MIDI Timeline

Say you're sitting in a living room with a TV, a stereo system, a DVD player and dimmable lights. Now imagine that there's a way to connect all of these devices to each other, so that one action you perform on one can be programmed to trigger another action on another. You could make the lights go down when you turn up the volume on the TV or stereo. You could make the stereo switch off and the DVD play a film just by turning down the lights. The options are many. The important thing is the protocol by which these different devices communicate. That's exactly what the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) is – a protocol by which musical instruments and other devices communicate with each other. Nowadays, MIDI is omnipresent. MIDI capabilities are built into just about every new piece of musical hardware and software. So where did MIDI come from?

Produced by Deborah Svoboda/KQED

Electronic Musical Instruments Pre-MIDI

In the beginning, every single electronic musical instrument and device had its own individual method of being controlled.

Easy to use

With MIDI, all sorts of musical instruments could be connected directly to a personal computer for the first time. Among its list of possibilities, MIDI can be used to sequence, sample and compose. You could play notes on a keyboard, and via MIDI your computer could transcribe those notes into sheet music.

The Power of the '80s!

Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer (think Herbie Hancock), announced publicly in Keyboard magazine that Dave Smith and Chet Wood were developing an amazing innovation: MIDI, an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface.

MIDI is Born

The MIDI debuts at the National Association of Musical Merchants show.

Initial Hiccups With MIDI

The initial MIDI had some technical problems, one being sound conversion, "often a piano sound on one manufacturers device might be a trombone on others.”

Added Capabilities

The release of the General MIDI 2 (GM2) increased the number of sounds and the amount of control over editing and musical performance. GM2 is also the basis for mobile applications that use MIDI.

Music Controls Light

Among its many uses, MIDI’s notes-to-lights ability basically makes lighting into an audio effect. Have you ever been to a concert, and wondered how they get the lights to flash or rotate in time with the music? That’s most likely thanks to MIDI.

MIDI Pants?

MIDI users have created myriad unique ways to use the protocol. Some have used everything from pennies, laser beams, robotic arms, pants and even a heartbeat to control sound.

Grammy Award

Not only has the creation of MIDI changed the course of musical history, its very first version has persisted for three decades -- something unheard of when it comes to the speed of technological change. Thirty years after its invention, the “father of MIDI,” Dave Smith receives the Technical Grammy Award at the 55th Annual Grammy Award Ceremony, in Los Angeles. Roland founder and engineer Ikutaro Kakehashi, is also awarded the Technical Grammy for his role in the development of the MIDI.

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