A Brief MIDI History and it’s Glorious Future (MIDI 2.0)

There is no rule that says things need to work together or use compatible connections in the electronic world. Apple has shown just how lucrative it can be to force their customers into emptying their pockets for the most mundane features thanks to proprietary designs. Despite all that, as more and more great musical options were hitting the shelves in the early 1980s, a couple of pioneers in the field took a chance and believed working together would not only benefit end-users, but further invigorate an already thriving industry. It worked, and it worked extremely well.

I picked up my first synthesizer in the year 2006 at age 24. Before then, I was mainly an acoustic musician looking for something new to add to my fairly simple sound palette. After plodding along on my Korg TR keyboard for a few months, I felt pretty comfortable with the term MIDI and the basics of its function. What I didn’t know, nor did I learn until a few years later, was just how lucky I was to walk into synthesis after so many intelligent, hard-working and straight up generous engineers, musicians and composers put their blood and sweat into creating a unified protocol for electronic musical devices.

In January 1984 at the National Association of Musical Merchants show (aka NAMM) Dave Smith and Chet Wood from Sequential Circuits, with the help of Tom Oberheim (Oberheim), Ikutaro Kakehashi (Roland), and many more members of the synth world, formally released the first standardized control protocol that allowed communication between several instrument brands from all over the world. Musical Instrument Digital Interface (aka MIDI) was born and promised to revolutionize the electronic music world. Over the rest of the decade, issues were addressed (ie General MIDI or GM to address sound patch variations across manufacturers), standards were raised and by the early 90’s, you would be shunned by the synth world to release a digital instrument lacking the familiar 5-pin din jack and MIDI capabilities.

In the year 2019, not only does MIDI still exist, it’s only real evolution has been the addition of USB transmission. Nearly every synth, rack effect, control surface and an increasing amount of guitar stompboxes include one if not both of these MIDI capable ports.

Despite it’s resilience, there is still much to improve. Possibly the most in need of attention is MIDI sync; the timing mechanism that allows tempo based sequencers, arpeggiators, etc… to stay in time with each other. For the past 30 plus years it has sufficed and improved making it very useable but the issue of “jitter” or small irregularities in the consistency of the sync can have dire effects on a performance or composition when a very “tight” arrangement is sought or when using sampling techniques like looper effects.

MIDI 2.0 aims to address this and much more. Here is an official statement from the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) and AMEI (the Japanese MIDI association):

The MIDI 2.0 initiative updates MIDI with auto-configuration, new DAW/web integrations, extended resolution, increased expressiveness, and tighter timing — all while maintaining a high priority on backward compatibility. This major update of MIDI paves the way for a new generation of advanced interconnected MIDI devices, while still preserving interoperability with the millions of existing MIDI 1.0 devices. One of the core goals of the MIDI 2.0 initiative is to also enhance the MIDI 1.0 feature set whenever possible.

Check out the official MIDI website for detailed information on all the improvements set forth by these brilliant engineers here – MIDI.org (MIDI 2.0)

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