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~ Running MAX/FTS for NeXTStep in an emulator

The aptly named emulator Previous allows you to emulate NeXT hardware on modern platforms. It allows you to run NeXTStep and run software made for this environment. I have prepared a downloadable disk image for this emulator to experiment with an early version of MAX, a visual programming environment for music applications.

I am interested in the early days of MAX an influential visual programming environment geared towards music applications. This software originated at IRCAM and an early version was build for the NeXTcube and required a specialized soundcard (ISPW). I have been lucky to have been able to restore a NeXTCube with an ISPW soundcard but this hardware is extremely rare.

A functioning NeXTcube is already a rare collectors item and the ISPW soundcard is even more uncommon. The card was developed at IRCAM and later commercialised by Ariel Inc. which brought it to market right when NeXT announced to phase out hardware production. Overnight, the market for NeXT peripheral hardware collapsed and nobody wanted to buy an expensive soundcard for an obsolete hardware platform. The soundcard was never mass-produced: there are only the prototype boards made at IRCAM and a few batches of the commercial version. The total number ISPW soundcards must have been around a few dozen worldwide, in 1992. Now, over 30 years later, it is virtually impossible to find an ISPW card. Running an early version of MAX on original hardware is nearly impossible.

Fig: MAX 0.25 running in the Previous emulator on a modern MacOS system.

To make experiencing an early version of MAX more accessible I have prepared a disk image for the Previous emulator. The emulator emulates several NeXT machines and lets you run NeXT software on modern machines. The disc image uses NeXTStep 3.3 for OS and has MAX 0.25 pre-installed. Several NeXT machines can be emulated by Previous but, crucially for MAX, the ISPW soundcard is not emulated. This puts a severe limitation on MAX: there is no audio or MIDI input or output. However, you can start MAX in simulation mode and experience the patcher and see the original documentation and have a feel for the original supplied patches and follow the logic of patches.

To run MAX, download the disc image with NeXTStep and MAX [about 100MB]. By downloading this material you agree to use it only for academic, educational, historic or documentary use and not for commercial or other purposes. The zip-file also contains some information on how to get started and boot the system. Note that it has only been tested on an M1 mac.

For some more context please listen to Philippe Manoury on ‘Informatique musicale’ for insights into the ISPW at IRCAM. Read “Steve Jobs & the Next Big Thing (1993)” by Randall E. Stross which paints the commercially bleak history of NeXT and the (managereal, commercial, emotional) incompetence of Steve Jobs. It complements the “Steve Jobs (2011)” biography by Walter Isaacson nicely. Also see Electronic Music and the NeXTcube – Running MAX on the IRCAM Musical Workstation and USB MIDI interface for the NeXTCube – ISPW board