RNBO (“rainbow”): boot into Max UI, deliver to plugins, web browsers, hardware, any OS

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The new thing Max Cycling ’74 has teased is here, and it’s pronounced “rainbow.” Perhaps the easiest way to see why this is a big deal: on the product page you can play with an interactive patch in your web browser natively. Basically, it’s “Max for everything”.

I recently spoke to the Cycling team behind this, and I’m really excited to dig deeper. Here are the basics of what you need to know.

RNBO looks like Max, works like Max, is even included in Max 8.5 – but it’s not quite Max. It’s basically a set of sound tools and sound behaviors from Max that can compile into source code that you can run anywhere.

Work in Max, export wherever you want.

(It is not wrong to say that RNBO is for Max as The heavy compiler is at Pdon the free/open source side, before anyone mentions it or gets it wrong.)

So you create your fix, working visually, then deliver it wherever you want, because it’s all in C++ code. Right off the bat, there are a ton of extremely well-documented examples covering many use cases:

plugins. VST3 or Audio Unit, including VST3 under Linux.

Material. Export Raspberry Pi directly. And it can do Eurorack modules, guitar pedals, synths and desktop effects, whatever.

Max Items. It also becomes an easier way to create community stuff and target Windows or macOS even if you only have access to one or the other.

Max for live. Okay, one caveat – you won’t actually build Max for Live stuff in RNBO, but you can use it to build engines for Max for Live and Cycling ’74 touts the possibility of increased performance and shorter loading times.

Web export. It’s really cool – you can create sound patches that integrate with HTML/JavaScript. (The exported code uses Web Assembly, in case you’re interested.)

Exporting plug-ins.

For a great example of how the powers of the web have been used, you may have already seen the results – RNBO powers Ableton’s lovely Learning Synths site. Here is a case study / behind the scenes:

Learning synths and RNBO

RNBO patchers look and work like Max, even though it was built from the ground up with its own dedicated engine to allow for this portability.

You can work with gen~ if you want (think they spell that now Gen) – but you don’t have to. A lot of people who were, say, gen-averse or gen-phobic worried that cross-compiling required delving into that lower side of Max. It’s there if you want it, but you can also create n00b style patches and export those as well. (Phew!) You can also do text programming.

This being Max and Cycling ’74, you get a tremendous amount of polish and ease of use. It will be instantly familiar to existing Max users, but might also be a good reason to start playing with Max if you like visual fixes and sound. I can also imagine him bringing back “stale” Max users; I would absolutely put myself in that category. As a bonus, while the full Max environment is a bit overwhelming for those of us with limited time, RNBO has a focused set of features that work entirely with sound, not asking you to mess with the user interfaces, and is also suitable for simple tools as well as massive creations.

One of the biggest benefits of RNBO is that it really makes working with polyphony easier – you just add the polyphony attribute and go to town, patch/sub-patch/abstract level.

Now price: RNBO requires Max, but is a paid add-on, for $10/month or $100/year – or buy it forever for $299 if you hate subscriptions.

I will defend this model for a simple reason. The whole business of cycling relies on paying customers providing an unparalleled amount of polish and support. Now, I think it’s also quite healthy that if you want to go the free/open source route, there are strong options for that as well. The two coexist.

What I have already seen, the big advantage of Max is already the documentation. From the tool itself to all the examples, RNBO can quickly become an environment to beat. The fact that it spits out C++ also means that platforms that aren’t supported right now might be in the future – as if someone could decide they wanted an LV2 model or CLAP, for example. But if you just want to patch graphically and then build for different platforms without worry, you can do that.

Heck, you can actually directly create a RasPi on a network.

RNBO environment. Other than a few minor cosmetic differences (partly color-coded so you can tell you’re in RNBO and not Max), it basically works like Max. What you don’t get are the UI elements, because the output is C++ (or Web Assembly) code. But you can create these UIs (or visuals, etc.) regardless of your favorite tool – or create objects that you can integrate with Max and Max for Live, even without writing any code.

And amidst a lot of terrible news, now is the perfect time to tinker with creating musical instruments, across the full spectrum of tools available. RNBO is wonderful for those interested in how to make Max. Overall, we can now expect our code or patches created in various environments to now run on desktop, web, and hardware as we expect. It’s fantastic, and ranges from casual DIYers to more serious builders.

More about the product:

https://cycling74.com/products/rnbo

And a waste of online resources to start with:

https://rnbo.cycling74.com/

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