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What Is This MIDI Thing?

Mr. Ian Truss asks that most profound of questions: What is MIDI?

Dear SOS. For some time now, I've noticed that a rather puzzling word has cropped up repeatedly in the conversations of my children and their friends. Like any concerned parent, I have always strived to be aware of the interests of my family, and so I have been doing some research in order to try and discover exactly what they are talking about. The word in question is 'midi' (MIDI, actually, but for once I'll put up with a non-standard spelling — Ed).

My first thought was to turn to my trusty dictionary, which I picked up at a petrol station a few years ago when they ran out of smoked glass cereal bowls — this proved to be virtually a dead end. It defined 'midi' in two ways: it was either something which was mid-way in size between small and large, or it was the French word for midday. Neither of these seemed to have the right sort of contextual feel, so I proceeded to my local main library and had a close look in the Encyclopaedia Galactica. This seemed like a much warmer trail — it had several entries under midi, so noting them down in my notebook, I set about following up the leads.

The first definition was much the same as the dictionary's. It gave the same vague value judgement about midi lying somewhere between small and large, but more importantly, it gave some examples. Skirt lengths, for example, apparently go up and down in cycles between the shortest possible length which still preserves one's modesty, known as a mini, and the greatest possible length consistent with easy movement, known as a maxi. The midi length apparently occupies the middle ground somewhere around the knee.

All this fashion talk about skirt lengths seemed to be rather at odds with the current fascination that my kids have with re-using sportswear for casual use. Skin-tight, brightly coloured Lycra cycling gear seems to be more a subject for conversation than the height of a hem above the ground.

As with all encyclopaedias, the Galactica seemed to be slightly out of date, although the references to the mini-skirts of the 60s did seem to have come full circle. The supplement to the main part of the encyclopaedia had some more up-to-date information on the advantages and widespread consumer acceptance and popularity of midi hi-fi systems in the form of midi stacks. From the text and the photographs, a man named Dixon has apparently made a major study of all the available models, although he does seem to be obsessed with disposing of his collection at remarkably low prices.

At the back of the supplement was the stop press section, where last minute information received only a few years before publication was kept. This had a fascinating discussion about the sizing, cotton bleaching, sex-differentiation and absorbency testing of disposable nappies — and one of the sizes is called midi. I really can't see my offspring being quite ready to contemplate procreation at the moment, so this didn't seem to be the answer.

Following up the idea that perhaps the French connection might hold the answer, I spent a confused couple of days trying to figure out what midday or the South of France could have to do with the frequent references I had overheard in the teenagers' conversations.

Next I tried to place the word 'midi' in context, so I listened for the words with which it was often closely associated. This route quickly bore more fruit than the previous academic searches, and I returned to the Galactica armed with new phrases to dissect.

'Midi socket' had been mentioned quite frequently — going by previous definitions, we can assume that it is midway between a small socket and a large one, but a socket for what? Closely associated with 'socket' is the phrase: '5- pin din'. Now I know what a pin is, mainly because I can never get all of them out of shirts before I wear them, and a din is exactly what my progeny and their associates are very god at making, but this does not really help me in my quest for the real answer.

'Midi leads' was another recurring phrase — exactly what does midi lead to? Does it lead to drugs, pregnancy, bankruptcy or some other horror? Perhaps it is a geographical reference — but why Leeds? Has the city been invaded by vast hordes of midis on horseback, waving bows and arrows in the air? Is it some sort of value measure for the size of the city, and if so, why not maxi London, or mini Scunthorpe? A visit to the optician provided no help in finding out what 'midi specs' were, although he did offer to test my eyesight for a very reasonable fee.

It would seem that midis come in several forms, since I definitely heard mention of a 'midi standard', whatever that is. Is there some way of defining something in a standard way when it is itself defined as part-way between small and large? This doesn't really seem to make sense. Whatever type of midi is used, it seems to be part of a larger system — I heard about putting a midi in, as well as taking a midi out. There was also comment about putting midi through something. I imagined an item of clothing which can be put through a washing machine.

Having decided tentatively that a midi was a medium sized item of clothing with built-in spectacles, a socket of some form (for a Walkman perhaps?) which incorporates some sort of lavatorial function and is worn by people in Yorkshire, I was flabbergasted to hear about 'midi bites'! Is a midi some sort of animal? An insect perhaps — but then it would have to inflict medium sized bites, so perhaps it is an obscure breed of dog or cat. The final straw came when I heard about 'midi messages' — does this have anything to do with carrier pigeons (do they bite?), or is it some clever and convoluted way of referring to French letters? Either way I am very confused.

My own search having drawn a more or less complete blank, perhaps you would be kind enough to inform me about exactly what a midi is, if it is dangerous, if the bites need medical attention, whereabouts you can find them, what sort of optician stocks them, and so on. I would be eternally grateful if you could put me in the picture, because at the moment I have no idea what sort of strange object I am dealing with.

Yours sincerely,
Mr. Ian Truss

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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Apr 1991

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Opinion by Ian Truss

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