash course goes through the basics of the program, and provides a set of sixteen demos that you can play with to get your feet under you. As he puts it, if you need sound, video, images, buttons, knobs, sensors, and Internet data for both input and output, then Max is worth a look. Video of the workshop can be found below.
Head on over to the workshop page where you can download the examples from the files section. Max is a commercial program which has a free trial period. Guy points out that its sibling program, Pure Data, is free and open source, it will run on almost anything, but comparing it to Max is like like driving stick versus driving an automatic. If you have first-hand experience using both of these programs, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Anyone familiar with graphical programming languages will feel right at home with Max. Blocks are dragged into a workspace and connected with wires between inputs and outputs. There are a multitude of blocks available for everything you can possibly imagine. Included in some demonstrations are advanced interactivity features like accepting commands from chat messages on Twitch, triggering from IFTTT, and adding interactivity between different Max instances on the same wireless network.
The example shown in the image at the top of this article is webcam input. When Guy holds up the pink sign it unmutes his microphone, when he puts it down it is muted again. It’s the digital equivalent of having a talking stick during your Zoom calls. Guy’s recommendation for those looking for hardware interactivity is to utilize serial, or leverage MIDI control.
This quick start will get anyone up and running, no matter your previous experience. As an example of the shenanigans you can eventually get yourself into, Guy closes the session by showing off a shift register he modeled in Max, all the way down to the NAND gates. If you want to check out some of Guy’s other work, we loved his Bonnaroo Jukebox and his recreation of the Wurlitzer note visualizer.