MIDI – Musical Instrument Digital Interface.
It’s a lost art. So much of what MIDI is capable of in terms of creativity, switchable setups, patchable relationships, has been ultimately abandoned because the computer makes it so easy to simply plug everything in, and then route it all through software.

Before Emagic Logic introduced the environment, where we were finally able to create and build our own software background connections to accomplish so many things which couldn’t have been done before, electronic musicians were stuck with something called OMS, manually entering patch names, defining instruments… the quest was really to find a way to do it all on the screen so that our crashing copies of Cubase and Studio Vision would at last allow us to call up our patches and banks correctly.

Before that money pit of the early 90’s this was all done on the synthesizers themselves. We either called up the sounds manually, or we figured out the system exclusive messages, or CC patch/bank commands and sent them from our sequencers. To get more interesting layers, change overs, and connection routing was a physical experience.

I think that the bad part of all that was really the inevitable double clocking, delay, and general failures which made it “hard” and no fun.

The computer promised such elegance and simplicity. Boy were we wrong.

What software could do in the form of the Emagic Logic Environment was the main reason for shelling out money in the 90’s. Protools replaced the tape deck, and the Logic Environment replaced milk crates of cables, and all kinds of failed boxes, converters, switches and patch bays. But somehow we went from hard to crummy.

There are a few things around right now:
The E-RM multi clock is really fun. It’s magically erased the double clocking issues, and handles sync, midi time, and more just effortlessly.

There is also a new-ish patch bay called MIDI HUB which is interesting, but it doesn’t go far enough. It suffers from what most of today’s devices and thinking suffers from:

People are still pretty much slouched in front of their computers. That early 90’s dream of everything all plugged in and ready to go. Like a pro!
We are looking at the end, and we want it to be easy. This is the shape of the world at the moment.

Now that people like me and a growing number of others are making gear, and cables, modular and clocks look and sound sexy, and fun people are getting inspired again (love that,) however, we still really don’t want to read the manual, or learn how to plug things in. It’s like getting a guitar and being disappointed you can’t play it better than anyone else without ever having taken a lesson. Great guitarists was really weird kids. They spend a decade in their room fingering strings, and never went outside. It takes a rare bird to be great.

So it appears now the drive is to make hardware work like software. We want it to be easy, and familiar, and unchallenging. Sadly, when we do this, people buy it. That promise of peanut butter, pasta sauce, pesto, face cream, car key powder, and saw dust all from the same little tiny $9.99 blender! It’s amazing. And you know what? Sometimes it is amazing. There are countless examples of hideous ideas which have changed everything. But none of these ideas seem to have been of their own time. They weren’t meeting the uninspired and the unrehearsed where they live. They were asking us to think about things differently, and so they failed (at first.) But being artists – no money, spare time, and something gnawing away at us inside – we picked them up cheap, and changed the world.

The direction we are headed in now looks a lot to me like a loop. Back to OMS and wishing that these things would just work like magic. Baby, I really don’t want to go around in that circle again.

It isn’t what you can buy, it’s what you have.
It isn’t what the instrument can do, it’s what we do with these instruments.
The art of all of this is in how we inter relate them with each other, with our own style, and ultimately with our audience.

We need more connections, a deeper ability to relate clocks, time, pulses, and patterns. We need to be able to swap from one set of layers to another and back again. Rather than delving deeper and deeper into the digital layers of what software can do, perhaps we need to step back, take a look at how these concepts relate to the physical world. More, less expansive little boxes, to create options and choices for people after something. Practical tools which don’t send us deeper into our phones, or back into our rooms, but bring us out into the world of treating the musical instrument digital interface as the potentially connective, master control language it was created to be, instead of the simple utility connector that no one really understands.

Again, it isn’t what it can do. That’s a dense book even I don’t want to read. It’s what we do with it that will change everything. The problem with MIDI isn’t really MIDI, or OMS, JLCooper, Anatek, and MidiMan dissolving into M-Audio, Apple buying Emagic, or even computers. Computers are great.

The problem with MIDI appears to be us.


  1. tjvl:

    CV, MIDI, USB struggles take a third of my studio time. It never resolves completely.

  2. @tjvl – Interesting. What’s the struggle?

  3. 303:

    So, I bought 2 of the CME “WiDi” wireless midi jacks. THEY ARE AMAZING. Holy shit. These are the jetpacks we were promised in the future. I would not use them for super tight timing but they make life a lot easier just for moving gear around now.

  4. bdu808:

    The good old days, don’t make me go back there.

  5. Anthony DeVito:

    E-RM Multiclock or innerclock Sync-Gen are a must have now.

  6. Rudi Rudeboi:

    : )

  7. therealgeojones:

    Can’t we just get an 16×16 rackmount midi patchbay, that works like a regular audio patchbay, and instead of normal, half normal and open, each channel can select in, out and thru.

  8. @therealgeojones – Yes. In theory. Yes we can. : )

  9. therealgeojones:

    I think this is your calling ;)Even though computers have ruined a lot of things, I think we could be in for a golden age of midi revival. There’s so much cheap analog technology right no like the Volcas that allow midi in, and have some sort of facility for sync or CV … on 1/8 inch jacks … and we have pretty cool clock converters available which can interface with older equipment, as well as modular … we could be on the cusp of a unified theory of everything (at least as it pertains to sync and control).

  10. autoy:

    For the first time in many years the real interesting MIDI, CV and clocking boxes are beginning to appear. Same for sequencers. I expect more of all these in the near future.

  11. Jon Pontrello:

    Dude, yes. Amen.

  12. MossPig303:

    Damn hahahaha I love all this. I also feel called out a bit. I want it all to happen so easy, but it’s practice that makes progress.

  13. Bert Lavender:

    Thank goodness someone is willing to say it!