The Systemic Failure of MIDI as a Musical Standard


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The Systemic Failure of MIDI as a Musical Standard


Consider, if you will, the "zzing" sound of the violin or the "shoop" sound of a foot close high hat. In the case of the violin, the pre-note sound is the "zz," is completely missing from the MIDI protocol. In the case of the foot close high hat, the pre-note sound "sh," is completely missing from the MIDI protocol. The "ing" sound on the downbeat represents the MIDI note-on and the release of the "g" sound is the MIDI note-off. What is missing from MIDI is the "zzz's" and the "sh's" the pre-note components of natural instruments. As a result MIDI is only good for sharp-attack techno sounds in which pre-note elements don't exist. The musical piece "Popcorn" is a good representation of this type of pre-note-less inorganic sound.

By failing to represent organic music, MIDI falls short of a truly musical interface. Musical sounds that include significant pre-note content will always present late in quantized ("corrected") midi recordings and live performances on midi synths will always (to one extent or another) distance the performer from the sounds being performed. There is a difference between sounds being performed and sounds being played back. There is a difference between playing an instrument and playing the radio.

The simplest solution as I see it, is to add some kind of "pre-note-on" data to the midi protocol and to build midi synths and controllers that start triggering (pre-note data) from the moment the "hammer leaves the gate." While I can see a number of technical solutions to this issue I am convinced that the most effective solution must start with an addition to the MIDI protocol itself -- to which instrument companies would then follow.
 
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happyrat1

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Actually it's dependent on the individual wave data for each note. ADSR controls can be applied to each note to minimize or eliminate prenote sounds or attack can be adjusted to the point where it becomes significant or even exaggerated.

Your argument is to add another data byte to the MIDI stream further increasing lag and complicating processing while a simpler solution is to ad a few microseconds of prenote data to the DSP processing the digitized waveform.

MIDI is still a remarkably robust standard and still serves us pretty well almost 4 decades after its inception.

Everyone wants to see a MIDI 3.0 standard come to pass but there is astonishingly little agreement as to what should go in it.

I've been participating in a discussion over on a Kurzweil forum about how the GM bank was intentionally omitted from the new PC4 models that just came out.

My standpoint is that it provides a minimum baseline for exchange of digital music files for collaborations and software designers alike and therefore should remain in service until it is replaced by something better. Not simply scrapped entirely to make room for yet another drum kit or bazouki sample.

Sure there are the XG and GS standards from Yamaha and Roland but they are proprietary and not de facto standards.

If there ever is a de facto MIDI 3.0 standard then to my mind it should specify a minimal soundfont which could easily be implemented across the spectrum of musical and computer devices.

Gary ;)
 
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This does not sound like a MIDI issue at all. There's no reason a standard MIDI-triggered sample of a note (or a synth programmed one) cannot include "pre" sounds. The problem is, how does the keyboard know what you want, when you want it? It can't add something to a note before you strike it. So for live performance, you'd have to play ahead of the beat and anticipate when you want it to "land." It would be simpler for assembling sequences, though, because you could play the notes in and then (after the fact) move the On events to occur sooner.

If I understand correctly what it is you're trying to accomplish.
 
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You could also make the "pre" sounds available as separate samples, and map them to other keys; then play those keys essentially as "grace notes" in anticipation of the key you ultimately want to trigger. (Again, though, this is not a MIDI issue or something that calls for a MIDI solution.)
 
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I think you're talking more about sampling and who and how the samples were made. MIDI is basically just the messenger delivering data or collecting data sent. To me blaming MIDI is like blaming the microphone for a singer being bad.
 
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I don't believe I have ever heard the term "MIDI" used in the context of a "musical standard." In your post you are making reference to the audio data which was not captured in sound sample. That is technical issue with how a sound sample was taken and processed. MIDI is a technical standard that describes a communications protocol, digital interface, and electrical connectors that connect a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers, and related audio devices for playing, editing and recording music. I remember the standard being expressed in early literature as a manufacturing standard for the electronic instrument industry. I propose that the level of organic audio detail referenced in the original post is exactly why real musicians and music recording still remains relevent in today's world. MIDI can't do everything. LOL
 
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As an amateur in this field, I have the impression that MIDI is slowly disappearing from the scene because the standard is much to slow to adapt to requirements. The long-standing decline is obvious if you look at facilities for keyboard microtuning and temperaments, a minority but important interest. According to their way of working (1992?), though you can microtune a note in the sharp direction, but you can't flatten it without changing the note number down a semitone. That's totally useless because temperaments that were in use well into the 19th century can have two notes less than a semitone apart. We should not have to do ridiculously complicated programming to work around that.

I wish I knew what goes on in the minds of those who decide these MIDI matters.

Returning to the original question, unless MIDI can do its job of telling the instrument exactly what to do (though not how to do it), it would be best to let it die of old age.
 

happyrat1

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Professionals in the industry still work with 5 pin MIDI every day. In fact many, myself included, refuse to buy any gear that does not ship with MIDI IN/OUT/Thru ports at all.

Low end budget gear aimed at consumers and their kids have pretty much dropped it in favor of cheaper USB connections but believe me, in pro audio MIDI is alive and well.

Gary ;)
 
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Until MIDI can tie my shoes and brush my teeth for me, what good can it possibly be?

Guess I'll just keep whining about it until "they" make it do everything I can think of.
 
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Also remember MIDI has nothing to do with audio per se. It is a standard way of sending and receiving data/instructions. And the last thing I'd want would be for it to go away. MIDI is the reason I can directly connect any 2019 keyboard with a MIDI port to a 1983 keyboard with a MIDI port and they will communicate. Sometimes simplicity is brilliance. MIDI can be extended with more functionality, but that doesn't mean doing away with what it already does.

Also, MIDI has never stopped any keyboard manufacturer from offering different 12-note per octave temperaments... MIDI has nothing to do with that. Microtuning with more than 12 notes in its repeating sequence is more complicated, but MIDI added sysex support for that in the 90s. It's covered in the last section of the article at https://www.midi.org/articles-old/microtuning-and-alternative-intonation-systems

There will be more enhancements to MIDI (2.0 has been around the corner for some time now ;-) ) but there's no reason to lose compatibility with everything that has come before.
 

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