Enter the MIDI!
Leading manufacturers of musical instruments have been aware for some time of the growing problem of interfacing between instruments of different makes. From the outset of the voltage controlled synthesiser, each make took on its own standard for control voltages and trigger levels, until it soon became apparent that 1 volt per octave was the preferred CV controller for oscillators, with 5-15 volt positive-going triggers more the norm.
Of course, these were mainly for analogue monophonic or modular systems and the polyphonic machine was a different kettle of fish altogether. Polyphonic instruments that were truly polyphonic in operation relied on digital scanning of the keyboard to pick up the notes played. With the developing technology putting a micro as the controller in later and current polyphonies, the chances of linking up synthesisers appeared to be slim. One or two instruments appeared with sockets (quite a few not even connected!) that were destined to communicate with other things, but most of the connectors were dedicated multiway types with limited user-friendly information available to enable you to make real use of them — unless you purchased a specific ready-made item (like Roland's MC4 for the Jupiter 8 or Juno 60).
Over two years ago, some perceptive manufacturing chiefs got together, including Tom Oberheim, Dave Smith (SCI) and Ikutaro Kakehashi (Roland), and began to formulate some kind of solution to the problem.
In Autumn 1981 Dave Smith outlined his proposals for a Universal Synthesiser Interface (USI) and discussions amongst manufacturers raised questions about the suitability of a high speed serial instead of parallel interface.
At a recent conference in January 1982 at the NAMM convention in Anaheim, representatives attended from SCI, Roland, Oberheim, CBS/Rhodes, Yamaha, E-mu, Unicord (Korg), Music Technology Inc, Kawai, Octave Plateau, Passport Designs, and Syntauri.
Some Japanese companies also presented results of their own research and soon afterwards the first MIDI specification was drawn up by SCI's Dave Smith and Chet Wood. It appears that SCI and Roland made a significant contribution to its realisation, with Roland acting as liaison with Yamaha, Korg and Kawai.
And now SCI have brought out the first commercially available instrument with the MIDI interface. MIDI should open up the scope of music making and increase the useful life of your next synthesiser enormously — whether mono or polyphonic.
Editorial by Mike Beecher
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