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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About System Exclusive (Part 12)

(But Were Too Afraid To Ask!)

PART 12: Martin Russ concludes this 12-part series designed to demystify one of MIDI's most important and useful messages.


It is just not possible to put everything you ever wanted to know about System Exclusive into a series, no matter how many parts it has! Instead I have tried to furnish you with the tools and an approach to using System Exclusive messages effectively, in the hope that you will then be able to undertake your own exploration. By way of illustration, last month's installment showed you how I approached trying to solve a typical MIDI problem. This month I will provide a few closing thoughts and something that you find at the end of very few series - a set of indexes!


Is there anything major left to talk about? Of course there is! As I write, new equipment is being released into an unsuspecting world - and if the trend of the last few years is anything to go by, it will feature increasingly complex implementations of MIDI and, more specifically, System Exclusive.

As product lines have developed, some manufacturers have taken their original System Exclusive format and extended it in a slightly random or haphazard way (Yamaha, for example), whilst others have chosen a well thought out format and stuck rigidly to it (Roland being a prime example). Other manufacturers have followed the letter of the MIDI law and mostly avoided System Exclusive (Ensoniq are one of the few manufacturers to use Parameter Numbers for editing internal parameters, while almost everyone else uses System Exclusive messages), whilst some have hi-jacked SysEx to do unusual things (Alesis's MMT8 sequencer can put Note and Controller information into SysEx packets) or even ignore MIDI protocols entirely (Akai's audio patchbay, for example).

All of these complexities serve to make some parts of System Exclusive a bit like uncharted waters; you need to be careful how you proceed. Hopefully this series has given you some useful pointers to the way you can make progress.


One of your most valuable allies in the pursuit of System Exclusive knowledge (after SOS!) is the International MIDI Association (IMA). As well as being the distribution point for the current version of the official MIDI Specification 1.0 (revision 4.1 at the time of writing) and other MIDI-related publications, the IMA also publishes a monthly Bulletin which reports on activities within the world of MIDI. Most important of all, it acts as a collation point for any feedback on MIDI, and has links to the MIDI Manufacturers' Association - which is the industry version of the IMA.

Membership of the IMA is thus strongly recommended for any budding System Exclusive explorer. Further details can be obtained from:
International MIDI Association
(Contact Details)

Unfortunately, the IMA has a policy of not accepting Credit Cards and UK cheques, so you need to send an International Money Order instead when you join or order publications from them. These can be readily obtained from any Bank or Bureau de Change.


While MIDI has been developing, it has been simple enough in the majority of cases for things to muddle along without handshaking. This next decade, however, will see the increasing use of computer industry style handshaking - checking that the dump has been received, acknowledging a parameter change, verifying the ROM version before editing, etc. Such abilities become more important as the size of MIDI networks increases, and given the way that digital technology has invaded almost the entire domestic audio and video market, integrating MIDI into a complete home or office control system is a distinct possibility.

Handshaking removes many of the potential problems which lurk in most existing MIDI systems. When you send a dump to another device, you can easily choose the wrong memory location on your MIDI patchbay and end up sending nothing, simply because the Out is not routed correctly. Unless the receiving device has some way of relaying an error message back to the transmitting device, then you could lose some data, forever! Handshaking offers a way of ensuring that what you want to happen does actually happen.


Having three cables connecting each and every piece of MIDI equipment together is fine for small MIDI systems, but it becomes increasingly unwieldy as the number of items grows. When you start to run out of MIDI channels (more than 16 pieces of equipment, for example) then those 48 tangled cables begin to look like a real liability, not to mention the problems with the amount of information you can actually squeeze into the MIDI bandwidth. If you use guitar controllers in monophonic modes, or have lots of MIDI-controllable effects units, or use multitimbral mode on your synths etc, then you could easily run out of MIDI channels well before acquiring 16 pieces of equipment.

Networks are the computing world's solution to exactly this problem of bandwidth, and although such networks need modifying in order to suit the MIDI environment, they will nevertheless begin to make an appearance in the coming years. It is likely that much of the control system for this networking will be implemented using System Exclusive messages, or even a new system employing one of the other undefined status bytes! The watch-word for the IMA seems to be that MIDI 1.0 will not be made obsolete by any future developments, and so the very flexibility and expandability mentioned at the very beginning of this series will come into its own in this application.


The very open-ended nature of System Exclusive means that most descriptions of MIDI tend to spend a brief few sentences covering a few of the possibilities, and then move rapidly on. This series has adopted the exact opposite approach - if anything, I have glossed over the ordinary day-to-day aspects of MIDI in favour of highlighting the quieter backwaters of System Exclusive. I hope that the voyage has been an interesting and useful one, and I wish you every success in your future encounters with 'the stuff between $F0 and $F7'!

