The Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) spec has been around since the early 1980s. The introduction and wide adoption of the standard has allowed multitudes of musicians, musical enthusiasts, hackers, programmers, and geeks/nerds of all varieties to create, modify, update, and generally hack this awesomely simple protocol into many instruments and tons of other stuff (see these crazy but cool MIDI interfaces).
A New Spec
These days the MIDI spec can be be found implemented on tons of hardware, from synthesizer boxes and keyboards, to guitar amplifiers with built-in General MIDI support. Recently, the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) ratified a new extension to the MIDI spec called MIDI Capabilities Inquiry or MIDI-CI. This new extension allows MIDI-CI compatible devices to communicate about Profile Configuration, Property Exchange, and Protocol Negotiation. Additionally, this new functionality will not trample on simple MIDI 1.0 devices on the bus. So what does this addition bring to the table?
The new Profile Configuration aspect of MIDI-CI will allow complex controller mappings to be communicated to devices via profiles. This simplifies large control surface setups so that they are simpler and quicker to implement.
The Property Exchange (PE) feature brings together the worlds of metadata and music data. This element allows the storage and retrieval of “product name, configuration settings, controller names, controller values, patch names and other meta data, etc“. This has many, many uses in the future.
This feature is the most straightforward addition to the MIDI spec. Protocol Negotiation makes it possible so that newer generation controllers and devices can take advantage of newer features (more channels, increased resolutions, etc.), while not trampling on devices that only implement the base MIDI 1.0 spec. This opens the door for greater flexibility in the number and types of MIDI devices that can be networked down the road.
MIDI is still super cool!
All in all, the MIDI spec is still cool, useful, and very much alive. Even though we have ubiquitous 1GbE, ubiquitous 10GbE right around the corner, high-speed USB everywhere, and tons of other bus technologies, MIDI still has its niche (and I’m really happy about that).