Happy 30th Birthday MIDI
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) turns 30 today. I remember actively listening to midi file versions of songs I liked in the days before Napster but apparently I never really appreciated the technology for what it was.
“MIDI belongs to a Paleolithic era of computer interface design. Nevertheless, it’s still used in every major recording studio, by almost every electronic musician working today, and aspects of its design have directly influenced the evolution of several musical genres.”
I remember the first time I saw a MIDI deck, was back in high-school (whoa step into the time machine) when this kid, Adam, was showing off the latest in awesomeness, Wing Commander! Which was an awesome spectacle on a VGA equipped 386 DX along with a brand new MIDI deck. Prior to then, the only PC’s I’d seen had glorious CGA graphics, and utilized the PC speaker as a glorified beeper. At that point I’d given up on buying an Amiga as my parents didn’t like the idea of me spending $599 on an Amiga 500, but PC’s you could buy in pieces and of course under the radar of obsessive parents.
But going back to MIDI, for a while in the late 80’s and early 90’s MIDI files were traded like crazy much like MP3’s in the 2000’s. And the one card that started to bring MIDI sound to the masses was the good old Adlib!
The Adlib was a simple enough looking card which integrated the Yamaha YM3812 to a PC. It wasn’t capable of wave synthesis, instead it could play simple instruments. But hey it was a massive upgrade from simple beeps & chirps of the IBM PC Speaker.
That was until I finally assembled my 286 PC, and then found the game Mean Streets, the first in the Tex Murphy series.
What made this game special was that it used its “real sound” technology to quickly pulse the pc speaker so it could play basic wav files. It was an amazing thing to witness at the time, when a 286 with CGA graphics could make some basic sounds, and play a quick bit of into music!
Even better, is that there were Amiga MOD players that could output via the PC speaker, and even with the release of Windows 3.1 there was a pc speaker wav driver.
But back to MIDI, for me anyways the best player was the midi player bundled with Windows 3.1 as at least you could kind of multitask, and listen to something while doing something else. It really is funny to imagine a time before CD-ROMs being common place, and needing some kind of massive super computer to playback a MP3 in realtime! Then again back then odds are if you were using a computer and wanted to listen to music you either would turn on the radio, or break out a tape deck!