Historical Early MIDI Documents Uncovered


MIDI 1.0 Specification From August, 1983 Uncovered at Yamaha US offices in April, 2018. 


Recently we uncovered some unique historical MIDI documents.  These were discovered in a file cabinet at Yamaha Corporation of America's headquarters in Buena Park, California.  These documents pre-date the formation of the MIDI Manufacturers Association and give us a truly remarkable look into the the early development of MIDI. There were three key documents. The first is a very early version of the MIDI 1.0 specification from August 1983. We also uncovered two issues of the IMA bulletin- one from June 1985 and another from June 1987. 

The early MIDI 1.0 specification is a very short 14 page document.  Compare this to the 58 page MIDI 1.0 specification document published in 1995 which also included 7 pages of Appendixes pages and 13 pages of Tables.  

The copyright of this early MIDI 1.0 specification is assigned to the International MIDI Association based in Sun Valley. 

 Today we often think that MIDI was shown at the 1983 Winter NAMM when Dave Smith's Sequential Circuits Prophet 600 was connected to Ikutaro Kakehashi's Roland Jupiter 6 and everything went smoothly after that until MIDI became the ubiquitous standard that it is to this very day.  The real story is a good deal more complicated. Dave Smith and Ikutaro Kakehashi had gone ahead and implemented MIDI, but even Dave Smith seemed surprised that the public demo went so smoothly.  The MIDI "specification" was not well documented and there were large gaps in the information on how to develop products that would be truly interoperable. 

The MIDI specification first saw the light of day at the 1981 AES, when Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits presented a paper on the "Universal Synthesizer Interface." It was co-developed with other companies (an effort driven principally by Roland's Ikutaro Kakehashi, a true visionary of this industry), and made its prime time debut at the 1983 Los Angeles NAMM show, where a Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 talked to a Roland keyboard over a small, 5-pin cable. I saw Dave Smith walking around the show and asked him about it. "It worked!" he said, clearly elated—but I think I detected some surprise in there as well.

by Craig Anderton for Harmony Central

This document clearly shows that even in August of 1983 the MIDI specification was still in flux and had not been fully flushed out. For example, Continuous Controllers 64-95 are defined simply as Switches (On/Off).  

This also shows that at this stage, there was clearly a desire for 14 bit resolution of continuous controllers in MIDI 1.0.

Here is a list of the orginal 14 companies that were involved with MIDI at the time.  Notice that both Big Briar (Bob Moog's company after he left Moog) and Moog Music (owned at the time by Norlin which also owned Gibson at that time) are listed.  Many people underestimate Bob Moog's role in MIDI gaining acceptance. 

 This version of the MIDI spec also featured a MIDI logo that was never used in later official specifications from the MIDI Manufacturers Association.  

The second IMA News Bulletin published in June of 1985 and announced a variety of new MIDI products including the Simmons SDS-9 electronic drum kit.

The same issue announced the first meeting of the MIDI Manufacturers Association at the upcoming New Orleans Summer NAMM show on June 24, 1985. What's most interesting about this announcement is that announces a "new MIDI 1.0 specification" that was authored by the Japan MIDI Standards Committee and translated from Japanese by the MMA, and the creation of the standardized MIDI implementation chart. This is a full two years AFTER the initial public demo in January of 1983. 

The new "detailed" MIDI specification was created to solve problems that companies had understanding the initial specification. The original MIDI 1.0 Specification was written by companies collaborating outside of any organization, and though JMSC, MMA, and IMA all formed to help manage the development of MIDI, they all formed independently, and it took a few years before they all figured out how to move forward in "unison".

The International MIDI Association ("IMA") (a.k.a. "MUG or MIDI Users Group" and "IMUG" International MIDI User Group), was the first to form. It was a self-appointed organization to manage the development and promotion of MIDI. IMA intended to be the forum for both users and manufacturers, but manufacturers rejected the idea, which is why the JMSC and the MMA were formed. The IMA MIDI Spec document dated August 5 1983 is the one that was registered with the United States Copyright Office by the IMA as the official MIDI 1.0 Specification. IMA got the initial spec from Sequential, who had also been distributing prior versions of the spec.

