The following is excerpted from an interview with MMA President Tom White for MusikkPraxis, a Norwegian Music
>>>There were a lot of expectations related to MIDI in the early eighties. Would you say that these expectations have been fulfilled? Was MIDI the "penicillin" the Music Industry needed to get well?
- MIDI has been an extremely successful technology. It has been applied far beyond the original concept of connecting keyboards, to connect computers, tape recorders, lighting, and even the rides and events at major theme parks and attractions around the world.
>>>What are the inherent problems with MIDI today? Certain things that should have been done differently when the specification was written in 1983.
- I think the music industry has done a fine job of keeping MIDI up to date with the consumer's requirements. The most obvious limitations (such as the number of instruments one can control and the lack of device identification) have already been surmounted by innovative products from industry leaders. The challenges that lay ahead are primarily in the shift from using MIDI solely as a production tool, to using MIDI as a delivery medium. This changes the requirements substantially, but we are already addressing that, first with General MIDI and now with new protocols such as the upcoming Downloadable Samples Specification.
>>>When you think of how much computer and data-technology in general have changed the last 10 years, isn't it a paradox that we are still using a signal protocol from the early eighties? Are we using "old tech"?
- Technology tends to progress according to the demands of the market. With computers, the graphical user interface drove the technology for many years, only recently to be replaced by demand for streaming audio and video data. The technology for representing musical performances (MIDI) is not so complex and does not require more processing power than currently exists. Where we will see changes in MIDI is where MIDI is used to control audio and video data in systems that are more powerful than is needed solely for MIDI.
>>>Do you agree with statements suggesting that MIDI is in a "Catch 22" situation ... the need to evolve into a more advanced language on one hand, and the need for backward compatibility on the other? Is the fact that certain MIDI-fundamentals (speed, wordlength) always have to be the same in the future frustrating to MIDI-programmers and developers in the industry?
- MIDI is not currently limiting the market from producing products that consumers want. As consumer's interests change, there will be opportunities to move MIDI in those directions. For example, we believe that the combination of a computer, a digital video camera, a multitrack digital mixer, and a MIDI-based digital audio playback engine, will create many new opportunities for professional and amateur musicians. To connect those devices will require substantially more than a MIDI network, something more like FireWire (IEE1394) , and that is why we are looking at how to move MIDI data over FireWire and similar technologies.
>>>What changes to the MIDI specification are taking place now? Is it true that the GM-spec is likely to change soon? Is MIDI 2.0 ever going be a reality?
- We have many working groups in the MMA and our affiliate IA-SIG (Interactive Audio Special Interest Group) studying the need for changes to the MIDI spec. The area of most importance to the market is clearly computer-based delivery, whether for games or for music education and other applications. The results from these groups will be published either as recommendations for developers or as actual additions to the MIDI Specification.
The Downloadable Samples Specification will be an enhancement which actually resolves some of the problems of General MIDI for game developers, but there are also plans to improve upon General MIDI, based on input from composers and content developers.
>>>MIDI has been around for over 10 years. Do you think MIDI will change a lot in the next 10 years?
- We have called the technology "MIDI 1.0" since 1985, but we have added so much to it in the past 10 years that it is hardly the same. The key is that any MIDI product made prior to today should still work, and we think that will still be a good idea for many years. MIDI will keep up with consumer demand, and if that means dramatic changes than those changes will occur.
I believe that the long term trend will be away from "MIDI" meaning a "synthesizer" and more towards MIDI as the standard protocol for controlling music and audio playback. I expect to see products which merge the capabilities of wavetable synthesizers with those of multitrack digital audio workstations, and these products could change the way music is produced and delivered in many markets. If so, MIDI will change to meet those needs.
>>>Are there new future applications for MIDI? Other areas where MIDI can play an important role? (Hypothetical as well as real ones would be great) The future of MIDI, how does it look?
- Looking only a short distance ahead, we can imagine that one of the most useful applications of MIDI will be in learning music. For example, an elementary school music student today is given an instrument and some sheet music and told to go home and practice. Unfortunately there is no one at home to correct the student's timing, pitch, or expression. So the student's progress at home is dependent solely on his/her ability to remember what the piece is supposed to sound like, and to know how to make the necessary adjustments in playing technique -- which is very unlikely unless the student has exceptional talent.
But with MIDI and computer technology, it is possible to provide the student with a CD (or other media) of the actual music (solo or ensemble), and to connect a MIDI input device to the student's instrument which can analyze the students performance and give both immediate and summary feedback. Through MIDI, it is possible to inform the student when he/she plays too fast or slow, too loud or soft, or if the timing is incorrect. This feedback -- presented in a fun and rewarding manner -- is exactly what is needed to overcome the emotional and physical hurdles in learning to play an instrument.
Similarly, it has been proven that piano lessons are much more rewarding when played with musical accompaniment via MIDI. The combination of improved training capabilities and better sound on performance could markedly increase the number of music makers in the world, which would be a very positive thing. I think that equates to a great outlook for MIDI.