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Pure Data and the Pd Community

An Object Box Concerning Pure Data and the Pure Data Community

Joel Haddorff

on 19 September 2012

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Transcript of Pure Data and the Pd Community

intro Welcome to Virtual Pd! You may be wondering what this space is all about. This Prezi object box space called “Virtual Pd” is meant to be a guided tour that explores the Pure Data (Pd) programming environment as an expression of new media and the community that supports it. A definition of Pure Data can be found on the Community’s homepage, “Pd (aka Pure Data) is a real-time graphical programming environment for audio, video, and graphical processing” [6]. Pd is open source software and so it is constantly being discussed and developed further by a community that is both online and in real space. This tour explores the community specifically in terms of its communication among other members as well as addressing some of the topics of discussion that are important to members within this community. In essence this tour attempts to explore two areas. The first is the Pure Data environment itself in terms of its architecture, potential and limitations. The second area is the community that supports, develops and discusses Pure Data and related issues. <---bang! to begin As you have probably already noticed this space contains objects that may appear a bit unfamiliar. The Virtual Pd tour is meant to mimic (at least in appearance) an actual Pd program which in Pd language is called a “patch”. The objects in this space are meant to mimic real Pd objects. The hope in designing this space in this way is to illustrate the concept of “dataflow” which is fundamental to the Pure Data environment. Pd along with a handful of other software languages are sometimes called “graphical dataflow languages” partly for this reason [1]. Essentially, graphical objects (boxes that perform a prescribed function) are connected to one another by the programmer or musician. Objects in Pd have “inlets” for passing data into the object and “outlets” that can pass their processed data to other objects within the patch. The musician or programmer connects the objects inlet to outlet and in this way constructs a patch [2]. The gray object that encases this block of text is an illustration of a “number box” object in a Pd. The smaller rectangle above this text is the box's inlet and the rectangle below is the box's outlet. Number boxes can hold and display data, specifically numerical data. In this tour these virtual “number” boxes will be displaying the “text data” of the tour as well as other types of data such as “video data” that expands on topics or introduces ideas into the discussion. The reader will have the opportunity to view this “video data” as we move along. The term “video data” is in quotations in order to illustrate another fundamental concept within the Pd environment. This concept ties into Lev Manovich’s model of new media and is significant in that it defines Pd as an expression of this type of new media. In his article, “New Media from Borges to HTML” Manovich defines new media by a number of different models. In one of these he discusses new media in terms of digital data. He writes, “New media is reduced to digital data that can be manipulated by software as any other data” [3]. In one sense Pd is very much an example of this type of software because it allows the user to generate and manipulate audio (and visual) media by exercising control over the data that defines that media. In other words in the Pd environment the user can manipulate the media by manipulating the data. It will be helpful to keep Manovich’s definition of new media in mind as it is enlightening to the situation that the user encounters within the Pd environment. This idea will come into play more as we discuss Pure Data’s architecture later in the tour. Pd was originally developed by Miller Puckette who is also the author of another graphical dataflow environment called Max MSP [7]. According to the Pd Community’s website even Puckette’s original “vanilla” version of Pure Data released in the 1990’s was developed by an extensive community and so the entire project from the start has very much been a community effort [6]. The Pd community website seems to be a central hub for the community’s interaction. From it we will see how the Pd community views Pd and what they say about it. Also we will be able to get a better idea of how the community itself is shaped, how the members communicate with one another, and what kinds of issues are being discussed. Later we will look a few of the questions that some are asking within the community that deal with the larger issues at steak, such as the role of the computer for the musician and what computer music technology may look like in the future. So before investigating more of the overall architecture of the Pd software environment itself, we now set our path in the direction of the Pd community. link The Pd community itself is primarily organized around a mailing list of 2000 subscribers, online forums (in various languages), and local groups [8]. Communication is accomplished through many different channels. The mailing lists and online forums as well as an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel are used for discussing all relevant topics to Pure Data as well as more generalized discussions of music, sound and visual media [8]. More specifically, there are actually quite a number of different mailing lists and forums that cover different specialized topics. There is a “news” forum that deals with “releases, projects, meet-ups, calls for works, etc” a “technical issues” forum; there are forums in which members can upload and share their Pd creations with one another as well as teaching forums that deal with improving skill sets and knowledge for working in Pd [9]. In addition to the discussions generated in the mailing lists and online forums, local groups in the Pd Community also occasionally hold physical meetings and conventions that cover topics related to Pure Data. The last convention took place as the fourth continuation of the Pure Data Convention in August 2011 in Weimer and Berlin Germany. The convention is made up of a conference program which includes peer-reviewed paper presentations, workshops for differing levels of interest, concerts and performances of music made with Pure Data, and an exhibition of artworks and installations [10]. With Pd being discussed by so many interested groups worldwide, it would be beneficial to take a closer look at what the community is discussing specifically. What ideas do some of the discussions revolve around? What is the use, potential and what are the limitations of this software? At this point of the tour we head in the direction to specific issues that are being discussed within the community. What limitations does the Pure Data environment have? What about the fact that it is open source and free software? Is that a cause for any limitations? Since Pd is open source there is no standardized manual for the software as is the case with most commercial software enterprises. On the one hand this may seem like a disadvantage yet upon closer inspection it is easy to see that documentation of Pure Data is in no way lacking. In fact there are a variety of sources for technical documentation for Pd. Again, as all of this documentation is a result of the rather large Pd community. Again, the website functions as a central hub to these documents as well as other literature having to do with Pure Data and computer music [11]. Are there limitations when Pure Data is compared to its commercial sister environment Max MSP? Interestingly, there is an archived discussion on the Pure Data forums that addressed this specific issue. The thread was started by a member who was thinking about purchasing Max MSP and was asking what the specific differences between it and the free Pure Data environment. There was some discussion from other members about this until the forum’s administrator “Maelstrom” had this to say as a user of both software platforms, “The only thing that I've found that Max hands-down does better than Pd is the gui” [12]. GUI stands for Graphical User Interface. So in other words Max MSP GUI objects look better. Maelstorm went on to say, “Most of the stuff in Max is eye candy that you end up wasting a lot of time working on. There are very few instances where the gui is actually very important to the functionality of the patch” [12]. He also brought up another difference. Apparently Max MSP supports “ReWire” connections (software designed to interconnect music applications) but that these capabilities were “so buggy” that they are “hardly usable” [12]. So while there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of significant technical difference between these two software environments (at least according to the community), there does seem to be a much more fundamental limitation of the software that stems from a larger issue at steak that has been a source of some discussion. Also, the issue sheds some light on the architecture of the Pd environment itself. That being the case, we now head in that direction. The larger issue at steak revolves around the idea that the computer was not originally designed for the creation of music as opposed to say a guitar or an electric piano. The computer as an instrument potentially has an incredible amount of power but the fundamental limitation is that it is not fundamentally a musical instrument that one can just “pick up and play” [4]. Puckette discusses this idea in terms of it being a motivating factor in the creation of Pure Data in his presentation, “Sound + Science - Miller Puckette - The Computer as an Aid or Hindrance to Musical Expression” [4]. To view this video follow the link generated by the virtual “link” object below and to the right to go to Vimeo’s hosting of this presentation. Puckette describes many approaches to “playing” the computer in the Vimeo presentation although he also states that none of the approaches are in any way “final or complete” [4]. For those especially interested in this specific topic of discussion the video below and to the left is a video interview with Miller Puckette. In it he discusses some of the issues that play into the role of the computer as an instrument, specifically in terms of the live presentation of computer music [13]. Puckette also describes Pure Data in terms of its intended potential and aid as a tool for the computer musician [13]. With so much discussion about Pure Data in both online and physical forms, it would appear that it is indicative of Pure Data’s significance at least from the perspective of the community. So what about the Pure Data environment itself? Pure Data does seem to provide some advantages to the computer musician who is willing to learn it. Apparently one advantage of learning Pd for the musician could be that sometimes computer music software that is designed to help the musician realize his or her musical creation can have an influence over the resultant realization. In other words, the music can start to sound like it was generated from a particular software environment. This is an issue that was explicitly addressed during the long history of development of Pure Data. Puckette in his article, “Max at Seventeen” discusses what he