Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Now, in the original MIDI standard, the manufacturer was defined as one byte long. Allowing for the fact that the high bit in any data byte in any MIDI message must be 0 (in order to distinguish it from a command byte, which always has a high bit of 1), that leaves a usable range of numbers of 00-7F hexadecimal, or 0-127 decimal. Long ago, in the original 1983 standard, the MIDI principals (which at the time were Sequential Circuits and Roland) decided to divide the manufacturer IDs into four groups, to be assigned to manufacturers on a geographic basis:
- 01 to 1F for American manufacturers (00 was reserved, which I'll get to in a bit)
- 20 to 3F for European manufacturers
- 40 to 5F for Japanese manufacturers
- 60 to 7F were reserved for future use (Some of these have since been assigned for certain special purposes, such as the MIDI Sample Dump Standard)
In the original specification, published by Sequential in the January 1984 version of "The Complete SCI MIDI", these manufacturers were assigned:
02 Big Briar
04 Moog Music
05 Passport Designs
20 Bon Tempi
Sequential received ID #01 as befitting its status as co-originator of the MIDI standard, along with Roland, which was given the "first" number in the Japanese group. (I don't know why Kawai was given 40; it may have been the case that 20 and 40 were reserved at first, as 00 was, and then un-reserved and assigned later.)
A few things to note from that list. Both Moog Music and Big Briar are assigned IDs. At the time this list was issued, in 1984, Moog Music was the original New York company, owned at the time by Norlin (I think; it was about this time that Norlin broke up), while Big Briar was Bob Moog's company in North Carolina (he had been gone from Moog Music for a number of years at this point). As most of you know, the Moog Music that exists now is actually Big Briar renamed; the original Moog Music has long since folded. So I got curious as to which ID Moog is using now. Turns out the current production Voyager uses 04, the original Moog Music ID, and presumably 02 is no longer in use. The MMA's rules today state that a manufacturer must renew their ID each year, or it can be reassigned (much like Internet domain names). However, I doubt that the MMA will reassign 02, even if Moog is no longer renewing it.
Some of you may be wondering now who those other companies in the American and European groups are. Other than Moog/Big Briar and Lexicon, they are all gone from the music industry now. Sequential you know about, the creator of the mighty Prophet-5 and the co-inventor of MIDI. Oberheim is another familiar name to synth perfomers. Octave/Plateau had an interesting run in the '80s; they created what was probably the first rackmount synth, the Voyetra-8, with a remote keyboard that connected to it via a (non-MIDI) control bus. A couple of years later, they introduced the first computer-based sequencer software, which was also called Voyetra, and at that time they changed the company name to Voyetra. This was a very popular package from 1986 up until about 1992, when competition overcame it.
Passport Designs was also a music software company, coinciding with the MIDI era. Like Voyetra, they marketed a sequencer package, called Trax, that was popular in the early days of computer sequencing. They are probably best known for Alchemy, a sample librarian marketed in the 1990s. They were bought out and the existing product line discontinued in 1998. SIEL was an Italian synth manufacturer of some note, one of the two most successful of the 1980s European manufacturers (along with Crumar). They were bought out by Roland in 1987. Bon Tempi was a European maker of combo organs and string machines. They are still in business, but no longer manufacture any keyboard instruments other than some toys. It's curious that they were one of the first to get a manufacturer ID, since I don't think they ever marketed a product that used MIDI.
Despite the demise of these companies, the field of products that use MIDI has expanded dramatically since that 1984 specification. At the time, it was anticipated that only a few dozen manufacturers would ever request or need IDs. But a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century: the MIDI-using synth field grew dramatically with the advent of soft synths and plug-ins, plus there was an unanticipated explosion in the number of non-synthesizer applications of MIDI. It's common now to find the protocol in use controlling not only studio effects and pipe organs, but also totally non-musical applications such as video editors and light show controllers. By 1990, the pool of available IDs was running out. So the MMA created an "escape hatch": They redefined the manufacturer ID standard to state that an ID byte of 00 indicates that the following two bytes constitute an extended ID field. This opened up another 16,384 ID numbers. They retained the convention of the geographical groupings: the numbers from 00 00 00 to 00 1F 7F are the American group, the 00 20 00 to 00 3F 7F group is the European group, and the 00 40 00 to 00 5F 7F group is the Japanese group. The group from 00 60 00 to 00 7F 7F is apparently going to be a new Asian (China/Russia/Korea/India et al) group, but I don't think any of those have been assigned yet.
There's a list on the MMA's Web site of the most recently assigned IDs (not updated in about a year, unfortunately), and there are some interesting names that pop up. I wonder why National Semiconductor and U.S. Robotics need MIDI IDs? Nvidia (manufacturer of computer video cards) appears, as does supercomputer maker Silicon Graphics (I didn't realize they were still in business). Some old-school names in the professional audio business appear: Electro-Voice, Shure, Otari. Is someone designing MIDI-controlled microphones and loudspeakers? ID 00 01 51 is assigned to Research in Motion, the Blackberry maker. Can you remotely control your Blackberry via MIDI? If so, why? There's a few sad notes too: among the IDs marked "relinquished" is 00 20 50, which belonged to Hartmann GmbH, maker of the brilliant but ill-fated Neuron.
Anyway, what prompted all this was this posting on Matrixsynth, which points out that Dave Smith Instruments is using ID 01, which was Sequential's. Nice to know that the MMA hasn't forgotten their roots. If anyone should be entitled to use Sequential's number, Dave Smith is the guy.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Procuring the 650 will allow me to dedicate the JKJ Electronics (RIP) CV-5 to the EML 101. For the past several years, the CV-5 has done double duty, interfacing to both the 101 and the modular. This has been a pain because the EML uses 1.2V/octave scaling, so every time I move it from one to the other, I have to re-scale it. There are, however, a lot of convenient features about the CV-5, which I'm going to have to work a bit to get the 650 to do the same things. One thing I appreciate about the CV-5 is that it contains a built-in MIDI-controlled panner; you plug in a mono audio signal, and it produces a stereo out. The panning is contolled by the MIDI Pan continuous controller, and it's internal to the interface. This is nice for automating panning during mixing; I do a lot of virtual-mix techniques, and to make that work you need the mixdown to be absoultely as automated as possible.
Other handy features of the CV-5: It processes pitch bend messages and adds or subtracts pitch bend from the pitch CV output, and you can set the bend range via MIDI. It also has a built-in LFO which can be added to several of the CV outputs, and the LFO can be sync'ed to MIDI clock. (It also has the ability to convert MIDI clock to DIN sync, but I don't use that.) A built-in portamento can also be programmed via MIDI and added to the pitch CV output, and there are several choices for note priority, velocity and aftertouch routing, and gate/trigger modes. (This includes S-trigger output, which is another thing I don't use since I'm not driving a Moog with it.)
Those are the sorts of things I've been looking for in a replacement for the CV-5, and the 650 fills the bill. Plus, it is of course built in the MOTM form factor, which the CV-5 is not. And, the 650 has lots of additional goodies, including built-in sequencing, microtuning tables (which work by offsetting the pitch CV output depending on what note is played), and the ability to update the firmware via MIDI. One little glitch is that there is an updater program for Windows and Mac OS9, but not OSX. I'm going to ask Paul S. if he's willing to document the updater protocol; if so, I'll write an OSX updater program and give it away to other 650 owners under GPL-type terms.