MIDI - The essential Techno connector
MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. This computerized musical language was born in the early 1980s as an industry-standard designed exclusively for musicians. Predecessors could not send the amounts of information that MIDI could, resulting in, “lifeless” sound. And previous systems were far from universal in all synths, both in cable connection and internally within the machines themselves.
In 1981, the president of Sequential Circuits Dave Smith put his head together with Chet Wood to write a paper proposing the “Universal Synthesizer Interface,” The idea of this USI was first presented at the Audio Engineering Society on October 1, 1981. This groundbreaking document was the initial blueprint for what would become MIDI a couple of years later.
After 1983, all keyboards now had MIDI connectors on their rear panels. Keyboards could be plugged into and run through each other, no matter who the manufacturer was. Now, all these rich, complex layers of sound could also be controlled through one central keyboard—no more playing racks of keyboards like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Electronic musical creativity had been streamlined.
To an extent,this new connection technology simplified the jungle of patch cables found in cumbersome early synthesizer setups. It also enabled the synth musician to play more than just one note at a time. MIDI allowed musicians to control and access multiple keyboards through one central keyboard using elegant, 5-pin cords. This new technology gave rise to one-man synth symphonies.
The real universal language.
Of course, being a digital language, it was only natural to put a computer in the middle of all these rich layers of sound to act as a control center. Applications were created so the computer could record and interpret the information carried through the MIDI connections. Although no actual audio is recorded with MIDI, the information for notes, presents, velocities of struck notes, and duration of notes from multiple synthesizers were working together and stored using the digital language.
Each MIDI link can carry up to 16 channels of information, thus potentially controlling 16 different instruments. DJs and producers could control a whole band or orchestra through one console.
Over time, the MIDI protocol was expanded so any control on any device (not just keyboards), could be controlled by a computer. The MIDI connection was no longer handcuffed to synthesizers. Audio processing equipment, turntables, mixers, even light rigs can be controlled through MIDI.
MIDI also revolutionized studio music production. Over 90% of today’s pop music is MIDI-based compositions. MIDI made a musical instrument out of your computer. And it turned your computer into a music studio.
MIDI vs USB
In 1996, USB was developed as a connection standard for personal computers. You could connect your mouse through USB, but also hard drives, and even power sources. Nowadays, hooking up your synthesizer to a computer is super easy. Just connect through your USB port, and that’s it. Eventually, USB technology slowly fazed out the pin-based methods of information transference, such as serial ports and parallel ports. But the pins of MIDI stayed around.
The USB workflow is still mostly restricted to a computer as your control hub. You cannot connect a USB straight to a USB, for instance. USB connections don’t really help if you want to sync to drum machines for a live setup, or connect to older synths, or even just to control a synth from another synth. For these situations, utilizing the old, reliable MIDI connections is still necessary.
And throughout USB’s ever-evolving plug size, MIDI’s five-pin connection standard stays basically the same. This creates reliability for electronic musicians that no other digital interface has yet to replicate.
MIDI is the official language of music in the digital age. It revolutionized live performances and made complicated electronic music masterpieces possible to be produced through a personal computer. Not just Techno, but the entire world of music owes a debt of gratitude to the digital music language called MIDI. What would the electronic music scene be without those five pins?