Understanding The MIDI Interface
MIDI is the industry standard for enabling musical devices to connect to computers and synthesizers. MIDI itself is an acronym for “Musical Instrument Digital Interface.” The name is salient—the interface provides a uniform method of connecting all sorts of instruments, such as digital keyboards, drum sets, and even organs to computers, synthesizers and other digital products.
Advent of the MIDI Interface
MIDI arose to fill the need for an industry standard for synthesizer interfaces for computers and other synth instruments. During the advent of synthesizers, each company used its own proprietary protocols, making it costly and complex for musicians to purchase and use hardware and synthesizers. MIDI standardized these interfaces, allowing for more modularity and a boom in synthesized instruments and controllers.
MIDI interfaces revolutionized the music industry. Because MIDI quickly became ubiquitous, it allowed instrument companies to produce new products replacing the old analog equivalents. One notable change for the better was in the performance capabilities of keyboards. Before MIDI, keyboardists were often hidden behind a wall of analog synthesizers with multiple keyboards controlling each. Now, with the new standard and the capability of digitization, they were enabled to have one keyboard controlling all the synthesizers. This drastically simplified their jobs, and allowed for further musical innovation.
Physical Aspects of the Interface
MIDI interfaces are very simple in implementation. They use a DIN 5/180Вє connector, which is a grouping of 5 circular pins in an outer ring of metal. The sound is conveyed by electrical signals along the various pins. The various keys are signified by different voltages and frequencies. The exact details can be found in the MIDI specifications.
Most setups include a controller and a receiver (or receivers). Typically, the controller is a digital keyboard, while the receiver can range from computers (for recording and production) to various types of synthesizers (for performance). These receivers translate the electrical signals to their various pitches, volumes, and duration of the sounds. Most of the time, the actual controller does not define the sound, but allows the receiver to control the actual type of sound. That allows a single controller to connect to synthesizers playing everything from a drum-set, a grand piano, or even a kazoo.
Why use MIDI?
First, it is the industry standard. Nearly all keyboards have at least one MIDI connector. Most synthesizers work with the standard. Musicians who invest in MIDI instruments and controllers are amply rewarded with a plethora of software and performance options.
Second, it allows for cheap, high-quality music production. MIDI recordings, for example, can be tracked in real time, just like an analog recording, but edited later by applying different sounds, shifting the pitch and timing of individual notes and applying effects in the studio.
The MIDI interface is a success because it filled an obvious need and quickly gained prominence as the standard for stellar digital music transport. While other interfaces, such as the USB interface, have challenged its reign, MIDI has stood the test of time, and thirty years later can still be called King of Musical Interfaces.