Get Connected Pt2 - MIDI, its history and implementation.

Picture the scene: it's the 1970s and you're a keyboard player working live or in the studio. You need a breadth of sounds at your fingertips from string sounds to pianos to fat leads and everything in-between.

At the time, your only option would have been to carry around a different keyboard for every different sound you needed, and then you'd have needed a separate audio mixer to mix the signals together.

Whilst those enormous stage rigs of the likes of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman looked and sounded amazing, nobody would call them practical. There had to be a better way....

Rick Wakeman on stage in the 1970s with a plethora of keyboards

Rick Wakeman on stage in the 1970s with a plethora of keyboards

In 1981 Dave Smith, regarded as the 'Father of MIDI', set out to create a universal interface and communications protocol, so that any keyboard from any manufacturer would be able to 'talk' to each other.

After collaborating with Tom Oberheim (yes that Oberheim) and Roland's Ikutaro Kakehashi, they founded a system called Musical Instrument Digital Interface - MIDI.

MIDI was launched at the 1983 Winter NAMM where a Sequential Circuits Prophet 600 was successfully demonstrated connected to a Roland Jupiter-6.

One of the very first MIDI equipped keyboards - the Roland Jupiter 6

One of the very first MIDI equipped keyboards - the Roland Jupiter 6

The introduction of MIDI transformed the music technology world forever. Now, not only could one keyboard control another keyboard, it meant that many other functions could be controlled as well, such as volume, patch change, filter cutoff etc. Virtually any function could be controlled over MIDI.

A keyboard player could now carry around just one master controller keyboard, and use it to control a number of sound modules. This allowed keyboard players to massively reduce the size and complexity of their keyboard rigs.

In 1985 Atari Launched their ST series of personal computers, which incorporated a MIDI interface as standard. Now, for a fraction of the price of systems such as the Fairlight CMI, home musicians as well as studio musicians could compose entire pieces of music using a MIDI sequencer, by themselves, in their own time.

MIDI was a musical revolution and was, arguably, fundamental in shaping the sound of music we hear today.

The iConnectivity mio10 MIDI interface allows for 10 MIDI DINinstruments to be connected via its front and rear panels, plsu more via USB & Ethernet.

The iConnectivity mio10 MIDI interface allows for 10 MIDI DINinstruments to be connected via its front and rear panels, plsu more via USB & Ethernet.

So, what exactly is MIDI then? What does a MIDI connector look like, and how does one go about using it? The original specification for MIDI specified a 5-pin connector called a DIN connector. DIN is an abbreviation of Deutsches Institut für Normung which roughly translates as German Institute for Standardisation.

The DIN connector was a ubiquitous connector used at the time of MIDI's introduction. Look around the back of an old piece of Hi-Fi equipment and you might see a DIN connector. That doesn't mean it carries MIDI though - DIN was first used as an analogue interconnect between pieces of Hi-FI

MIDI doesn't carry any audio whatsoever, it is purely a digital data stream which carries command messages from one MIDI device to another. MIDI encompasses many different standardised command types, allowing any piece of MIDI equipment to 'talk' to one another.

Increasingly, MIDI connections can be made over USB, a subject we shall cover in our next instalment of 'Get Connected'

Every interface we make at iConnectivity incorporates at least one MIDI DIN port: from the humble mio, through to our premium iCA4+ audio interface, all the way up to our flagship mio10 which allows 10 DIN equipped MIDI instruments to be connected simultaneously.

Bob Malkowski