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Historical Early MIDI Documents Uncovered


MIDI 1.0 Specification From August, 1983 Uncovered at Yamaha US offices in April, 2018. 


In November of 2018 we uncovered some unique historical MIDI documents.  These were discovered in a file cabinet at Yamaha Corporation of America's headquarters in Buena Park, California.  These documents pre-date the formation of the MIDI Manufacturers Association and give us a truly remarkable look into the the early development of MIDI. There were three key documents. The first is a very early version of the MIDI 1.0 specification from August 1983. We also uncovered two issues of the IMA bulletin- one from June 1985 and another from June 1987. 

The early MIDI 1.0 specification is a very short 14 page document. Compare this to the 58 page MIDI 1.0 specification document published in 1995 which also included 7 pages of Appendixes pages and 13 pages of Tables.  

The copyright of this early MIDI 1.0 specification is assigned to the International MIDI Association based in Sun Valley. 

The MIDI specification first saw the light of day at the 1981 AES, when Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits presented a paper on the "Universal Synthesizer Interface." It was co-developed with other companies (an effort driven principally by Roland's Ikutaro Kakehashi, a true visionary of this industry), and made its prime time debut at the 1983 Los Angeles NAMM show, where a Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 talked to a Roland keyboard over a small, 5-pin cable. I saw Dave Smith walking around the show and asked him about it. "It worked!" he said, clearly elated—but I think I detected some surprise in there as well.

by Craig Anderton for Harmony Central

This document clearly shows that even in August of 1983 the MIDI specification was still in flux and had not been fully flushed out. For example, Continuous Controllers 64-95 are defined simply as Switches (On/Off). 

This also shows that at this stage, there was clearly a desire for 14 bit resolution of continuous controllers in MIDI 1.0.

Here is a list of the orginal 14 companies that were involved with MIDI at the time.  Notice that both Big Briar (Bob Moog's company after he left Moog) and Moog Music (owned at the time by Norlin) are listed.  Many people underestimate Bob Moog's role in MIDI gaining acceptance. 

 This version of the MIDI spec also featured a MIDI logo that was never used in later official specifications from the MIDI Manufacturers Association.  

The second IMA News Bulletin published in June of 1985 and announced a variety of new MIDI products including the Simmons SDS-9 electronic drum kit.

The same issue announced the first publicized meeting of the MIDI Manufacturers Association at the upcoming New Orleans Summer NAMM show on June 24, 1985. What's most interesting about this announcement is that announces a "new MIDI 1.0 specification" that was authored by the Japan MIDI Standards Committee and translated from the Japanese by the MMA, and the creation of the standardized MIDI implementation chart. This is a full two years AFTER the initial public demo in January of 1983 and the first version of the MIDI spec was distrubuted by the IMA. 

The new "detailed" MIDI specification was created to solve problems that companies had understanding the initial specification. The original MIDI 1.0 Specification was written by companies collaborating outside of any organization, and though JMSC, MMA, and IMA all formed to help manage the development of MIDI, they all formed independently, and it took a few years before they all figured out how to move forward in "unison".

The International MIDI Association ("IMA") (a.k.a. "MUG or MIDI Users Group" and "IMUG" International MIDI User Group), was the first to form. It was a self-appointed organization to manage the development and promotion of MIDI.  The IMA MIDI Spec document dated August 5 1983 is the one that was registered with the United States Copyright Office by the IMA as the official MIDI 1.0 Specification. IMA got the initial spec from Sequential, who had also been distributing prior versions of the spec.

The Japanese companies who were building MIDI products at that time realized when they started implementing the MIDI initial 1.0 Spec that more detail was needed, and took on the task of producing an addendum document.. They formed the JMSC, which officially launched in Nov. 1983. Originally JMSC included end-users, but they abandoned that idea within the 1st year. By June of 1984 they informed the IMA that they were working on a "detailed explanation" which they would share when it was completed. They also recommended "US and European" manufacturers have their own association, separate from end-users. 

