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photo of ring network topology concept
MIDI is based on ring network topology. This allows for daisy chaining MIDI devices.

MIDI and Minimoog Come of Age

What is MIDI?

photo of midi logo
MIDI logo

MIDI itself contains no sound, but is a computer language that tells sound engines what to play and how to play it. It can be thought of as "notation" for electronic instruments, or an evolution of the paper roll used with player pianos. Aside from instructions about note-on / note-off, it describes many other musical functions such as panning, volume, and pitch bend. The specification allows for 128 "continuous controller" messages to be written and transmitted. This allows for a wide range of customization addressing the vast array of sound engines available. More information about MIDI can be found on Wikipedia.

How is MIDI used?

picture of MIDI connector
A DIN connector is used to connect MIDI devices,
although modern MIDI devices also work with a USB connector.

MIDI can be utilized by hardware sequencers or software sequencers. When combined with a software sequencer, MIDI gives the artist huge power- allowing for the drawing of expression curves to be applied to any parameter defined in the MIDI specification. Composers now have the ability to "draw" their music as MIDI allows for graphical representation of all control elements. Not only does this give composers more power, but is highly useful in music education. The learners can "see" the music live as it is playing.

My Experience with MIDI

My first experience with MIDI was a program called Opcode Studio Vision. This was a deep MIDI sequencer that eventually added digital audio to its interface. From a computer, I could construct, edit, and produce full arrangements. This is what is known as a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW. Learning a program like Opcode's Vision is analogous to learning a program like Adobe Photoshop. In other words, the software is very deep and has a high learning curve in order to master all of its features. One of the saddest days for me was when Gibson bought Opcode and stopped its development: I would have to pick another DAW a relearn how to operate it. I still believe the team that first produced Opcode products has the most talented programmers in the field, Dave Zicarelli and Dave Oppenheim being prime examples. At the time Opcode went under, the Studio Vision sequencer was at the front of the pack, with arguably the best MIDI editor written to this day.
source: Wikipedia

Effects of MIDI on Popular Music

photo of new order album cover, movement
New Order is one of many popular
groups to utilize MIDI and electronic synthesis.

As MIDI technology went mainstream, music became much more "electronic." One could make the argument that MIDI was responsible for the first era of truly popular mainstream electronica- the 80s. Art of Noise, New Order, Eurythmics, Depeche Mode, Tangerine Dream, Devo, Gary Numan and many more would not sound at all like they do if it weren't for their use of MIDI in creating music.



Strict Definition of MIDI

In 1980, a group of musicians and music merchants met to standardize an interface by which new instruments could communicate control instructions with other instruments and the prevalent microcomputer. This standard was dubbed MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). A paper was authored by Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits and proposed to the Audio Engineering Society in 1981. Then, in August 1983, the MIDI Specification 1.0 was finalized.
source: Wikipedia

Classic Synthesizer: Minimoog

Robert Moog describes the Minimoog as an "analog, monophonic synthesizer" and explains how the oscillator generates sound electronically, can be controlled by the keyboard and pitch wheel, and can vary its waveform to determine harmonics. Also, he describes how filters selectively remove harmonics of a sound, and how an envelope controls sound with attack, decay, sustain, and release (ADSR).

Since MIDI only controls information and doesn't generate sound, it must be combined with a sound engine to realize sonic expression. Although a huge number of synthesizers see development during this era, the most well-known and possibly the most influential is the Mini-Moog. This device created a unique sound that is still valued in today's electronic music. The unit was invented by Bill Hemsath and Robert Moog. The compact nature and rich sound of the device helped make it hugely popular and its unique sound can be heard across many genres of music. This unit is still sought after today and has become highly collectible. Software engineers have also created "virtual instruments that strive to replicate the Moog in software.
source: Wikipedia