are something for which I'll be eternally grateful. So, so much quicker than transcribing music in to a step sequencer!
Happy unbirthday MIDI!
Despite rumours to the contrary, MIDI is not 30 years old today. The concept is older and its actual adoption as an industry standard gets its birthday next summer. Yet as industry standards go, it’s certainly been a robust one. As with a lot of technology standards – remember draft-n Wi-Fi? – manufacturers don't want to hang …
I use MIDI on a daily basis to sequence synthesizers from my Apple Mac. Whilst it is a bit suprising there has been no new standard for time/tempo syncing etc for 30 odd years, I guess it's just because MIDI works so effectively - if it ain't broke don't fix it as they say.
Long live MIDI!
"Whilst it is a bit suprising there has been no new standard for time/tempo syncing etc for 30 odd years, I guess it's just because MIDI works so effectively - if it ain't broke don't fix it as they say."
Hardware and software that supports this has been in the wild for some time. Nerdier musician types tend to be aware of it.
OSC hasn't managed to supplant it yet, sadly- and poor old MIDI is showing its age. My main beef is that it only supports eight bit values, i.e. 256 levels of "waggliness". People have bodged extensions, I have some devices that generate MIDI with 14-bit values, which is pretty nice, but it's still a kludge. DJ controllers in particular benefit from this- eight bit pitch sliders are bound to start trainwrecking after 16 bars or so, unless you're in league with Santa.
The Other funny thing, while I am wittering on, is how many MIDI devices out there now present over USB, rather than the tangle of DIN plugs. I suppose this makes sense given the ludicrous power of modern software sound sources like Ableton, though, where you essentially just want to throw some controller front-endc gear on there, most of the time..
That said, tempted to dig out my USB-MIDI interface and plug up my Juno 106 now, with all this talk of nonsense, and do something pointlessly post-modern like waggle the filters from TouchOSC on my iPad :)
I dread the day that anything supplants MIDI - the gradual switch to MIDI over USB is bad enough - as it means I'll have to quit using my hardware sequencer. Compared to the control and immediacy of something like a Roland MC, software sequencers suck, particularly since most of them are disk based audio recorders with sequencing tacked on as an afterthought (Ableton Live, I'm looking at you).
I dunno, I used to think that, but I suspect that your POV might be a little outdated. Used with low latency sound drivers, software instruments are excellent.
Also, as the owner of a couple of MC class boxes, I have to say, they do run out of CPU time remarkably quickly at high tempos with a lot of control data. On one of the boxes, years ago, a call to Roland in Wales got me a free ROM upgrade (they stuck the chip in the post, as I promised to do the upgrade myself, and send back the old one <3)- that helped a bit, but it still ran out of steam.
Yes, back when your argument was valid, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with you, as an enthusiastic user of QY and MC sequencers. However, that particular ship has sailed, long ago. I do still have a couple of MC boxes packed away in the spare room, but they don't see use except for nostalgia. My fully upgraded A3000 sampler was also given away, too, as someone with a shred of nouse can do better on a smaller, cheaper, lighter and more power-efficient laptop these days.
Admittedly, if you use a skanky old Dell or HP full of manufacturer crapware, and WDM drivers, you're always going to have a ton of latency and buffer underruns. However, today as it ever was- a bit of technical knowledge lets you select the right tool for the job. It's just that the skillsets need to change, to adapt and grow over time too- otherwise you have to make do with the best of yesterday and the worst of today.
I dunno, I used to think that, but I suspect that your POV might be a little outdated.
Nope, my view's based on using Ableton as well as watching other use Pro Tools and Logic. What takes an excruciating amount of time in those software packages is a few button presses on a decent hardware sequencer. As for running out of oomph, I filter out stuff I don't need like aftertouch and have never had a problem with memory or processing limits.
>It only takes an excruciating amount of time if you're not very good at using them. A poor workman, etc.
Double bollocks. Even using some Logitech USB speakers on my Win7 laptop to make iPlayer less tinny is unreliable, often killing the laptop's integrated sound card, usually requiring some faffing about in 'playback devices'- enabling, disabling, setting as default, swearing at it before turning off and on again whilst crossing fingers? Once connected and on, it's fine, but but makes switching to headphones a PITA. I'm blaming Microsoft, not Logitech.
