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MIDI Basics - A Retro Tech Deep Dive

Updated 21 January 2024

MIDI Basics - A Retro Tech Deep Dive

This is my personal journal about MIDI. MIDI is a near universal interface for the use of electronic musical instruments. The MIDI interface is very old (in computer terms) and there is is much to learn. This journal is written for my own notes and will have limited appeal to normal readers. MIDI is best known for music performance and composition. It can also be used for much more that that in areas such as mixing, lighting, art installations, and even websites.


The MIDI protocol is like a universal language that allows electronic music instruments and computers to talk to each other. It sends messages about how music should be played, like which notes to hit, how loud, and when. Introduced in the 1980s, MIDI made it possible to connect different devices, like keyboards, drum machines, and computers, so they can work together to create and record music. It's the secret recipe behind much of the music produced today, from pop to electronic.

The first stop on any MIDI journal is the MIDI Association. It is free to sign up and you get instant access to the MIDI specification(s) and the forum. My first read from their library is the "What is MIDI?" booklet.

Korg NS5R General MIDI interface
image:  Korg NS5R General MIDI interface

Computer Chronicles - 1986 MIDI Music Special

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MIDI Notebook

OpenSuse Tumbleweed

OpenSuse Tmbleweed pmidi application

Embarking on a quest for the perfect MIDI file player felt endless, until I stumbled upon the command-line treasure, PMIDI. My latest find, however, is the stellar Drumstick MIDI application, a gem for Linux aficionados, easily obtainable via OpenSuse's treasure trove of software.

OpenMPT (Windows)

OpenMPT is probably best known for its ability to play Amiga MOD-style music. That is how I found out about OpenMPT. Beyond this obvious use, OpenMPT is also a powerful sequencer and is SoundFont enabled. I find it very easy to load in MIDI tracks and start hacking away. The OpenMPT workflow is not a MIDI orientated approach but it does have a few tweaks up its sleeve. The Tree View is a work of pure genius.

OpenMPT logo


send midi commands to your MPC one

SendMIDI is a multi-platform command-line tool makes it very easy to quickly send MIDI messages to MIDI devices from your computer. The software is built in the JUICE library and is intended for sending CC, PRN and other messages to your MIDI-enabled equipment.

I haven't had much of a chance to give this whirl yet. I see this as the perfect solution to sending macro set up commands to my Yamaha Motif-Rack. Imagine this… large on-screen hot buttons to change effects, delays and other details on the fly. I can see this MIDI control tool improving my audio creation skills.

Besides sending CC, PRN, and other MIDI messages to your MIDI devices, SendMIDI can also be used for automation and integration purposes. You can use it to automate tasks that involve MIDI messages, such as sending MIDI program changes at specific times during a live performance, or controlling MIDI-enabled devices with scripts or other software programs. Additionally, SendMIDI can be integrated with other audio or music production tools, such as digital audio workstations (DAWs), MIDI sequencers, or hardware controllers, to enhance their functionality and streamline your workflow.

Go to SendMIDI project site.

Sound Fonts .sf2

Sound fonts were once marketed as the electronic instrumenet equivelent of a standard text font. Sound fonts have fallen our of fashion and are rarely used by the mainstream. That makes sound fonts perfectly interesting for my journal. Many retro-music platforms still give access to using soundfonts. However, VST programs are now the defactor standard for instruments in music software. There is a an old-school freeware VST program that lets one use sound fonts like any other modern instrument. The application is called Pneumo4 (Internet Archive).

Soundfonts .sf2

Ctrlr - Control you MIDI life

Ctrlr Yamaha Control panel screen

The Ctrlr panel software transforms MIDI control with its customizable interface, offering musicians the power to craft their unique control surface. It bridges the gap between hardware and virtual instruments, allowing for seamless integration and manipulation of sounds. With Ctrlr, you're not just playing music; you're sculpting it, creating a personal touch to your digital audio workstation with intuitive design and endless possibilities.

Ctrlr - control you MIDI life. A MIDI editor for your hardware. A look at the forums suggests that this is a powerful software tool that has a steep learning curve. Tomlet created a lesson to download called Ctrlr in 60 lessons.

Other areas to investigate…