Is MIDI evil?

The march of technology may be unstoppable, but does it ever feel like it’s veering off in a potentially dangerous direction? I bring this up because we’ve been talking a lot lately about MIDI around the office—its artistic merits and economic impact. Few want to give a breathing musician’s job to a machine just because the theater has been arm wrestled by capitalism into economic subservience, but could the Virtual Orchestra be a legitimate musical instrument that by rights should be available to a composer without the 802 running interference? If we give into the machine, how long before we’ll be forced to accept it as a more permanent replacement for human talent, its economic advantages making it “good enough”?

I was forced to ask myself some of these questions again when word came through about Notion, a new notation software package offering playback capabilities that feature the London Symphony Orchestra. The composition program was developed by the Greensboro (NC) company VirtuosoWorks. There’s a little movie you can watch and some sound samples to listen to on the site. It’s difficult from the quick tour to determine just how far and how hard you can push the software, but even using the talents of the LSO and the engineers at Abbey Road Studios, it’s still a cheap imitation of an orchestra to my ears. But if you’re a composer on the verge of completing a new symphony, perhaps the instant gratification is worth that price.

3 thoughts on “Is MIDI evil?

  1. Chris Becker

    MIDI and it’s current uses in the world of new music and popular music would be a great topic for an issue of NewMusicBox. It’s a protocol that in some ways is very dated – but at the same time, it continues to be used in tandem with current technology to yield some very musical and “un-MIDI” like results.

    The term “MIDI” is often used as a blanket word to describe the replacing of a live performance with a sampled one. This isn’t correct, of course. MIDI is a protocol – it’s not an instrument or a force of nature. But I don’t think the issue here is “MIDI” but the attitude of composers and presenters and how they hear music and value the live or prerecorded musical experience. If I’m restating the obvious I apologize.

    The issue of musical time is one anyone dealing with digital recording of live and sampled/sequenced performances has to come to grips with. I find my own perception of time became more fine tuned as a result of several years of recording various musicians digitally and trying to make their respective performances groove together. And I find this heightened perception of time and ensemble playing is pervasive in the creative recording world. Musical time and how it is translated by digital technology is another topic that might make for an interesting article.

    Thanks,

    Chris

    Reply
  2. sfz

    MIDI is getting pretty dating, despite its pervasiveness. The next evolutionary step in this kind of digital music protocol is Open Sound Control (OSC). It takes advantage of current networking techologies and alleviates some of the frustrations of working with MIDI (such as not being able to send truly simultaneous messages). So I guess it’s potentially more evil than MIDI.

    CNMAT’S Open Sound Control site
    What Is OSC?

    Reply
  3. de Quincy

    Hello Molly,
    You can’t begin to approach this question unless you have extensive hands on experience using MIDI as but one element in an up-to-date digital music studio. I have already produced one album of my own orchestral music, using the technology of year 2000, and in it I came very close to the recorded sound of a live orchestra. Developments in this field advance as quickly as the memory capacity of computers, which is to say, very quickly. Using the technology of year 2005, I am currently producing a new album that I am confident will sound perfectly indistinguishable from the recorded sound of a live orchestra.
    Classical musicians are NOT absorbing the significance of this development, as the framing of questions in your interoffice discussions indicates. I have tried over the course of three or four years to make classical musicians, and especially composers, aware of the significance of this development – with absolutely no success. It seems to me that classical musicians are prejudiced by inartistic productions that in no way represent the aesthetic potential of the technology; AND, deeply and irrationally fearful of supposed implications for live music. Without exception, I have found individual responses to be enitrely ill-informed and not thought through.
    This would matter little except that the positive potential of this technology to aid in the regeneration of the art is being lost as a consequence. I do not hesitate to say that this technology is the ONLY means by which classical music may possibly be passed on to future generations. You may laugh at this extreme statement, and I beg you to consider that I make this statement as someone who is well-informed, and who has thought it through. (I have written extensively on the subject. In fact, one of my articles was published on NewMusicBox, a few years ago.)
    I would like to add that, for the reason outlined above, it is simply irresponsible for conservatories and music departments at our universities not to have a teacher of what I call “syNThony,” which is the art of digital orchestral simulation.
    Daniel de Quincy
    http://www.wholarts.com/syNThony/

    Reply

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