Mixdown Monthly Beat Magazine


With the introduction of MIDI it became possible for a solo act to reproduce the sound of a live band. A musical revolution that has educated musicians in many ways, enabling them to learn about other instruments, other styles of music, and the use of computers, introducing a brand new vocabulary.


The Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI was publicly revealed at the first North American Music Manufacturers show in Los Angeles in 1983. It came about because of a universal need for electronic instruments, including keyboards, sequencers, drum machines and computers to communicate with each other. In it's simplest form, MIDI allows you to connect and play two synthesizers by two different manufacturers simultaneously. The method of connection is a basic five-pin din type plug, or more commonly known as a MIDI cable. The information exchanged is called a MIDI message, which is a translation of your musical performance into data, or bytes. In other words, what pitch or note you played, and at what velocity, how hard or soft you played it. Did you use the modulation and pitch wheels, the sustain pedal, or apply keyboard pressure, and if so at what intensities. A MIDI message may be sent via any of the 16 assignable MIDI channels. There are many other practical applications for MIDI, such as transferring not just program change data, but patch data as system exclusive information into a computer, to store all the information that makes up your favourite patch. Although the specifications have not changed much since MIDI's initiation, current and future developments in computer hardware and software for MIDI applications make the boundaries almost infinite.


Both IBM compatibles and Macintosh computers can be MIDIed up via a piece of hardware known as a MIDI interface. Generally this device provides a MIDI in and a MIDI out port, so that information can be exchanged between computer and sound source, be it a keyboard or module. Sound can also be generated within the computer if it is fitted with an internal sound card. Sequencing software allows your computer to act as a MIDI multi-track recorder, and most current keyboards and modules are designed with 16-channel multi-timbral capabilities, which literary means that 16 separate parts can be run by a computer. With the many MIDI devices available you can perform your parts on a keyboard, guitar, or almost anything using a MIDI microphone. If programming your own songs is not for you, there are extensive collections of standard MIDI files available for you to purchase, although you will need a keyboard with GM and GS capabilities.

General MIDI or GM came about because of an other universal need to have a standard MIDI operating system, and was agreed upon by the International MIDI Association. The idea was to have a consistent method of exchanging sequence data between applications. General MIDI defines patch locations, drum maps, controllers etc. In other words, if you play a sequence which is GS/GM fitted on a Roland Sound Canvas and then on a Korg X5D it will sound relatively the same. If the piano is meant to be an acoustic piano, well that's what you'll get, because sound #1 on all GM instruments will be an acoustic piano. Of course this will mean the difference between a Roland or a Korg acoustic piano sound. The "GS Standard" is basically an enhanced Roland variation with more than double the amount of aligned sounds and many other expression features defined. A GS/GM compatible instrument is very important for sequence users, because when you finally do purchase, borrow or hire that new keyboard or module, all your sequences will be compatible. No major programming modifications will be necessary to make those songs work. The voicings will be right, you won't get a woodblock sounding instead of a metal gated snare or a Farfisa organ instead of a sampled Marshall-stack distorted guitar.


As well as the sequencing software available for both PCs and Macintoshes that allow you to record and edit your songs in the MIDI environment, there is also combined MIDI and audio software. This software includes the option for hard disk recording, with digital audio time-stretching and pitch shifting capabilities. Music notation publishing software allows your song to be printed out in musical notation, from simple lead sheets to full orchestral scores. Educational software can teach you music at all levels, from beginner to intermediate, and then right through to professional. Some of the packages include real time performances on MIDIed instruments, performing music styles such as jazz, ragtime, gospel and classical. Sound editor/librarian software provides a friendly environment for you to edit your synth patches with graphic envelope controls and faders, also allowing you to store them for instant recall at a later stage. And there's even software that turns your PC into a Karaoke machine, using standard MIDI files!


MIDI is here to stay, the nostrum of the 90s, so musicians will find it hard to ignore and avoid. There is a definite need to keep up with these technological advances that have been thrust upon us. You don't have to enlist into university to study the inherent nature or inner workings of MIDI, but as all future hardware and software development will surely take MIDI into consideration, we must all take notice in order to gain the benefits.

Sources: The Bible, Computers Music & Midi, Moore Music. Eric Lipscomb, Bitnet: Lips@Untvax. I would also like to thank the following people for supplying information: Michael Gruppetta at the Electric Factory, 188 Plenty Road, Preston VIC 3072, Tel: (61 3) 9480 5988; Mark Smith at Moore Music, 219 Napier Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065, Tel: (61 3) 9419 0344; and David Yammouni at Jets Studios, 2/24 the Concord, Bundoora VIC 3083, Tel: (61 3) 9467 7152.

If you would like to purchase a copy of the Moore Music "Bible" for $3.00, the first 20 "Bibles" sold at Allans Music will receive a free Roland CD-Rom.


'Mixdown' Monthly ~ Issue #26, June 26, 1996


All rights reserved. All text, graphics and sound files on this page are copyrighted.
Unauthorized reproduction and copying of this page is prohibited by law. Copyright © 1998 by Andrián Pertout.

Horizontal Marker

Peter Gretch, Collector: Vintage Synths

Andrián Pertout's Home Page