calls the “Max paradigm” (of which Max MSP and Pure Data are apart). He says, “The computer software analogue is that Max (for example) should not so restrict the musician's creativity that the result sounds like "Max," although perhaps we should forgive it for sounding like a computer” [7]. Puckette’s article goes on to describe the development history of the Max paradigm for programs like Max MSP and Pure Data. Again, at the heart of all of this is the issue of trying to make the computer a playable instrument. This concern does seem to be one that the design of the software aims at contributing possible solutions [4]. Yet considering the computer in this light has led to an ongoing pursuit to develop software that gives the computer musician control over the potential power of the computer in a greater degree. Further thinking about the Pure Data project as an ongoing development lends itself to new possibilities for technologies built on previous technologies. The Reactable system, which uses a sound engine based on Pure Data and other computer software would be an example of this [14]. With the Reactable system the musician can connect objects called “tangibles” together that the computer recognizes through the “reacTIVision” framework [15]. A demonstration of the Reactable instrument can be viewed here below and to the left [16]. This product demonstration video is available from the Reactable homepage [17]. The Reactable system seems to be one example of possible future technologies stemming from previous technologies like Pure Data. Wherever the new music technologies of the future may lead it would seem that the idea of the computer as an instrument will be a driving force. For another example of innovative and interactive music technology built on the Pure Data engine the author recommends viewing the “SketchSynth” video available from the Pure Data Vimeo group [18]. A link is provided below. In light of the apparent possibilities for the computer musician, learning Pure Data would seem advantageous for those interested. It ought to be noted here that providing an instructional discourse of how to program in Pd is beyond the scope of this tour. However, there does seem to be a wide variety of resources on the subject available on the Web. The author recommends the video tutorial series by Dr. Rafael Hernandez. The first video in this series is available at the right [5]. So it would seem that Pure Data can be viewed as tool for the computer musician but also as a gateway technology to new future technologies that make the computer musician’s realization of his or her work closer than before. It would seem likely to expect more technologies like Reactable and SketchSynth in the future, technologies that make “playing the computer” more of a reality. This core idea that was built into the Pure Data software does seem to provide an advantage to the interested computer musician. The view that Pure Data is advantageous to the computer musician is evident in that there is so much discussion about this environment. Also the support of the Pd community functions at the core of the ongoing Pure Data project. More information about Pure Data and the Community can be found on the Community’s website at <http://puredata.info>. This will conclude our virtual tour. The author hopes that you have enjoyed the experience. Sound + Science - Miller Puckette - The Computer as an Aid or Hindrance to Musical Expression http://vimeo.com/4856917 video~ link SketchSynth video~ http://vimeo.com/groups/puredata/videos/42053193 s text r text s arch r arch hello! virtual pd note;
the "s" and following "r" objects stand;
for "send" and "receive" respectively;
These objects are used to send data;
from one location in the patch to another; similar to a radio transmission; s bib r bib [1]. Barknecht, Frank. “Pure Dataflow – Diving into Pd.” 17 Sept. 2012. <http://www.digitalartistshandbook.org/?q=node/14>
[2]. FLOSS Manuals. 17 Sept. 2012. <http://en.flossmanuals.net/puredata/>
[3]. Manovich, Lev. “New Media from Borges to HTML.” The New Media Reader. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003. 13-25. Print.
[4]. “Sound + Science - Miller Puckette - The Computer as an Aid or Hindrance to Musical Expression” 14 Sept. 2012. <http://vimeo.com/4856917>
[5]. Hernandez, Rafael. Pure Data Video Tutorial. 9 Sept. 2012.
[6]. Pure Data Homepage. 9 Sept. 2012. <http://puredata.info>
[7]. Puckette, Miller. “Max at Seventeen.” Computer Music Journal. The MIT Press, 2002. 31-43. 9 Sept. 2012. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/3681767>
[8]. Pd Community Subpage. 9 Sept. 2012. <http://puredata.info/community> [9]. Pd Forums. 9 Sept. 2012. <http://puredata.hurleur.com/>
[10]. Weimer Convention. 14 Sept. 2012. <http://www.uniweimar.de/medien/wiki/PDCON:Start>
[11]. Documentation for Pd. 14 Sept. 2012. <http://puredata.info/docs/BooksAboutPd>
[12]. Pd Forum Comparing to Max MSP. 17 Sept. 2012. <http://puredata.hurleur.com/sujet-4182-artists-using-pure-data>
[13]. Collarts Interview with Miller Puckette. 9 Sept. 2012. <http://youtu.be/yXuhA9tlB4s>
[14]. Reactible Documentation. 17 Sept. 2012. <http://modin.yuri.at/teaching/TouchGijon/reactable.pdf>
[15]. reacTIVision. 17 Sept. 2012. <http://reactivision.sourceforge.net/>
[16]. Reactable Product Demonstration Video. 9 Sept. 2012. <http://youtu.be/JoUvqfxIqlU>
[17]. Reactable Homepage. 9 Sept. 2012. <http://www.reactable.com/>
[18]. SketchSynth. 17 Sept. 2012. <http://vimeo.com/groups/puredata/videos/42053193> "The computer should ideally feel in the musician's hands like a musical instrument, needing only to be tuned up and then played." -Miller Puckette * video~
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