And do you really think its right to blame 'the workman' that FireWire audio on a PC isn't a standard, but a lucky dip as to whether you have a VIA or a Texas Instruments chipset?
Worry not. Have a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIDI#Alternative_hardware_transports- I get the impression that past efforts to supplant MIDI have mostly failed, and the current work in progress, 'MIDI HD Protocol'. is fully backwards-compatible. There are too many musicians and enthusiasts with esoteric MIDI hardware out there for it to be rendered obsolete.
MIDI seems to bring out the bodger and tinkerer in us... I saw my mate the other day, soldering MIDI ports into a circa-1990 toy Yamaha keyboard... Instructables.com has a lot to answer for.
I blame MIDI for getting me into IT... my friend's dad had an Atari ST, Roland GM module and a Casio MIDI guitar, and and I took my piano lessons with their next-door neighbour on a Yamaha DX-7 keyboard.
I did have a play with MIDI again about a year ago, trying to get a cheap Wacom Bamboo tablet to act as Kaoscilator, by using some virtual patch cables and a softsynth... one way to waste an afternoon. Low and bloody behold Windows 7 doesn't like you changing the default MIDI playback device away from the integrated audio hardware, some poking of the registry is required. Add to that Windows Sound Mapper trying to prise control back from ASIO, and I now know why musicians use Macs. At least Android is moving in the right direction:
" Add to that Windows Sound Mapper trying to prise control back from ASIO, and I now know why musicians use Macs"
Yeah, sad but true, CoreAudio is still markedly more sane (though it still gets device order and assignment a bit randomised on startup sometimes, a minor pain). My Win 7 box has three sound devices (for various reasons), and Windows doesn't cope brilliantly with them, screwing up just about everything, and having a horrid interface to it. Audio is bad and unreliable, and MIDI feels like a vestigial afterthought.
As much as it would pain me to buy another Apple machine when my current MBP dies, for MIDI and Audio, it's the only real way to preserve sanity when tinkering with this stuff.
...the electrical interface itself is very well thought-out and more subtle than first appears.
For example: all MIDI devices are optoisolated from each other, so there is no actual electrical connection. An LED in the receiver is driven by current supplied from the transmitter (via a pair of wires). This means no voltage spikes, no ground loops, no floating potentials that make your expensive electronics lose its magic smoke. In other words, it actually works in the ghastly electrical environment you tend to find on stage.
Otherwise I wouldn't dare try to connect two computers to each other on stage unless I was damn sure that they were plugged into the same power strip... and even then I'd be nervous.
Given the dodgy wiring in most small to medium sized venues in the UK, I'm surprised I've not seen more bands suffering from fried Macbooks (and it always seems to be Apple computer kit on stage). Even with a surge protector I've had my bass amp blow up twice in the last couple of years, as well as overheating thanks to inadequate ventilation and blisteringly hot stage lighting.
Anyway, a stage isn't set properly without an Emulator II taking up half the space.
About twelve years ago I found an Emulator II in a second hand music shop at the end of Cowley Road in Oxford. Snapped it up as a £200 bargain, got it home and then discovered both floppy drives were bust :-( This was before the fantastic HxC floppy emulator was available, and the place in the States that claims to stock replacement drives *never* has them in stock. Ended up giving it away to a fellow computer nerd.
MIDI's a great example of the big guys in an industry seeing how a standard needs to be set, and coming together to make an open standard before either the whole industry falls apart amongst a mess of incompatibilities, or one company rises up and borgs everything.
Now if only Yamaha, Korg, Roland, Kawai, Oberheim, Sequential Circuits, Moog et al, were interested in PC OS interoperability as well, eh?
I think that what's partly responsible for the fact it is well designed - both protocol and hardware - is that when it was developed there were relatively few professionals involved in what was at that time very much a niche market, so some serious design and co-operation was possible before the business interests realised there was money to be made.
Amiga, Golden Hawk MIDI, Bars and Pipes, FTW. Before that my Commodore 64, the Dr. MIDI (I think) interface and Stereo SID Editor (which could output to MIDI, IIRC.) I feel the need to set up the latter again just as a show of my geeky-manhood.
