MIDI

A lot of people spill out huge words when discussing technological ideas in music, and MIDI is one of them. “Does this computer use MIDI for controllers or software synthesis?”  “Is that a MIDI guitar? Cool!” But what does MIDI mean? well, it means Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It is a protocol to represent musical information in digital format, which then becomes an interchange between musical instruments and computers. MIDI itself does not contain the sounds, but it controls the functions – sound off and on, dynamics, vibrato, pitch, glissandi, and other attributes.

The basic instrument that everybody knows is, of course, the MIDI keyboard. Here’s a basic keyboard:

basic MIDI keyboard and computer

basic MIDI keyboard and computer

You push a key, and the MIDI information is sent to the computer (or sound device), and the appropriate sound is played, which obeys all the information sent. Using more sounds and voices at once will get you quite complex textures, like this sample here.
The keyboard is a nice, simple interface between you, the performer, and the computer. It resembles a piano, an instrument everybody knows. If you had to play via the little MIDI controller inside, you probably wouldn’t get very far:
MIDI Controller

MIDI Controller

Now, if I can make MIDI keyboards, why not MIDI trumpets, or MIDI violins, or MIDI guitars? Well, we can. Just make little MIDI sensors which detect the speed, loudness, etc; all the usual stuff, and voila! other MIDI devices!
MIDI trumpet

MIDI trumpet

MIDI violin

MIDI violin

MIDI guitars

MIDI guitars

But what about less intuitive approaches to  controlling MIDI? What I I want to create sounds by dancing? or wiggling my fingers in the air? People create all sorts of things – Here is a small device called the MIDI stick, you can use it to hit something or move around, and it sends signals to the computer to create a panoply of sounds.
MIDI stick

MIDI stick

Or MIDI data gloves. I can put on gloves lined with MIDI sensors, and create sounds. Here is a picture of composer J. Anthony Allen wearing a pair of “data gloves”, which he designed himself. 
J. Anthony Allen in data gloves

J. Anthony Allen in data gloves

Since MIDI can send pretty much anything to control the sound, you can make the sound do pretty much whatever you want it to do – loud, soft, swoop, stereo field control, etc and etc. I found this video on YouTube. It was the first concert of Elektronengehirn with a data glove as an instrument. With the glove the graphics were controlled, which in turn control the sound engine. The visual software is custom made with C/C++ and OpenGL while the sound engine is programmed with pd (pure data), both running on a linuxlaptop. The concert was performed at gallery KuBaSta Hamburg, Germany, on the 29. april 2006.
I hope we can present a live performance of a data glove at the HD Artists Music Hall one day – now that would be great!
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