MIDI

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File Format
Name MIDI
Ontology
Extension(s) .mid, .midi
MIME Type(s) audio/midi
audio/mid
audio/x-midi
audio/m
application/x-midi
LoCFDD fdd000102
fdd000119
PRONOM x-fmt/230

Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) is an industry specification that permits digital musical instruments, computers and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another. The MIDI Specification was published in August 1983, and is widely used in electronic music.

For many, the name "MIDI" is associated with music synthesized with cheesy, lifeless software instruments from the 90's. There is considerable confusion resulting in the conflation of several things:

  • The core MIDI protocol, which is a real-time messaging format that encodes musical events such as note on/note off, velocity, tempo, controls, etc.
  • The General MIDI sub-specification of MIDI, which associates MIDI program numbers with a specific bank of 175 instruments such as oboes, pianos, drums, and so forth.
  • The MIDI file format, officially SMF (Standard MIDI Format), which is simply a score of timed MIDI messages. MIDI files may or may not be intended for interpretation as General MIDI.
  • The synthesis methods used to realize MIDI and/or General MIDI as audio, which run the whole spectrum from cheesy to non-cheesy.

Back in the day, high-quality audio files were a bit large to send over the Internet, so nerds would listen to MIDI file renditions instead. Since MIDI itself does not specify how program numbers map to instruments, General MIDI ensures that the Third Eye Blind song you send to your buddy over AOL will not inexplicably have bagpipes in it. Nowadays, MIDI files are used primarily as a storage and interchange format for music producers rather than an consumers. In music production, the synthesizer associated with a given MIDI channel is generally known a priori, so the interopability of General MIDI is less useful. The ghost of bad General MIDI synthesizers nevertheless persists in the public view of MIDI.

"Black MIDI" is a style of MIDI music that has notes so densely placed that a graphical rendition has large patches of solid black.

Alternative formats

As well as the standard MIDI specification, a number of (often proprietary) MIDI clones and variants have been created over the years. These include:

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