Meet The Maker: Darwin Grosse of Cycling ’74

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Darwin Grosse




Before we released the MIDI, CV & USB I/O modules, we sent the bits out to musicians like Darwin Grosse, an artist, educator and programmer who works for Cycling ’74 (makers of Max & Jitter). We were excited to hear that Darwin had a great experience using the new modules with his students and in his own practice.

My name is…

Darwin Grosse. Yes, that is my given name, even though it sounds like stage name for the bass player in a Metal band. I work for Cycling ’74, which is based in the Bay Area of California. But I’m lucky enough to live and work high in the mountains outside of Boulder Colorado. It’s quite beautiful, and incredibly quiet.


My maker superpower is…

I do work in many areas: programming, art education, musical circuit creation and musical performance. Obviously, I’m a pretty adept Max programmer, and I teach Visual Programming at a nearby University (University of Denver). I’m also the creator of the ArdCore open source module standard which places an Arduino inside of a modular synthesizer.

Finally, I’m a musician that uses a modular synthesizer as my primary instrument.


I am inspired by… 

I have two different sets of influences: the DIY/Maker world, and the pioneers of art technology. I find each to draw me into interesting areas, and I’m constantly surprised by the work that I stumble across in my personal studies.

The DIY and Maker worlds are incredibly inspiring – mainly because they toss out the idea that something can’t be done. You might burn your fingers, or smoke an IC chip, but you tried to do something yourself, which is important during first steps. As you learn more about building things, you smoke fewer chips, but also gain a lot more facility with the tools.

Learning about the work of media art pioneers is sort of the opposite: you find out that much of what you are thinking has already been tried. But in finding out about earlier experiments, you are also inspired to take any idea further than you might have initially planned. When you dive into the work of Max Matthews, Pierre Schaeffer, Nam June Paik or the Vasulkas, you are inspired to take your visions to greater depth than you might have otherwise done.


The most exciting project I have worked on is…

Well, the development and release of Max 7 has been pretty amazing. With a new UI, new video engines, a new time/pitch stretching engine and the ability to use Max for Live content in my patches, it’s changed how I use the software in my own performances and creations. So that was definitely exciting. Working on the first version of Max for Live was also amazing, since that product has changed the way people approach doing their music and production work.



I have used littleBits to…

Prior to my getting the interface Bit to work with, I mostly used the littleBits as part of performance work. For example, at a recent performance, I had a section of the show where I used a small dual-oscillator FM patch to create everything from screaming howls to click-y rhythms  – which freed up my modular for a quick repatching.

However, with the introduction of the MIDI, CV & USB I/O modules, a whole new world has opened up to me. I worked with my Visual Programming students to try coming up with new hardware/software hybrid systems; they developed video system interfaces, an Ableton Live auto-mixer and an on-screen ‘string’ that would excite a littleBits synth. In just one afternoon, the students developed a ridiculous set of projects with two Synth Kits and one Deluxe Kit.

My colleague Cory Metcalf and I then took the bits and created some personally important projects. Cory created a Video Theremin which uses color tracking to provide smooth pitch and filtering information to a littleBits synthesizer. I took a different approach, creating a complex LFO in Max and routing it to my modular synthesizer using the littleBits audio and CV interfaces. I then used a sequencer on my modular to send timing information back to the computer (again using interface Bits) so that I could tempo-lock my computer to my modular. Sounds complicated, but was quite easy with the audio, MIDI and CV Bits.

You can see Cory and me talking about our patches, or download the patches, at



I want to use littleBits to make a…

I have a dream of building the world’s largest littleBits audio installation. One of my favorite media festivals is the Currents Festival in Santa Fe, NM ( Their installation space is massive, and I’d like to build an enormous audio network in the ceiling over the display area. Alas, it would probably take two pickup trucks full of littleBits, so that dream might have to wait a while!


littleBits has taught me about… 

I think there are two different areas where littleBits are successful in teaching me things: working at a lower level, and working with limitations.

I’m used to working at a lower-than-normal level because of my work with both modular synthesizers and with Max. You work with small pieces, and use them to create larger systems. But the littleBits modules are satisfyingly physical to work with, and at a sufficiently high level, that they draw you into experimentation. That’s a key to making a useful system: find the medium between functional and fun.

Because the littleBits are physical devices, though, means that you always have a limitation: the number of bits that you own! This limitation can be rewarding, because rather than adding another oscillator to your synthesizer, or adding another Arduino to your network, you have to find innovative ways of achieving a result. This challenge often has the benefit of creating a solution that was better than originally imagined.


My dream bit is…

Oh, my dream bit is probably the Mac Bit, which would be sort of like the Arduino bit, but with 50 input and output connectors, and a Mac Mini in the middle. But that doesn’t really match my ‘limitations’ thing, does it? Perhaps the Mac Bit is my “Way Too Much” bit.

I’ve not yet worked with the prototyping bits yet; I suspect that these might help me create my own dream bit – thereby closing the DIY circle!



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