The MIDI Revolution
This truly has been a revolution of music power and access to it. It began
in the early 1980's, as small computer chips were finding their way into synthesizers.
Several forward looking manufacturers of real vision had the brilliant idea
to establish a standard for communication between devices. This became the
first MIDI protocol. The MIDI standard has been expanding and improving since
then and just about every electronic musical device made today comes with
MIDI plugs and some kind of implementation.
The first "sequencers" in the 1970's were analog. They were initially designed
to playback a pattern that you "stepped" in one note at a time and had a control
to set the speed of the playback. They had a very limited pattern memory and
there was no standard way to lock any other device to them. MIDI sequencers
changed all that.
Hardware MIDI sequencers began to appear in the early 1980's. They were
cheap and easy to use. The Roland MC-500 and Yamaha QX series were very popular
early models. As personal computers became cheaper and more widely available,
"software" sequencers began to appear. Dr.T for the Commodore C-64 was an
early pioneer. Soon the Apple MacIntosh and Atari 1040 ST came on the scene
and names like "Performer", "Notator", "MasterTracks", "Vision" and "Cubase"
became widely known software titles.
Software based sequencers are versatile, powerful devices which have several
advantages over their hardware cousins. Easy updates through software, a much
larger monitor screen to view information on and more intensive editing capabilities
are just a few. The range of options and features is vast. A recent innovation
is the incorporating of digital recording into the sequencing program itself.
Confusion about Midi Clock and Midi Time Code (MTC) is very common. MTC
and Midi Clock are related but actually intended for different purposes. Midi
clock came first and its principle role is to tell listening midi devices
what the tempo is(primarily sequencers and drum machines). Midi Song Pointer
came next and it tells other midi devices where bar 1 is, where bar 2 is,
etc. As you can imagine, a high degree of accuracy (we're talking milliseconds
here) is needed for consistent control and lockup between video decks, audio
machines and midi equipment running together. Midi Time Code(MTC) was developed
to give midi devices an absolute reference point, much finer than bars or
beats. Midi machine control(MMC) allows the sequencer to chase the audio recorder
OR for the audio recorder to chase the sequencer! Midi Machine Control uses
MTC to keep things locked up to a very tight degree of resolution.
Most newer programs and MIDI devices support MTC and MMC. JL Cooper makes
several different boxes for communicating across formats. I use their DataMaster
to read SMPTE off my 1/2" 16-track and convert that to "ADAT speak" to lock
my ADAT to the 16-track. The DataMaster also supports MTC and MMC, but my
sequencer doesn't. That's okay, I'll keep my Notator and Atari 1040-ST for
Synthesizers have changed dramatically since computer chips began showing
up in their circuitry in the early 1980's. Before that, they were rather cumbersome
machines given to tuning instability, usually two voices at best and had to
be reprogrammed manually for each new sound. The famous mini-moog and Arp
synthesizers were popular models in the 1970's.
The first truly polyphonic modern synthesizer with patch memory was the
Sequential Circuits "Prophet 5" which debuted in 1980. It had analog osciltors
and their usual tuning problems but it's patch memory and programming versatility
revolutionized the industry and the use of synthesizers for live performance.
For the first time, keyboard players could change sounds with the touch of
Digital oscilators soon followed and all variations of synthesis techniques
were exploited in one form or another. The "polyphony", or how many simultaneous
voices could be produced by these units, also began to increase. The MIDI
protocol allowed you to have a different sound on each of 16 MIDI channels
limited only by the capabilities of your MIDI synthesizer. The Yamaha FB-01
was one of the earliest synth "modules" to take advantage of this MIDI feature.
The Yamaha DX-7 became the most popular digital keyboard of the mid-1980's.
Roland also produced many popular keyboards in it's Jupiter and Juno series.
Korg introduced onboard effects with it's DW-6000 and DW-8000 synths. Korg
hit another homerun with the M-1 synthesizer, introduced around 1990. One
of the first "workstation" designs, it combined sampling technology and synthesis
to produce breakthrough sonics along with an onboard sequencer and digital
effects, to once again up the ante in the synthesizer race. MIDI synthesizers
keep getting more powerful all the time for less money, and that trend continues.