I set up the digital TV and IT infrastructure at a local bar this summer and the lighting guys use a USB lighting control panel which is actually MIDI, and the lights are controlled by MIDI. Neat stuff.
I doubt if MIDI was actually being used to drive the lighting - the MIDI was probably being used to drive a DMX controller, which then ran the lighting. MIDI is fast enough to switch lighting patches, but nothing like adequate for the fine detail of lighting control such as setting dimmer levels, or positioning a moving mirror - that needs the 250kbaud DMX signal - and forget 16 channels, DMX has 512...
DMX is another serial data control protocol that unified manufacturers and revolutionised an industry - in fact, DMX is sometimes referred to as 'the MIDI of the lighting industry' - but it is around 4 years younger!
That would be it, then. DMX definitely sounds familiar. I am going to double-check this over the weekend when I have access to the equipment, but I recall seeing MIDI triggers available in the control program, and the controller board does seem to communicate via MIDI over USB (per something which popped up at one point or another.)
None of this withstanding, the system likes to lock up and crash. Frequently. Its poor behavior has earned it its own machine to hopefully quell its fiendish and cruel appetite for watching liquored-up patrons stop dancing and stare around in dismay when the lighting system suddenly conks out. What really sucks is it also controls the lighting for the stage shows.
Paris, another staged show.
It would be intertesting to know exactly which combination of hardware and software is being used for this; if some of the control system is running on a PC, then EVERYTHING else on the PC must be disabled, or it'll keep running off at random to do virus scans, check for software updates, etc...not conducive to a stable lighting control system!
I've chatted with this man after a Bristol pub gig... though about electric vehicle drivetrains (he is from San Francisco) rather than his MIDI clarinet and MIDI iPhone (for it's accelerometers) combo. He's a smarter lad than comes across in this video! He seems to have evolved since then, since in this video he had made his own MIDI controllers- one for for each hand, plus mouth piece, and wrist-strapped iPhone.
would help if all manufaturers who put MIDI sockets on their machines confirmed to the kind of standard.
had a yamaha something something stand in for a roland something else that had it's drum section on channel 10, instead of the seemingly agreed channel 16 that everything else expected.
made everyone jump when the melody kicked in. i remember their faces ....
good times, happy unbirthday MIDI. i might just dust off the old datel MIDI-X for the A500 later...
I also recall channel 16 for drums but that was likely before General MIDI came about which brought some semblance of order and agreement on how things should be used and which instruments have particular program change numbers and so on.
The physical interface and the fundamentals of the specification were pretty solid but there was a lot of incompatibility as to how the manufacturers treated the information carried and what was implemented on various bit of kit; instrument 126 may have be guitar on one, piano on another, or even whirling helicopter blades! For the drum channel, 'Middle C' might get you bass drum, might be a snare, or perhaps silence. Manufacturers just had to use whatever they could if something wasn't already implemented how they desired so incompatibilities were inevitable.
The actual MMA MIDI Specification (and I have a genuine, official, printed copy in front of me) was just a part of what most people consider to be MIDI.
Hm, I was taught that channel 10 was the standard drum channel. Of course, you can define any channel to mean anything.
Also MIDI is not General MIDI. General MIDI, IIRC, defines the standard instrument patch set including one drumkit. Other MIDI patch sets include XG (by Yamaha) and GS (by Roland). A musical instrument that defines itself as "General MIDI", basically has the same first 127 instruments and drum set as every other General MIDI device. MIDI (sans "General") devices simply have the same communication protocol.
For instance, for some synthesizers such as the Novation K Station or Yamaha AN200 Loopfactory, it makes no sense to have them as "General MIDI", as all of the noises they generate are somewhat wierd, bleepy techno affairs rather than anything approaching "Grand Piano" (GM patch #1) or "Pizzicato Strings" (GM patch #46). The same applies to MIDI controller keyboards or boxes that make no sounds of their own, but are used to send commands to other devices, such as for instance the Evolution X-Session controller box.
Happy owner of all mentioned devices, and yes, they're all awesome in their own ways.
And still use it. Apart from wear and tear from gigging years ago, my DX7 is still going strong. I think Yamaha misinterpreted the MIDI spec though on this keyboard as it constantly sends out MIDI data as a sort of timing signal.
