30 Years Of The MIDI Standard

The BBC has published an interesting retrospective on the history of MIDI, celebrating 30 years of MIDI.

The article quotes MIDI creator Dave Smith on the origin of MIDI:

“You could play one keyboard with your right hand and another keyboard with your left hand,” says Dave Smith, a synthesiser manufacturer from California who was working on the issue back then. “But [musicians] couldn’t play more than one at the same time because there was no way of electrically interconnecting them,” he remembers.

“Computers were fast enough to be able to sequence notes, control the number of keyboards and drum machines at the same time… it kind of opened up a whole new industry.”

Celebrating the 30th anniversary is arguably a bit premature, since MIDI was publicly introduced at the 1983 NAMM Show, and was published as a standard in October of that year.

But in 1982, Dave Smith created the Prophet 600 (shown above), which was the first synth to implement his proposed specification.

Whether you think the anniversary should be celebrated now, on the anniversary of MIDI’s introduction or on the anniversary of it becoming a standard, it’s worth celebrating, because it jumpstarted a new wave of innovation in synths and electronic music gear.

Image: cicciostoky

via aymat

10 thoughts on “30 Years Of The MIDI Standard

  1. WORKS FOR ME! My first polyphonic was a Prophet-600, so I got into MIDI early. Yes, it can still drive me buggo, but it was already so musical at its inception, its strictures still apply solidly, even in a virtual and USB/FW/TB-formatted world. Thank you, Dave and likewise to all who helped birth it. MIDI is the second-best thing that ever happened to synths, right after their growth into widely-available Moogs, ARPs and Buchlas, which, in turn, fired up all of the inventiveness and punch we take for granted today. Too bad Vladimir Ussachevsky isn’t around today. He’d be cackling with glee over 64-stage envelopes.

  2. I love MIDI. Sure it’s got limitations (7 bit resolution is ridiculous by modern standards) but it has single handedly changed music for the better. Here’s to another 30 years!

  3. Very few computer technologies have survived, and remained relevant, the way MIDI has. It really is pretty astonishing. Some really really great engineering, protocol design, just brilliant stuff all the way around.

  4. Aaargh PLEASE let us out from this anti-musical straightjacket now (*sob*)

    While the protocol has some flexibility (14-bit messages) few hard- or software makers implement these.
    * The hardware spec is laughably outdated.
    * The effective data rate is limited to about 1000 messages per second for ALL channels. This means you cannot directly control status even of a fairly simple synth patch.

    * There are several parameters that you CAN surprisingly control using just 7-bit values.
    * But there are some that simply do not fit into this range:
    – Delay times
    – Actual pitch

    Here’s a bold hypothesis in case anyone still doesn’t think I’m a dork:
    The low pixel density on old (90’s) computer screens actually conspired to give MIDI prolonged lease of life. The 127 values available made a fairly good length of sliders, so the values from mouse could be fed directly into the same interface on a softsynth.

    And we’re still stuck with so many softsynths that suffer from this.
    Proof that it’s an error: 3 sliders/knobs to set pitch: octave, tone and “fine”. Right?

    1. Not right. Octave, coarse and fine tune originally belong to analog synths of early and have nothing to do with bit depth of MIDI standard. (Take minimoog.)

      (Many) softsynths just emulate the original parameters of those synths, it’s not as if their developers wanted to add a single parameter for tuning and couldn’t due to MIDI limitations.

  5. surely MIDI has its problems… like anyone who lived more than 30 years…
    the data rate its normally enough if used mainly for notes with a limited use of controller data…
    if someone wants to use a lot of controller data, nowadays its certainly not a problem.
    there is an obscene amount of controllers out there, from cheap to very expensive hardware.
    …and with midi going now through USB most of the times, you can move tons of MIDI data.

    if someone needs something more powerful in terms of range of values or range of possible messages there is now OSC…
    many wholeheartedly agree it is more “contemporary”…
    nevertheless first years of life of OSC has presented same “delay times” problems due to the network communications not able to cope.

    for actual pitch MIDI just forced some people to get creative…
    if you know about the possible use of 14 bit messages you are on the right track
    : )

    anyway, MIDI is the lingua franca, the esperanto of music machines.
    even if it’s now a bit updated I sincerely do not think computer music could be where it is now if it wasn’t for it.
    it’s an example of how things can happily communicate one another.
    have anyone thought, while working in some other fields, with other kind of (not music) machines,
    how good would things be if there was something like MIDI here?

  6. dave Smith wrote
    “You could play one keyboard with your right hand and another keyboard with your left hand,” says Dave Smith, a synthesiser manufacturer from California who was working on the issue back then. ”But [musicians] couldn’t play more than one at the same time because there was no way of electrically interconnecting them,”

    Yes you could play many KB with CV/gate , DCB interface etc…..

    Midi is great !!!!
    need tons of controllers ???? then use a multi-ports interface
    need more than 128 steps ???? use interpolation like seen on some modern synths and FLstudio software.
    Who the hell can move a 100 mm fader more accuratly than a 1 millimeter steps (that make 100 step for the full range) ???? robots ??? you ???

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