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ATPM 6.05
May 2000



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Beyond the Barline

by David Ozab,

One Down, Two to Go

This morning (April 15) I received some wonderful news via e-mail. The message, a press release from David Zicarelli of Cycling ’74, began as follows:

This morning Cycling ’74 introduced a revised Web site in conjunction with our conclusion of an agreement with Opcode/Gibson and IRCAM to assume the publication of Max.

As those of you who’ve been following the soap opera that was once Opcode understand, this is a great success. For the rest of you, here’s the tragic tale. Opcode was one of the pioneer music software developers for the Mac. David Zicarelli was one of its engineers from the beginning. He led the team in developing MAX, once Opcode gained the rights from IRCAM (the major government-sponsored computer music research institution in France), during the late 1980s.

Released in 1991, Opcode MAX was by far the most significant computer music environment on the Mac (there wasn’t a PC equivalent until a few years ago). Though not Opcode’s biggest seller (that would be its MIDI sequencer, Vision, which was the industry standard throughout the 1990s), MAX quickly built a loyal following and gave the Mac a reputation as a serious tool for computer music.

The end of Opcode began in 1995, when Microsoft approached it about porting Vision to Windows 95 (PC MIDI sequencers at this time were laughable). The shift in emphasis alienated many of the engineers, including Zicarelli who had also worked on the early development of Vision. Zicarelli was among the first of the original engineers to leave, starting his own software company (Cycling ’74) in 1997. He continued developing MAX there, but Opcode still handled publication. He also developed MSP (Max Signal Processing) a set of audio processing objects designed to work with MAX (Opcode MAX had only dealt with MIDI up to this point, due to the processing limitations of the 68K Mac) and Pluggo, which converts MSP patches into VST plug-ins (software-based audio effects processors developed for Steinberg’s Cuebass VST, but now compatible with both Vision DSP and Mark of the Unicorn’s Digital Performer).

Meanwhile, the situation at Opcode grew worse. The Windows 95 port of Vision was a flop, and other developers (Steinberg, who successfully ported Cuebass; and Twelve Tone, who developed Cakewalk exclusively for Windows) met the growing demand. Opcode never recovered from the disaster. The effective end came in May 1999, when Gibson Musical Instruments bought out Opcode.

Following the buyout, all the engineers that hadn’t quit by then were forced out. Development on USB MIDI interfaces (Opcode’s latest project) was scrapped after the release of the low-end MIDIPort 32, and packaged software was phased out in favor of download versions. Driver updates were intermittent at best, and numerous Opcode users (still the majority in the music industry from Opcode’s heyday) were left with the very real possibility that Vision, MAX, and OMS (the MIDI to Mac communications protocol which had become an industry standard) would die through lack of support, especially once OS X was released.

So Zicarelli has been working since then to gain full control of MAX. On April 14, the final deal was struck, and Cycling ’74 took over all aspects of development and publication. The new MAX upgrade to 3.6.3 is the first in about a year (I bought version 3.5.9 last May), and the numerous support problems (refer to my Segments in ATPM 5.10) are now a thing of the past.

The software is presently available for download only. A packaged version is planned within four to six weeks. In addition, the MAX/MSP bundle is still available, in both packaged and downloaded versions, as are updates to MAX, MSP, and Pluggo. Further information is available on Cycling ’74’s Web site. The story isn’t over though, as the future of both OMS and Vision are still in doubt. I ask you all to please visit if you haven’t already, and lend your support to the future of music software development on the Mac.

Next Month: found liable. What happens now?

appleCopyright © 2000 David Ozab ( David Ozab is a Ph.D student at the University of Oregon, where he teaches electronic music courses and assists in the day-to-day operation of The Future Music Oregon Studios.

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