We put together a series of articles about the history of electronic music and MIDI. Here are links to the series.
To really understand the origins of MIDI, you need to go all the way back to before there were digitally controlled synthesizers and computers, In fact you need to go back before there was even electricity to the very first mechanical music machines.
The golden age of mechanical music machines really came in the late 19th century and early 20th century with player pianos and orchestrions. A player piano is defined as any actual acoustic piano that is played by a pneumatic or electro-me
From mechanical to digital to virtual....and back! The relationship between mechanical musical machines and MIDI gets even more intriguing with orchestrions and fairground organs.Orchestrions are mechanical musical machines that have multiple instruments in them and are designed to sound like a complete orchestra (hence the name).
Electronic musical instruments had been around in some form since the late nineteenth century. The Telharmonium and the Singing Telegraph date back to the beginnings of electricity itself while throughout the first half of the twentieth century
The word 'Synthesizer' didn't arrive on the scene until the 1950s with the RCA Synthesizer I and II, but it wasn't long before these room-sized pieces of engineering had been, themselves, 'synthesized' down into more acceptable components and 'modules' thanks to the pioneering work of visionaries like Dr. Robert Moog, Don Buchla, Harold Bode, Pete Zinovieff, and Dave Cockerell.
Visionaries including Dave Smith from Sequential Circuits, and Ikutaru Kakehashi from Roland began to worry that this lack of compatibility between manufacturers would restrict people's use of synthesizers, which would ultimately inhibit sales growth. Talk of a 'universal' digital communication system thus began circulating in 1981. Dave Smith and Chet Wood presented a paper that year at AES proposing a concept for a Universal Synthesizer Interface running at 19.2 kBaud, using regular 1/4" phone jacks.
This post was contributed by the well known film composer Jeff Rona. Jeff was the first president of the MIDI Manufacturers Association and ran the MMA from 1983 until 1992. Jeff was instrumental (pun intended) in getting MIDI started.
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 I