A Brief Introduction to MIDI

MIDI is a form of digital audio generation and communication that has become an important player in modern audio technology and is even responsible for the development of many contemporary musical genres. The system was developed in the early 1980s and has since found a number of applications, primarily in gaming and music. Its wide efficacy lies in its simplicity and low-cost, allowing anyone to compose rich, multi-layered sounds using basic equipment. The MIDI interface has been adopted by most modern computer systems and a high-definition version is in production, which may help keep MIDI as the go-to digital audio interface.




Before digital audio technology, sound generation was developed in analog, by literally making something vibrate. In the 1930s, digital audio was used in telecommunications, but it was not adopted commercially until the 1960s. At that time, a number of different companies separately developed digital audio interfaces that were not able to communicate with each other, and so a keyboard from one system could not be played through the recorder of another system. Enter MIDI, which was unveiled in 1982 in response to the need for a single digital sound interface that would allow different instruments and hardware to communicate.

As its full name suggests, Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is a system of audio software and hardware that allows for the production and manipulation of digital sounds. As software, MIDI is a system of messages that transmits important sound information, such as note, pitch, and velocity. When this information is generated by one device, it can be interpreted, recorded, and manipulated by another device. Therefore, a person with no musical background can tell a MIDI device to play a series of notes in a certain way, and in doing so, could compose a wide variety of sounds. This can be done through the computer itself or it can be done with electronic instrument controllers, such as guitars, keyboards, drums, and even wind simulators. Because of this, MIDI has been a popular audio interface for a number of applications.

The above form of musical generation was the original MIDI application, in which instrument controllers create digital music that could be played and recorded through electronic systems. Additionally, the same sound could be composed by a computer without any instruments, by telling the system which types of notes to play and when to play them. MIDI composition then became popular in early gaming music, because it required relatively little computing power and no musical instruments. Such musical freedom allowed for incredible sound experimentation that has led to the development of many modern music genres.

MIDI is often credited in being essential to the development of modern dance music. Because it allowed multiple instruments to communicate digitally, and because musicians could cheaply produce multi-layered music in their home studios, the development of MIDI allowed for a revival of musical experimentation and production. Musicians began releasing albums that were entirely digitally composed by synthesizers and computers, and this type of music has expanded to include sub genres of techno, house, and hip-hop, among many others. In 2013, MIDI developers Ikutaro Kakehashi and Dave Smith were awarded Technical GRAMMY awards for their contribution to the music industry.

MIDI has been adopted as the go-to digital audio interface and is supported by Windows, OS X, and iOS. Although some modern platforms like Android do not support MIDI, its future may continue with the development of a high definition format with additional advantages. Despite its unknown future, MIDI has no doubt made countless contributions to digital audio and will continue to be used because of its simplicity and compatibility.

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