The decision to form the MMA was made at the June 1984 NAMM show in Chicago by Roland US, Yamaha US, Sequential, and Oberheim, and a meeting "of all interested companies" that was held. The MMA's legal documents (articles of incorporation and bylaws) did not get completed and filed until 1987, but the association's organizers used the name "MMA" starting from June 1984. At the February 1985 Winter NAMM Show the organizers of MMA (now about 14 companies in total) met and declared one of MMA's goals to be to "prepare and release an official and complete documentation to the MIDI 1.0 Specification, including the specification, detailed explanations, and a guide to creating implementation charts". They also decided the policies and procedures for membership, and began subscribing new members. The IMA Bulletin refers to June 1985 as the "first MMA meeting" because that is how the meeting was announced by MMA to prospective MMA members.

The "detailed explanation" they refer to is the work that JMSC had created. At that same meeting Chris Meyer was appointed Chairman of the MMA "Technical Standards Board", and one of the TSB's tasks was to work with JMSC to finish the "1.0 Explanations". The document received input from both JMSC and MMA members, although it was written in Japanese by JMSC, which is why it needed to be translated. After that experience, it was agreed that all future specifications (including updates) would be authored in English, so they could be more easily shared during development.  

It is pretty hard to follow all the three letter acronyms and the time line so here is a simpifed version. 

  • Summer NAMM June 1981- Tom Oberheim mentions to Dave Smith that Kakehashi is thinking about a Universal Synthesizer Interface
  • AES October 1981 - Dave Smith and Chet Woods present a Universal Synthesizer Interface running at 19.2 kBaud and using regular 1/4" jacks
  • Winter NAMM  February 1982- A big meeting with all synth manufacturers (Synclavier, Arp, Moog, Oberheim, Crumar, Voeytra) that didn't end well. After the meeting the Japanese approach Dave and Sequential, Roland, Yamaha, Korg, and Kawai agree work together on MIDI   
  • Winter NAMM January 1983- First Public demonstration of MIDI- Prophet 600 is connected to Roland Jupiter 6
  • June 1983- Japan MIDI Standard Committee (JMSC) is formed 
  • June 1983- JMSC starts creating the detailed addendum to the MIDI 1.0 specification and consulting with American manufacturers 
  • August 1983- International MIDI Association incorporated and initial MIDI 1.0 specification is available from IMA (and Sequential Circuits)
  • November 1983- Katsuhiko (Karl) Hirano is appointed head of MIDI Standard Investigating Committee  
  •  Winter NAMM January 1984- MIDI Evolutionary Committee formed with Robert Moog (Big Briar), John Bowen (Sequential) , Curt Simmons, Jim Smerdel (Yamaha US), Anne Graham (Oberheim)  Brian Vincik (Hewlett Packard)  Roger Clay (IMA) 
  • June 1984- JMSC informs the IMA that there are problems with the spec and recommends that there should be a manufacturer organization to standardize MIDI
  • June 1984 Summer NAMM show in Chicago- The decision to form the MMA was made at the by Roland US, Yamaha US, Sequential, and Oberheim, and a meeting "of all interested companies" was held. 
  • September 1984- JMSC Addendum in Japanese sent to the MMA for translation
  • Winter NAMM show February 1985 - First meeting of the MMA with Roland US, Yamaha US, Sequential, and Oberheim, and a meeting "of all interested companies"
  •  February 1985 -MMA incorparated in California as an organization
  • Summer NAMM show in New Orleans June 1985 - Second meeting of the MMA and the The MIDI 1.0 Detailed Specification" (Addendum) is published
  • 1987- The MMA is incorporated as a tax exempt non-profit organization in the US

The International MIDI Association eventually closed its doors and there was no place of MIDI end users to congregate and discuss MIDI until The MIDI Association was born in 2016.  

It seems that there has always been a need for the people who work, play and create with MIDI to have a way stay in touch with the MIDI companies who push the specifications forward.  We encourage our MIDI Association members to express their opinions about where MIDI should go in the future.

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