MIDI: The Essential Standard Turns 30

30 years of midi
In the early 1980s, Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi and Sequential Circuits founder Dave Smith had a dream—a simple interface that would allow all electronic musical instruments to communicate with each other and with computers. To make this dream a reality, these pioneers brought together an unprecedented coalition of manufacturers from the United States and Japan, and soon the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or “MIDI,” was born. 30 years ago, the 1983 Winter NAMM Show hosted its landmark public unveiling, where Roland and Sequential Circuits demonstrated the first two MIDI-equipped synthesizers “talking” to each other via this new universal communication standard.

The immense promise of MIDI was immediately apparent, and soon dozens of devices began appearing on the market outfitted with this new interface. In the ensuing years, the capabilities of MIDI have grown along with the incredible advancements in electronics and computing, unleashing a universe of creative power that continues to influence the way artists make music three decades later. Today, nearly every type of electronic musical instrument and device incorporates MIDI in some way, and it’s an indispensable component in computer-based music composition and production, live performance, and beyond.

For their visionary efforts in the development of MIDI, Mr. Kakehashi and Mr. Smith were recently honored by The Recording Academy and the GRAMMY® Foundation with a 2013 Technical GRAMMY Award. “Each year, The Academy has the distinct privilege of honoring those who have greatly contributed to our industry and cultural heritage, and this year we have a gifted and brilliant group of honorees,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. “Their exceptional accomplishments, contributions, and artistry will continue to influence and inspire generations to come.”

“It’s already been 30 years since the debut of MIDI protocol in 1983, but it seems to me that those years have passed so quickly,” said Mr. Kakehashi. “Electronic musical instruments have become very popular all over the world through this time, and it is my great pleasure that MIDI played a significant role in their prevalence. This year’s Technical GRAMMY Award is the result of the cooperation by the companies who worked towards the same dream—growth of electronic musical instruments.”

Throughout 2013, the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA)—the group that maintains and develops the evolving MIDI specification standard—is celebrating the 30th anniversary of this essential technology. In the first of many activities planned for the year, they’ve created an entertaining and informative video that explores the past, present, and future of MIDI.