To understand how it works, and why it became the universal standard for all electronic instruments, you should learn something about the history of MIDI. So hold tight and let me guide you through this journey through time.
MIDI is an acronym that stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Basically it’s a protocol that links two forms and communicate which sound to use and for how much time. The history of MIDI is It was first introduced to solve the problem of the linkage between musical instruments. The goal was to link two or more keyboards and get the sound from both of them while using only one. Since the first electronic synthesizers generated poor and basic sounds, thew were trying to add up more sounds to get a richer sound, with more complex harmonic contents. This issue was engaged in the ‘70s, but the resulting methods weren’t versatile enough to form an universal standard. Originally, the linkage was possible only between identical instruments or devices from the same manufacturer. Oberheim and Roland, for example, implemented an interfacing system in their instruments. The problem was that these interfaces were based on proprietary algorithms, so the system would be able to link instruments only from the same manufacturer.
The history of MIDI standard began when the prototype of the MIDI interface was presented in 1981 from two Sequential Circuit (SCI) designers: Dave Smith and Chet Wood. They proposed the first specifications of MIDI in a paper published with the name of “The complete SCI MIDI”. They chose the right path to follow, in fact the worldwide resonance was immediate. This event resulted in a quick and direct coalition between the most important companies of the music sector. The first digital instruments producers to participate to the defining and the spreading of the MIDI protocol were SCI, Roland, Korg, Yamaha and Kawai.
The first synthesizer ever provided with MIDI ports was the Sequential “Prophet 600”, a 6 voice 61 key synthesizer produced in 1982. At the January, 1983 NAMM convention, this instrument successfully communicated with a Roland Jupiter-6 synthesizer in the first public demonstration of the MIDI protocol. From that day, every synthesizer (and all the electronic instruments) incorporated the MIDI ports. The list of musical instruments’ manufacturers interested in MIDI grew quickly, and two committees were created: the American MMA (Midi Manufacturer Association) and the Japanese JMSC (Japanese MIDI Standard Commitee). The purpose of these two associations is to ensure compatibility between MIDI instruments and to improve their potential. MIDI’s introduction coincided with the dawn of the personal computer era and the introductions of samplers and digital synthesizers. The creative possibilities brought about by MIDI technology have been credited as having helped to revive the music industry in the 1980s. The introduction of MIDI also saw a shift from real time recording towards the integration of pre-programmed MIDI-controlled parts as major components of many recordings. This meant that there was a major shift in the ways in which many recordings were made. No longer were multitrack recordings solely the fusion of individual performances of musicians (albeit played at different times) mixed into a coherent whole. The advent of sequencing and MIDI meant that significant parts of recordings had never been ‘played’ in a traditional sense by any one individual.
In 1985 the International MIDI Association published the specifications 1.0, making it a standard. The MIDI standard was unveiled by Ikutaro Kakehashi and Dave Smith, who both later received Technical Grammy Awards in 2013 for their key roles in the development of MIDI. This specs relate to both hardware, like circuit characteristics of MIDI ports and electric levels of the signals, and software, like the types of messages, the encoding etc. From 1985 onwards many changes have been made to the original specs, but the hardware properties of MIDI ports remained unchanged so far.