"Samplers" are like synthesizers in a lot of ways. In a synthesizer, oscilators
produce the raw sound that is then modified by filters and LFO's and sent
through envelopes and amplifiers, etc. In a sampler, on the other hand, the
raw sound source can be anything that they sample. Then you can apply all
the filters, LFO's, envelopes and amplifiers to that.
The first keyboard samplers available in the early 1980's were the EMu
Emulator series. With an integrated 5 1/4" discdrive, they were big, heavy
and expensive and awesome sounding. The Akai S-612 and Ensoniq Mirage were
two of the first inexpensive rack mounted MIDI samplers. The prize for the
first inexpensive MIDI polyphonic keyboard sampler goes to the Casio FZ-1.
It appeared in 1985 and had 8 outputs and a standard 3 1/2" discdrive for
saving. Akai made the very popular S-900 rack mount samplers which evolved
into the S-950. Then stereo samplers came along and like everything else,
they just keep getting more powerful and less expensive. Recent options available
include built-in CD Rom, SCSI hard disc and optical digital interfaces.
Computers have become essential in modern music making. They are found
in synthesizers, recording devices, effects, automation and synchronization
systems. They made the MIDI revolution possible.
The most popular music software in the 1980's was written for the Apple
MacIntosh and Atari 1040-ST computers. In Europe, the Atari was the dominant
machine and C-Lab "Notator" and Steinberg "Cubase" were two popular programs.
In the US market, the Atari computers were much less expensive than the Macs but in
the early 90's, having business difficulties, they eventually disappeared from
the market here. Atari still enjoys a large presence in Europe and introduced
the Falcon series there which includes 8-track digital recording capabilities
straight out of the box!
The Mac has always had a rabid following despite the more expensive hardware
cost. "Performer", "Vision" and "MasterTracks Pro" were all strong sequencer
packages written for it. The hardware prices have
moderated somewhat and it still enjoys a loyal user base and large share of
the music market.
The IBM was not that popular for music at first. Voyetra Systems had an
early sequencing package for it but it wasn't until "Windows" came along in
the late 1980's that more software was written for it. "Cakewalk" became a
popular program for this platform in the early 1990's and soon others followed.
E-Magic's Logic Audio is a powerful digital recording and sequencing package
that was originally written for the Mac, and later ported over to the
The real breakthrough for IBM has been it's rapidly expanding market share
due to the popularity of "Windows", the ever increasing power of the chips
that drive the PC and the price differential between PC's and Macs. The 386
gave way to the 486 which gave way to the Pentiums and their speed and efficiency
keeps growing. Apple had the edge on digital recording systems at one time
but the "Windows/IBM" platform has now caught up in most respects.
Hard disc recording systems are rapidly evolving and computers are doing the recording and acting as the "front-end" interface between the operator
and recorder. The "SoundScape" hard disc recording system from the UK uses
a dedicated hardware recorder and a windows front-end. ProTools, which previously
only developed software for Macs, released the "Session 8", an 8-track hard
disc recorder, for the windows platform in 1993 and now ProTools is fully supported
on the PC platform as well.
The computers have gotten powerful enough to handle it; so now you can
sequence your synthesizers and program your drums, then record your guitar
amp and vocals into the computer and arrange the digitally recorded tracks
against the sequenced tracks all from within the same program. "Vision" for
the Mac, "Cakewalk Pro" and C-Lab "Logic" for the PC and "Cubase" for the
Atari Falcon all have this capability.
Skip to 2013 and the major players have
reshuffled the deck. "Logic", "Cubase" and
"Cakewalk" are probably the big 3 integrated recording/MIDI software
Digital recording and editing are logical jobs for the computer and there
are many systems taking advantage of this power. Basically, the computer acts
like a word processor for music. The material is recorded into the computer
and then you cut it up and rearrange it, EQ it, adjust it and put it back
together however you like. There are the usual complement of now standard
AES/EBU digital ins and outs. Newer designs are incorporating digital interfaces
for the popular Alesis ADAT and Tascam DA-88 digital recorders.
Another great use for a digital editing system is recording your mixes
in pieces. If you don't have console automation and the mix is too complicated,
simply record your song in segments and edit it together. Several powerful
digital editing programs are available now including "SAW Plus" and "Sound