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Digital Music and the NeXTcube – Working MAX on the IRCAM Musical Workstation

Digital Music and the NeXTcube – Working MAX on the IRCAM Musical Workstation

2023-05-03 05:18:04

The NeXTcube is an influential machine in computing historical past. The NeXTcube, with a further soundcard, was additionally one of many first off-the-shelf gadgets for high-quality, real-time music functions. I’ve restored a NeXTcube to run an early model of MAX, an setting for interactive music functions.

The NeXTcube context and the IRCAM Musical Workstation

In 1990 NeXT began promoting the NeXTcube, a high-end workstation. It launched or introduced collectively many ideas (objective-c, the Mach kernel, postscript, an app retailer) that are nonetheless in use at the moment. The NeXTcube’s affect is particularly felt within the Apple ecosystem with Mac OS X, iPhones and iPads being direct decedents of NeXT’s line of computer systems.

As a result of its excessive value, the NeXTcube was not a business success. It primarily ended up at firms or within the fingers of researchers. Two of these researchers, Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau created the primary http server and web browser at CERN on a NeXTcube. Coincidently, the http software was publicly released exactly 30 years ago at the moment. Famously, the dice was additionally used to develop video games like the unique Doom and Quake. So sure, the NeXTcube runs Doom.

Fig: the NeXTcube’s design stood out in comparison with the modern beige field PCs.

Much less well-known is the truth that the NeXTcube can also be one of many first computing gadgets succesful sufficient for real-time, high-quality interactive music functions. Within the mid Nineteen Eighties this was nonetheless a dream at IRCAM, a French analysis institute with the intention to ‘contribute to the renewal of musical expression by means of science and know-how’. The bespoke {hardware} and software program programs for music functions from the mid 80s have been additional developed and commercialised within the early 90s. Collectively these developments resulted in a commercially accessible model of the “IRCAM Musical Workstation (IMW)”, an early, if not the primary, off-the-shelf laptop for interactive music functions.

The IRCAM Musical Workstation (IMW), generally referred to as the IRCAM Sign Processing Workstation (ISPW), consisted of a number of exhausting and software program modules working collectively to allow interactive music functions. An necessary part was a ‘soundcard’ which had two beefy 33MHz i860 intel CPUs for DSP. When put in within the NeXTcube, the soundcard had extra computing energy than the remainder of the pc. That is much like trendy computer systems the place some graphics playing cards have extra uncooked computing energy than the principle CPU. The soundcard was developed at IRCAM and commercialized by Ariel inc. beneath the title “Ariel ProPort”.

The IRCAM Ariel DSP coprocessor, soundcard.

Just a few software program environments have been developed at IRCAM which made use of the brand new {hardware}. One was Animal, one other, was the far more influential MAX. MAX offers a graphical programming setting particular for music functions. Descendants of MAX are nonetheless used at the moment, see Ableton Max for Live and Pure Data. I think about the introduction of MAX as a pivotal level in digital music historical past. Up till the introduction of MAX, creating a brand new digital music instrument meant bespoke {hardware} growth. With MAX, that is performed purely in software program. This made digital sound or instrument design not solely quicker but additionally accessible to a a lot wider viewers of composers, artists and thinkerers.

The NeXTcube at IPEM

IPEM was an early digital music manufacturing studio embedded at Ghent College, Belgium. Now it’s lively as a internationally acclaimed research center for interdisciplinary music research. Within the early 90s IPEM acquired a NeXTcube Turbo with an inner diskette drive, SCSI exhausting disk, NextDimension colour graphics card and an Ariel ProPort DSP/ISPW module. The dice was preserved properly and got here with most of the unique software program, books and manuals. I’ve been making an attempt to get this machine working and configure it as an “IRCAM Musical Workstation”.

IPEM’s NeXTcube with IRCAM Ariel ProPort.

There have been just a few sensible points: the mouse was damaged, the exhausting drive unreliable and the principle system fan loud and filled with mud. The mouse had a damaged cable which was mounted, the exhausting drive was changed by a SCSI2SD setup and the fan was changed with a brand new one. On the software program aspect of issues, the Web Archive hosts NeXTStep 3.3 which, after many makes an attempt, was put in on the dice. Sadly there gave the impression to be a compatibility difficulty. The Ariel ProPort kernel module didn’t work. I began over put in NeXTStep 3.1, with the identical consequence. Lastly, I put in NeXTStep 3.0 which was appropriate with the kernel module and MAX/FTS!

See Also

Vid: Max/FTS with a business Ariel soundcard operating on a NeXTcube Turbo.

The restoration of the IRCAM Sign Processing Workstation devices matches in a university project on living heritage The thought is to get key historic digital music devices into the fingers of researchers and artists to tug the fading data on these gadgets again right into a residing tradition of interplay. This concept already resulted in an album: DEEWEE Sessions vol. 01. At present the gathering features a Sixties reverb plate, an EMS Synti 100 analog synthesizer from the 70s, a Yamaha DX7 (80s) and eventually the NeXTCube/ISPW represents the early 90s and the departure of bodily devices to immaterial software program based mostly programs.

Acknowledgements & Additional studying

This mission was made doable with the assist of the Belgian Music Instrument Museum and IPEM, Ghent University. I used to be lucky to get help by Ivan Schepers and Marc Leman at IPEM but additionally by the principle builders of MAX: Miller Puckette. I additionally discovered the WinWorld and NeXTComputers communities and sources extraordinarily useful. Thanks rather a lot!

Lindemann, E., Dechelle, F., Smith, B., & Starkier, M. (1991). The Architecture of the IRCAM Musical Workstation – Laptop Music Journal, 15(3), 41–49.
Puckette, M. (1991). FTS: A Real-Time Monitor for Multiprocessor Music Synthesis. Laptop Music Journal, 15(3), 58–67.
Puckette, M. 1988. The Patcher, Proceedings, ICMC. San Francisco: Worldwide Laptop Music Affiliation, pp. 420-429.
Puckette, M. 1991. Combining Event and Signal Processing in the MAX Graphical Programming Environment. Laptop Music Journal 15(3): 68-77.

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