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January 8, 2013 • Events, Gear Bits, Music Diary

Roland Releases Video Celebrating 30 Years of MIDI


Do you know what MIDI is? Many people don’t know the acronym, which stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. But they know the applications – controlled sequences, drum machines, full orchestras controlled by a single person. Here is a quote from one of the creators, Dave Smith:

You could play one keyboard with your right hand and another keyboard with your left hand. But [musicians] couldn’t play more than one at the same time because there was no way of electrically interconnecting them. 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.

The MIDI standard was introduced at Winter NAMM in 1983, and first appeared on the Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 (the keyboard in the image) in late 1982.

I was very fortunate to be involved from the very start of MIDI. I helped retrofit the Prophet V in the computer music studio at my undergraduate school with a MIDI circuit that provided rudimentary control capabilities, and then got to use the first version of Mark of the Unicorn’s Performer on an early Mac in 1985.

It changed my musical life, and I still think in MIDI when approaching creating new music, which is very weird for my kids who think more ‘musically’. Thinking in MIDI means understanding notes note as musical values but as digital bit streams of values, attack, decay, off-time, patch information, after-touch and so on. Crazy stuff … now just underlying every musical program to the point you no longer need to understand the parameters of quantization or ‘humanization’ and so on.

Anyway, check out the awesome video … and I just have to note that although it was put out by Roland, there is equal focus given to many other critical companies of the MIDI development era:

One Response to " Roland Releases Video Celebrating 30 Years of MIDI "

  1. […] One of the first synths I did serious work on was the Prophet 5. That synth was introduced by Sequential Circuits in 1978 as one of the first polyphonic instruments, but the reason it is still popular is the amazing sounds. The Prophet 5 was the brain-child of Sequential Circuits founder Dave Smith. If that name sounds familiar it is because Smith is also known as the ‘Father of MIDI’, and I recently wrote about the 30th anniversary of MIDI. […]