Is MIDI 2.0 As Revolutionary As Its Predecessor?

It was year 1983 and after a lot of deliberations and persuasion, my parents relented and agreed to speak with the uncle living in the West Germany, about a possibility to purchase and send me a new keyboard synthesizer. This was not an easy task. Especially the sending part, because we had been living behind the Iron Curtain – in the former Czechoslovakia. Because of that, I put together an elaborate ploy pretending myself getting married. Although I was very young at the time, getting a marriage gift from the West was one of the more reliable ways to get an expensive technology to the country.

As my uncle is a very nice person, and also knowing all the hurdles we had to overcome, he decided to order the best and the newest technology available at the time. Although our limited budget played its role. 

Nevertheless, after a long waiting time, and an awful lot of paperwork and ‘roleplaying’, I vividly remember the moment, when I walked out from an obscure office of the custom service with a long cardboard box. Huge blue letters on the box were announcing, that inside was the Roland JX-3P, Programmable Preset Polyphonic Synthesizer. 

What I didn’t know at that time was, that my new synth was a brand new model ordered straight from the recent Frankfurt Music Messe exhibition in Germany, and was one of the first such music instruments in the whole country – that had the MIDI. That stands for ‘Musical Instrument Digital Interface’.

MIDI is a communication protocol, that connects various music production gear like digital musical instruments, computers, tablets, and smartphones. It is used to digitize different elements of music and program them so that they can be recalled and replayed again lately. It helps professionals as well as music hobbyists to create, perform, learn, and share music.

It is no exageration to say, that MIDI has changed the world of music, mine personal world included. Through MIDI it would be possible to control infrastructure behind huge Broadways shows, it would control and synchronize timing of famous water fountains at the Bellagio Las Vegas hotel, and would also allow millions of musicians like myself, to program and produce their music in bedroom studios. 

After long 38 years, the ubiquitous 5-pin DIN connector and the 7-bit protocol of the original MIDI has become quite restricting. Therefore there is no surprise, that the music industry has recently welcomed a major update in the form of MIDI 2.0. 

The MIDI Manufacturers Association, the non-profit organization that manages MIDI, announced the release of the MIDI 2.0 in January 2020. But as this is a huge change and improvement in comparison with the first generation, it takes a while for manufacturers to start producing music instruments, that are able to take advantage of the new technology.

The biggest change is that the new MIDI protocol uses 32-bit values. So instead of the 128 steps of the original 7-bit, the new MIDI has available billions values. And is still backward compatible with the original MIDI instruments. 

The expectation is, that the new MIDI 2.0 will allow musicians to get more expressions from their digital instruments, quite similar to analog instruments like a violin or a trumpet. 

If we look at how the original MIDI has changed music in the last 38 years, it is much harder to imagine how will the music world look like in some 10 or 20 years with MIDI 2.0. My only worry is, that this new protocol will also allow music to be more and more efficiently produced by computers.  Basically, that it will help to completely steal the music making from humans. If that happens, people will not really benefit from the new protocol. The only beneficiaries will be the technology companies. Hopefully, that will never happen… but this video doesn’t give me much hope.

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