The Future of Midi

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

foreward by Kevin Rogers Cobus
At this year’s winter NAMM conference, TFWM attended a press conference that we feel represents the beginning of a true paradigm shift in regards to how churches use video in live environments.

At TFWM we try to keep manufacturer references to a minimum in context to educational articles. In this case, we wanted to ask a manufacturer directly to shed some light on this apparent evolution of a format that has been with us for many years: MIDI.

Because of this manufacturer’s tact in vying to make this an open source protocol, regardless of competitive manufacturers, we figured it would be a good idea to ask them to weigh in on this format directly, and then enlist comments and reaction from the readership as we move forward in understanding what it means for churches in live performance situations.

So, we caught up with Mike Kent, Manager of Technical Relations at Roland Corporation, and asked him to put his thoughts together on this format and to explain the thought process behind where we are potentially going to see this technology in further development in the coming years.

As video goes increasingly digital, MIDI is becoming a viable control system for video devices.

Twenty five years ago nobody imagined all that MIDI would be doing today. MIDI was an initial hit for use with synthesizers, drum machines, and sequencers. In fact, MIDI revolutionized the way many people wrote and produced music. The key to its success was that it was open freely for anyone to implement with clearly defined compatibility between products from all manufacturers.

MIDI expanded its reach to more musical instruments including guitars, drums, acoustic pianos, and even accordions. MIDI has truly lived up to its name, “Music Instrument Digital Interface”.

But MIDI has grown beyond musical instruments. Through new additions to the specification, MIDI expanded into computing, video games, lighting and live show control, mobile phones and more. Today there are more computers and phones with MIDI than there are synthesizers.

Most recently Roland has brought MIDI to Video devices, through their “V-Link” specification. Roland and Edirol (a subsidiary brand of Roland) have put V-Link onto many of their products over the past few years. Today users are starting to discover how MIDI can bridge the gap between video and music or audio devices. Now Roland is proposing V-Link as an industry standard, open for adoption by all manufacturers. Roland’s goal is to make V-Link successful with the same formula as MIDI, open freely for anyone to implement and clearly defining messages for compatibility between products.

What is this V-Link?
V-Link defines a MIDI control language for video devices. V-Link defines how common, existing MIDI messages should be used to control particular video system functions. V-Link also defines new custom MIDI messages (new “system exclusive” messages) for some very specific video related tasks.

The real potential uses of V-Link are beyond prediction, just as nobody in 1983 could foresee how people would use MIDI today. As manufacturers build more V-Link-Equipped devices, more users will begin to find creative applications.
A simple example might be a V-Link compatible synthesizer keyboard controlling a video presentation system. As the musician selects different sounds on the synthesizer, a message can go to the video system to select a different video clip to accompany each sound.

At a demonstration at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, Roland showed off a few ways V-Link can be used today.

A DJ performed on a sampler, playing various beat loops. Each sound loop he added to the performance triggered a new image or video clip to begin playing. Roland showed several such demonstrations of musical instruments controlling a video device for playback of visual elements.

In another demo, a keyboard player controlled a V-Link system from his piano. Each note on his piano triggered a video synthesizer to generate a falling snow flake to appear on the video screen. The pitch of the note determined the starting point of the snow flake left to right and how hard he struck the note set it’s starting height on the screen. It was a simple but beautiful example of a music + video performance by a musician.

Another demonstration showed a very different use with a video mixer controlling an audio mixer. As the user selected different video sources and switched between them faders on the digital audio mixer moved up and down to match.

The demonstrator explained that using V-Link, the sound person would not need to know video cues; As the video switcher/mixer brought up a video source onto the screen, the appropriate audio channels for that source also faded up on the audio mixer.

Video as a Performance Instrument
Today in many churches, lyrics are displayed on a video screen, following the performance of a music team playing live. Background images, videos, and graphics are displayed behind those lyrics. Those visual elements have become more than static images, in many churches they have become a live presentation, an expression of worship directed and performed in real time along with the music being sung.

Increasingly today video systems are becoming performance instruments, being controlled and manipulated live in response to what else is occurring. Nowhere is this more evident than in church settings. Visual elements have become a part of the artistic expression of worship, presented in sync with the songs. In essence, video can be performed and played, like notes on a guitar are performed and played.

Churches are not the only place where we see video performed live. Dance clubs often have both a DJ and a VJ. The VJ performs video, playing a real time presentation of graphics and video while the DJ plays music.

MIDI was intended to capture and transmit messages that represent elements of the human performance on a musical instrument. So it makes sense to use MIDI as a way to capture and transmit the human performance elements of the person controlling the video system. It seems natural that you might use MIDI to transmit actions of the musicians into events that interact with video elements. And for video related events to be transmitted to audio systems. MIDI is a low cost, easy to use way to connect audio, music and video devices, into one live presentation system.

So What’s Next for MIDI and Video?
Roland and Edirol are not the only companies building connections to video devices with MIDI. Korg has introduced some video products with MIDI connections. Archaos VJ software can be controlled or performed by MIDI. But we are probably still in the early days of MIDI controlling video systems.

Recently Roland issued an open invitation for all manufacturers to adopt their V-Link specification. They believe that if all manufacturers use one defined set of MIDI messages in the same way, then increased compatibility will allow more interesting applications from users. If more products can work together artists will find new ways to express themselves and their art.

Roland is giving V-Link to any manufacturers who want to consider it. Behind the scenes, Roland is working with industry standards bodies such as the MIDI Manufacturers Association to build industry awareness and work toward industry wide adoption. This is prompting new consideration and a few companies have already begun working toward implementing V-Link.

Only time will reveal how deeply MIDI will impact video systems. But if more manufacturers embrace MIDI as a video control system, the next few years could bring some interesting possibilities that encourage and increased the migration of video from presentation to performance.

However, it’s not all up to the device manufacturers. Artistic people will define the future, using MIDI in new and expressive ways to create, present, and perform ideas and beauty with audio, music and visuals all in sync.

For more information on the protocol, contact Roland Systems Group at 1-800-380-2580 or