AES Section Meeting Reports

Boston - February 9, 2010

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On Tues Feb. 9, 2010 the Boston Section of the Audio Engineering Society held a panel discussion entitled "Is MIDI Dead?" The panel featured Paul Lehrman, Andrea Pejrolo and Dave Roberts and was moderated by Section Chair Tony Schultz, who kicked off the discussion by asking each panelist to share their initial introduction and experiences with MIDI.

So what is MIDI? "MIDI" is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It is an "open source" control language used as an interface between the composer and the computer, created as a standard between manufacturers. It doesn't necessarily replace musicians but can be used as a different way to write the music down, serving as a more immediate gratification for composers. Sound sources such as Giga Studio and Vienna Library have helped give MIDI an advantage for mock-ups or hybrid productions.

There's a lot more uses for MIDI than just music; MIDI Machine Control, MIDI Transport Control, MIDI Time Code and MIDI Show Control, which is used to run concert lights, media and pyrotechnics. MIDI t is used to control the Belagio Fountains in Las Vegas, the Animatronics at Epcot and even Chuck E. Cheese. Guitar Hero and Rock Band is also based on MIDI technology.

There is slight misconception by some that MIDI is an old obsolete standard. This is largely due to a lack of understanding and education that lead many users to bypass MIDI altogether. Having the right setup is an important aspect of understanding. The bad reputation MIDI had for a while had nothing to do with MIDI but rather the really cheap processors in the sound modules. The sound was thought to be MIDI and the language was blamed for it. When digital audio came out, people got lazy and began using samples from other artists thinking that it sounded better than using MIDI . The limitations of sampling were not immediately apparent.

It is important as an engineer to understand how to route the signal path and know the limitations of the computer being used and how to get the most out of it. Dave Roberts said that "there is no substitute for learning your craft. As a composing engineer, it is important to focus on the music and not the technology".
The goal is to use these tools to write good music and balance between the creative and technical.

Now, multiple computers can be networked to run different applications. These "Music Farms" lift the previous limitations of using a single computer/platform. The networking of computers has become a big job market. Students can benefit from this process such as assisting a Hollywood composer to maintain the infrastructure for the engineer and composer.
There is currently a proposal for HDMIDI. Manufactures will need to be convinced that it is necessary and also that it will not make previous products obsolete and ensure that it is backwards compatible. There are two organizations which are responsible for outlining the standards of ongoing technology; the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA), which represents the Western Hemisphere and Europe and the Association of Musical Electronics Industry (AMEI), which represents manufacturers in Japan, Korea and China.

It was agreed by all that MIDI IS NOT DEAD! It is alive and well and will continue to grow and be a part of the ongoing technology. Knowing how to set up MIDI Systems will certainly open the doors for other opportunities in the future.

Paul Lehrman created the world's first all-MIDI album, "The Celtic Macintosh", in 1986. He served three terms as an executive director of the MIDI Manufacturers Association and was principal author of the standard college textbook, "MIDI For the Professional," still in print after 19 years. He has written over 500 articles on pro audio and music technology. He is coordinator for music technology at Tufts University where he teaches courses in audio production, computer music and electronic musical instrument design.

Andrea Pejrolo is Assistant Chair of the Contemporary Writing and Production department at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Andrea is a composer, producer, audio engineer and bassist. He is the author of Creative Sequencing Techniques for Music Production (2005) and Acoustic and MIDI Orchestration for the Contemporary Composer (2007) and has written several articles for music magazines.

Dave Roberts started working at MOTU as a technical support person in 1993. His current title is Product Specialist. Dave is responsible for artist and VIP support, as well as sales and marketing. Dave has also engineered two solo records for the artist Al Kooper, as well as remastered 50 songs from the Al Kooper catalog for Sony records. Dave has released four solo CDs and continues to play in the local Boston music scene.

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AES - Audio Engineering Society