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Dave Smith The father of MIDI.

Oct 27, 2003 - by Synthetic
Electronic interview conducted by Synthetic (Dean) - MM October 2003.


Dave Smith, That name may be unknown to you, but you should in fact thank him every day. First Dave Smith was with John Bowen and Barb Fairhurst the founder of Sequential Circuits in his garage, his line of the Prophet synths makes still the day of their owners. With the Prophet VS he introduced vector synthesis. After Sequential was sold to Yamaha, he was rapidly recruited by Korg along with his designing crew and the wavestation years began (still vectors everywhere).
Mr Smith went the software way with Seer Systems and Reality came on PCs. And the last 2 years were a big return to both analogue and vectors in a real synth with the Evolver (helped on the way by Roger Linn and Tom Oberheim), its future polyphonic version is under way fast.
Still it doesn't tell you why you should thank Mr Smith. Dead simple. Mr Smith was at the origin and instrumental into the birth of the MIDI norm.
    Dave,
    Thanks again for taking the time for this interview. Its a honor and privilege to get a chance to communicate with someone who has made such an impact on the music industry. With the huge growth of personal computers in homes and the surge in electronic music making devices...
    MIDI has become a more familiar concept to a broader audience it seems. Its actually difficult for many to believe MIDI has been around for two decades unless they were raised around music and computers. Computers seem to change their protocol for device-to-device communications ever 2-3 years as technology develops creates new and faster means of transferring data. But MIDI is the exception. Are you proud that the standart (MIDI) you invented 20 years ago, is still the current one?


    Dave Smith.
    Sure; we thought we had developed something that would last a while by keeping it open-ended to a degree. Of course it was impossible to guess how wide the use of MIDI would be in the long run, but we were lucky to have been on the cusp of personal computer development at the time, so we were able to work that into the spec. Also, MIDI was kept fairly simple (as standards go), which made it much easier to implement, and able to fit into more applications. Anything that can go 20 years while still in a 1.0 state is pretty amazing!

    What do you think of the mLan format (audio+MIDI)? Were you involved with it's development?

    Dave Smith.
    I had nothing to do with its development. I think in general it's a good idea, though it is harder these days to get the same 100% implementation that regular MIDI has. There are also other developments that will be competing, which puts us into the multiple-standard situation that plagues most areas of technology.

    Its really a shame that the consumers will ultimately suffer from this non-standardized protocol for musical data transmission. There are so many devices that now use midi and its very productive as it allows many different brands of gear still work together.
    It sounds like any attempts to replace midi without another standard protocol would lead to maybe only Yamaha products linking with Yamaha and Roland with Roland etc. We only hope they will allow adaption via midi to help overcome this. Just as the technology of data transfer has progressed... so has the speed of processors which has helped bring out a slew of new software including virtual synths and samplers. These have become the new rage in electronic music production as more and more become available.
    How do you feel these software versions compare to good old hardware models, like those legendary ones you made at Sequencial Circuit? Have you found any of the imitations to really compete or even surpass your vintage synths and what are your favorites or do you feel are the most innovative?


    Dave Smith.
    The software synths have improved over the years, so when you listen to a soft emulation of a hardware synth, they are at least close. If you put them side by side, you can certainly tell the difference, but many people have never played a real Prophet 5, for example, and most do not own one, so getting 90% of the sound is close enough. And, once you put the instrument into a mix, you often will loose the subtle differences anyway.

    Beyond that, there are way too many soft synths available today, at all prices from free to cheap to more expensive. And, many of the better ones are just copied for free. Most sound good in one way or another, but I can't keep up with all of them. It's not a very good business model for an instrument designer. As I like to say, these days anyone graduating from college with a technical degree can desgin a soft synth, and half of them have!

    The other problem with soft synths is that if you buy one today, it will not work in 10 years. When you desing a soft synth, you spend most of your time making sure it works on the different platforms, operating systems, and versions of each. A constantly moving target.

    All of these reason are why I'm doing hardware again (plus it's more fun!). After inventing the first soft syths almost 10 years ago, and still admitting that software is still the future, when it comes to musical instruments I find it much more rewarding to design a piece of hardware. It doesnt crash for reasons out of my control (like any computer-based product will), and it will still work the same in 10 years. I feel a real musical instrument sould have some longevity. And, in the case of Evolver, there is still a sound you can get from real analog components that stands apart from all the soft/digital sameness.

    Thanks again for your time. To wrap things up... I just wanted to ask if you used Apple computers at all either at home or at work and if so, which ones?

    Dave Smith.
    I haven't used a Mac in a long time. I still have an old Quadra 950 that sounded worse than a refrigerator when it was on, but it hasnt been used in quite a while. I don't take sides in the Mac vs. PC issue; to me all computers are stupid, very fast, crash occasionally, and are the coolest things to have around for a million reasons. Beyond that it gets too religious. Since I started using computers in the late 60's, I've seen it all, and as such fully appreciate the power you get for the $$ these days, so everything beyond that is nit-picking in the big picture. I use PCs since they are cheaper, and all my engineering development hardware and software work only on PCs. I'm much too lazy to learn/support two OSs around here, so I only use PCs.


    Dave Smith:
    http://www.davesmithinstruments.com/index.html

    Evolver:
    http://www.davesmithinstruments.com/other/museum.html
About the author: Synthetic
Professional graphic artist by day and aspiring musician by night. I play keyboard and bass as well as write and compose music.
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