Still got my Atari 1040ST. Had to upgrade my original 520ST because it couldn't run Cubase. It needed a whole meg to run!! Whoever had the idea to put MIDI ports on the ST was a bloody genius.
I remember part of the midi spec that allowed the transfer of samples over the midi interface using system exclusive messages. I had a yamaha keyboard that claimed to support this, copying out to the sequencer went fine but I never managed to restore the samples back to the keyboard.
I did a gig once with two desktop PCs running windows 95, keyboard and drum machine all nicely synced with midi not even a slight hiccup.
As someone not musically gifted, I pretty much ignored the MIDI ports on my ZX Spectrum and the variety of hardware that superseded it.
What never escaped me, though, was that, twenty-plus years later, those same ports were still present on soundcards and USB adaptors. I was actually quite shocked to research and find that 30-year-old MIDI equipment would work today and modern MIDI equipment would still pretty much work the same on 30-year-old machines. That's pretty unheard of in terms of computer interfaces.
And though I have a MIDI keyboard now, and my talents still lie elsewhere for the moment, it's still the most simple, obvious, genius, and complete protocol - purely through it's simplicity and forward-thinking and not-unreasonable limits. I have recorded short snippets of MIDI in the MIDI equivalent of Wireshark and the amount of data conveyed is pretty diverse (there's a lot of timing and synchronisation info, for instance). And the reproduction has always been pretty much spot on, no matter the hardware. In fact my worst memory of MIDI was trying to load a soundfont into an old soundblaster card on a Linux machine yonks ago (back in the pre-ALSA days) and the problem wasn't the MIDI, just the stupid way the card loaded its firmware.
MIDI should be an inspiration to us all. A simple interface that can do everything, and still brings together instruments and machines that are 30 years apart without problems.
Zillions of wee little MIDI files floating around the 'net; repositories bursting at the seams with thousands each. The files are typically like 10 to 100KB sort of size, they download in a mere second. A typical PC will play them from MIDI file in to audio out (I can't recall the program, but it was dirt-common).
Some of the MIDI files are for simple and crude tunes, while others are fantastically complicated arrangements that sound like, well, music. Audio "quality" is unlimited (in a manner of speaking).
This tidbit is good for perhaps about an hour of audio entertainment if you're otherwise really, really bored on a dark and stormy night.
Since I don't have a musical bone in my body, this is the mid I remember. I remember how many crappy geocities pages attempted to embed and auto play them. Even a 100k file was painful on dailup, and mp3s were just starting to show up. Always fun when 2 windows decided to play at the same time.
General MIDI != MIDI. No, but it's part of the specs produced by the MIDI Manufacturers Association, just as the MIDI File format is. GM basically defined sensible defaults for a lot of things such as drum maps, which is quite handy - I can program drums in my sequencer triggering a Novation Drumstation, and the same unmodified patterns will also trigger an Akai S3000XL loaded with a third party sample set.
If you really want to go back in time, look no further than ASCII. It was coded about 50 years ago and in some form or another is still going strong. EIA-232 (aka RS-232) in some form or another goes back even further and for simplicity is a real deal. Somewhere in my stash is a genuine Bell 103 modem, complete with attached telephone.
So, some standards DO pass the test of time, while others are just imitators. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine which are which.
There's plenty more to say about MIDI. Remember the 90s attempt to get past the 16-channel limit by having two separate sets of MIDI ports on each device?
And also the fact that MIDI is an optical connection. True! You never realise it because you only connect the 5-pin DINs, but originally, devices were designed to feed the electrical signal into an LED on the circuit inside that was then read by a sensor, and this data was then used by the machine.
The idea being that any kind of electrical spike or some early 80s roadie idiot trying to blast an audio signal through an audio connector (which they may have mistaken the DINs for whilst spectacularly misunderstanding what MIDI actually was) would only blow the MIDI controller, and not fry the whole machine.
One of the nice things about MIDI is that it was designed for both studio and stage use, the later being prone to all kinds of abuse and dodgy wiring and feeds.
It was also NOT hot swappable, though I never damaged any device doing just that.
All hail any device whose second letter of its moniker is an 'X'. Roland smells of poo and wee.