The Japanese companies who were building MIDI products at that time realized when they started implementing the MIDI initial 1.0 Spec that more detail was needed, and took on the task of producing an addendum document around June of 1983. They formed the JMSC, which officially launched in Nov 1983. Originally JMSC included end-users, but they abandoned that idea within the 1st year. By June of 1984 they informed the IMA that they were working on a "detailed explanation" which they would share when it was completed. They also recommended "US and European" manufacturers have their own association, separate from end-users.

The decision to form the MMA was made by Roland US, Yamaha US, Sequential, and Oberheim, and a meeting "of all interested companies" was held at the June 1984 NAMM show in Chicago. The MMA's legal documents (articles of incorporation and bylaws) did not get completed and filed until the following year, but the association's organizers used the name "MMA" starting from June 1984. At the February 1985 Winter NAMM Show the organizers of MMA (now about 14 companies in total) met and declared one of MMA's goals to be to "prepare and release an official and complete documentation to the MIDI 1.0 Specification, including the specification, detailed explanations, and a guide to creating implementation charts". They also decided the policies and procedures for membership, and began subscribing new members. (The IMA Bulletin refers to June 1985 as the "first MMA meeting" because that is how the meeting was announced by MMA to prospective MMA members.)

The "detailed explanation" they refer to is the work that JMSC had created. At that same meeting Chris Meyer was appointed Chairman of the MMA "Technical Standards Board", and one of the TSB's tasks was to work with JMSC to finish the "1.0 Explanations". The document received input from both JMSC and MMA members, although it was written in Japanese by JMSC, which is why it needed to be translated. After that experience, it was agreed that all future specifications (including updates) would be authored in English, so they could be more easily shared during development.  It is pretty hard to follow all the three letter acronyms and the time line so here isa simpifed version. 

  • ​Winter NAMM January 1983- First Public demonstration of MIDI- Prophet 600 is connected to Roland Jupiter 6
  • Early 1983- International MIDI Association (MIDI Users Group) formed, initial MIDI specification available from IMA ( and Sequential Circuits)
  • June 1983- Japan MIDI Standard Committee (JMSC)  formed 
  • June 1983- JMSC starts creating the detailed addendum to the MIDI 1.0 specification and consulting with American manufacturers
  • Early June 1984- JMSC informs IMA that there are problems with the spec and recommends that there should be a manufacturer organization to standardize MIDI
  • September 1984- JMSC Addendum in Japanese sent to the MMA for translation
  • February 1985 NAMM show- First meeting of the MMA with Roland US, Yamaha US, Sequential, and Oberheim, and a meeting "of all interested companies"
  • June 1985 - Second meeting fo the MMA and the The MIDI 1.0 Detailed Specification" (Addendum) published

It's also interesting to note that the International MIDI Association had three different types of membership,  A membership for Manufacturers, Software Developers, or Distributors of MIDI products, an educator/ retailer membership, and an end user/technician membership.  There are several books which detail the split between the IMA which wanted to have more input to the development of the MIDI specs from end users and the MMA which was more focused on manufacturers.  

The following is an excerpt from an article in the April 1984 edition of the magazine Infoworld.  Roger Clay the executive director of the IMA is quoted in the article. 

This is also the first time that we have every seen a mention of Timothy Leary as a supporter of MIDI.  Maybe it is not so surprising given this quote from Wikipedia. 

During his last decade, Leary proclaimed that the "PC is the LSD of the 1990s"

by Wikipedia

In his book "Any Sound You Can Imagine - Making Music/Consuming Technology" (Wesleyan University Press, Jun 23, 1997), Paul Théberge documents the conflict between the open source philosophy of the IMA and the desire of manufacturers to have more control over the MIDI Specification. 

The tensions between the IMA and the MMA were also well documented in an article by Gareth Loy in the Winter 1985 Computer Music Journal. 

Musicians Make a Standard: The MIDI Phenomenon Author(s): Gareth Loy Source: Computer Music Journal, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Winter, 1985), pp. 8-26 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3679619 .

He describes what happened at an IMA run MIDISOFT 84 event in San Francisco. 

The International MIDI Association eventually closed its doors and there was no place of MIDI end users to congregate and discuss MIDI until The MIDI Association was born in 2016.  Or was there?  In researching this article, we came across this site. 

It is an article in Music Technology magazine from February 1991. It describes an attempt to form a UK MIDI Association.


It seems that there has always been a need for the people who work, play and create with MIDI to have a way stay in touch with the MIDI companies who push the specifications forward.  We encourage our MIDI Association members to express their opinions about where MIDI should go in the future.

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