Updates to the SysEx Toolkit disks will continue to be released into the SOS Software library (see pages 86-88) as and when they become available over the next few months. Eventually, I intend to produce a menu-driven program to enable hard disk or dual drive Atari ST users to access the SysEx Toolkit programs in an easier manner. I am still investigating file cataloguing programs and these will be reported on in a separate article.

Finally, I would like to thank all the manufacturers who responded to my requests for System Exclusive information - the pile of paperwork is now well over a foot high! Specific grateful thanks go to Martin Tennant and Jim Corbett of Yamaha, Alan Townsend and Chris Simpson of Roland, Roy Goudie of Emu Systems, John Hollis of Hollis Research, Chris Jordan of Hybrid Technology, and Al Hospers of Dr.T for all their outstanding help, patience, support, and co-operation.


The following is a list of the utility programs, created and coded by Martin Russ, referred to throughout this series.

Part Issue Program Version
1 Apr 89 MIDI Channel Scope V1.1
1 Apr 89 MIDI Utility V0.2
2 May 89 Sane V0.2
2 May 89 MIDI System Scope V0.5
3 Jun 89 Movie V0.9
3 Jun 89 ASCHEX V0.2
4 Jul 89 Eased V0.1
5 Aug 89 MIDI Controller V0.3
6 Sep 89 Sysex V0.1
6 Sep 89 Sysex V0.2
7 Oct 89 SXMOD V0.1
7 Oct 89 SXMOUSE V0.1
8 Nov 89 Sysex V0.3
9 Dec 89 SXCHEK V0.4
9 Dec 89 Bulk Dump Converter V1.0
10 Jan 90 Movie II V0.1
10 Jan 90 Request V0.1
11 Feb 90 OUTimer V0.1
11 Feb 90 Fast Movie V0.9F

The following programs have been collected and released on three Atari ST format disks: SysEx Toolkit 1, 2, 3. These are available from SOS Software, price £7 per disk (inc. postage). See pages 86-88 to order.

Program Toolkit Disk No.
MIDI Utility 1
Sane 1
MIDI System Scope 1
Movie 1
Fast Movie 1
Sysex 1

Eased 2
MIDI Controller 2

Bulk Dump Converter 3
Movie II 3
Request 3
OUTimer 3



Manufacturer Product Part
Lexicon MRC 2
Korg M1 2
Kawai R50 2
Roland D50 2
Korg M1 3
Yamaha FB01 3
Yamaha YS100 4
Yamaha YS200 4
Yamaha DX7 4
Korg M1 4
Cheetah MS6 4
Fairlight CMI III 5
Roland D110 5
Lexicon LXP1 5
Emu Emax 5
Yamaha DX7 6
Yamaha TX7 6
Korg M1 6
Emu Emax 7
Casio CZ101 7
Casio CZ1000 7
Casio CZ5000 7
Kawai K5 7
Yamaha DX7 8
Yamaha V50 8
Yamaha FB01 8
Yamaha DX7 9
Roland U20 9
Emu Emax 10
Yamaha DX5 10
Kawai K5 10
Yamaha SY77 10
Yamaha FB01 10
Kawai R50 11


This table lists the number of the part in which the software was first mentioned.

Program Part
Roland Microscope (MC500 II) 1
Hybrid Arts GenPatch ST 1
Hybrid Technology AMPLE 1
Apple HyperCard 2
HyperMIDI stack 2
Steinberg Pro24 III 3
Hollis Research Trackman 3
Microdeal Superconductor 3
Hollis Research MIDIman 5
Intelligent Music RealTime 5
Steinberg Cubase 5
Steinberg Satellite 5
MIDImouse Mousterpiece 5
Keynote Chameleon 10


Subject Part
MIDI basics 1
SysEx Overview 2
Single Dumps 3
Composite Dumps 4
Controllers & Editing 5
Exclusive Control 6
Wheel & Mouse Controls 7
Bit Formats & Dumps 8
File Formats 9
Handshaking 10
MIDI Troubleshooting 11
Conclusion 12


Subject Part
MIDI Byte Chart 1
MIDI Controllers 1
View/Control MIDI 1
MIDI Manufacturer IDs 2
Manipulating MIDI 2
SysEx Dumps 2
SysEx Chart (MRC) 2
Requests 3
SysEx Chart (YS100/200) 4
Byte Counts 4
Nibbles 4
Binary Notation 5
Control Change 5
Mapping 5
Positive & Negative 7
Reference Articles 8
Reference Books 8
X-Club Voice Disks 9
Calculating Checksums 9
Dangerous Edits? 10
MIDI Sample Dumps 10
Limited Resources 11
Alesis DataDisk 11
T-BASIC from Dr.T 1

Previous Article in this issue

Start of the ART

Next article in this issue

Keyboard Music

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 - Mar 1990




System Exclusive

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 (Viewing)

Feature by Martin Russ

Previous article in this issue:

> Start of the ART

Next article in this issue:

> Keyboard Music

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