Actually MIDI is hot swappable, is has no way of finding out if something is plugged in or not. And since the "IN" connection goes directly to the LED side of an optocoupler there is next to no danger.
The optocoupler was essential. It's not just for protecting the circuity, but also to eliminate ground loops whenever possible. Virtually all properly designed communication standards have that kind of isolation. In fact better mixers probably have high quality transformers in their inputs so there cannot be any ground loops.
I guess the main reason why MIDI became so popular is that it is to simple to implement. The only problem was that not every UART could get up to that odd frequency. It was just a tiny bit above what most UARTs could do.
Having met in person and talked to several of the people involved in designing the initial MIDI protocol I can confirm your statement in the last paragraph.
One main requirement of the protocol was that it should be really cheap and simple to fit a MIDI interface on to a synthesizer. That's why they chose the DIN connectors, and that's why they intentionally made both hardware and software simple to implement.
Before MIDI the electronic music world was bitterly divided between different electric communication standards, such as Moog's "Volt-per-Octave" CV signals and ground-loop-closing S-trig envelope triggers versus Yamaha/Korg/'s "Volt-per-Hertz" CV signals and +5V Gate triggers. MIDI was built to overcome that, by allowing just any cheap keyboard and any manufacturer to adhere to the same standard without needing to raise the price - or the complexity - of their products. It was this clever strategy that is the real reason MIDI took over the musical world, in spite of its shortcomings.
Yeah, why *does* it use that weird frequency? 31250 baud is... so very different from anything else in the serial world.
I've also heard that at only 3125 bytes per second, and about three bytes per message, that's only about 1000 messages per second, which isn't good enough for accurate triplets and chords in some situations. *shrug* Can't say it ever bothered me, though.
Nowadays when MIDI messages are transported via USB those MIDI delays are all gone.
However, I have to say I kinda liked them. When running a whole arrangement - drums, bass line and a number of samplers and synths from, say, the Creator sequencer on an Atari ST. which was the standard setup in the late 1980s, it was indeed important to think about what tracks to put on top of the list, as they were played "first" with high priority. Drums at the top, slow attack things like strings at the bottom, and the bass in between.
It was an artifact, and it could add a certain groove to songs. Just like the electric guitar distorsion initially was an unwanted side effect that became musically valuable, I think the MIDI delays and its sometimes chunky resolution are somewhat similar, albeit less acknowledged.
is that a lot of very expensive equipment was made in the days before built in self destruction of gear was commonplace. As a result there will be a lot of good MIDI equipment around for a long while yet.*
When it goes I for one shall miss the joy of a a 4K rig playing a crash chord for as long as it takes you to break the loop
I've got a 50Mhz 486, an MPU401 card, a copy of DR T's copyist and a yamaha keyboard etc from the early 90's that all still works.
And a home made MIDI recorder (of the descant variety) too but we wont go there..
Well in general, "expensive equipment" designed to earn money is still made well and lasts a lifetime. Just look at business computers or laboratory equipment. It's not uncommon for laboratories to have 20 year old pieces of equipment.
However there is a worrysome trend. There is not a single piece of equipment made in this decade still working which is older than 3 years. There is also not a single piece of equipment made in this century which is older than 13 years. I think that's something that's bothering people.
However some people confuse toys with "expensive equipment". I think MIDI and USB are perfect examples. MIDI was designed to be simple, but not particularly cheap. You need an optocoupler for it which is a $0.25 piece of hardware. USB on the other hand was designed to be dirt cheap, that's why there is no isolation and USB buses tend to reset regularly when using devices with external power supplies. USB was never meant to be more than a fancy keyboard and mouse interface. It's one of those technologies designed to be a toy, not a tool. (Still USB for connections inside of devices does have some genuine use)
"However there is a worrysome trend. There is not a single piece of equipment made in this decade still working which is older than 3 years. There is also not a single piece of equipment made in this century which is older than 13 years."
I see what you did there. It's funny. Thank you.
Since it was just an UART on some optocouplers it was actually possible, though not standard compliant, to hook up 2 computers via a pair of MIDI cables. Back in the early 1990s there was some talk of the CCC to use AX25 over MIDI to build a network. I doubt it went anywhere.
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