Exploring the 2023 MIDI Innovation Awards

Dom Aversano

In Jaron Lanier’s cult classic technology manifesto, You Are Not a Gadget, the writer outlines a concept he calls lock-in, which he defines as when via mass adoption a technology becomes so deeply embedded into a culture that it becomes difficult to either improve or remove it without massive effort, even if its design is fundamentally flawed. The British road system exemplifies this, with its twisting and turning narrow lanes designed for horse-drawn carts, which while somewhat charming relics of a bygone era, can make it impossible to create separated bike lanes without bulldozing entire sections of cities. Lanier provides another example, MIDI, which he perceives as a reductive and delimiting music language that shrinks our conception of music to the functioning of keyboards, yet nevertheless, that he predicts will persist as a language well into the future, due to the huge work it would take to extract it from our musical infrastructure.

More than a decade after Lanier’s book was published his prediction that MIDI would persist is vindicated, however, Lanier may have underestimated the extent to which, unlike the British road system, MIDI has the capacity to transform itself without a major uprooting, which is the intention of MIDI 2.0. Anyone who has followed the non-starter of Web 3.0 will know that technological advancement requires more than adding a number and a decimal place to an existing technology. However, this new version of MIDI offers genuinely new capabilities, such as bidirectionally, backwards compatibility, a finer resolution of detail, and the capacity for instruments to communicate with greater sophistication.

Browsing through the entrants and finalists on the MIDI Association website reminded me of the show-and-tell-type events Music Hackspace put on in its early days. There is a nice balance between slick and sophisticated products built by established companies and eccentric innovations made in a shed by a devoted individual. As is the nature of these things, most of the innovations will not make their way to the mass market (presuming they were designed for it at all) but this does not detract from the creative value of the work. It is inspiring to see people make the brave effort of taking ideas from their imagination and putting them into the real world, so providing an audience for their efforts helps motivate and stimulate this innovation, by demonstrating that it has value and importance in our culture.

For the last few days, I have had the pleasure of indulging in a kind of digital sauntering, where I have explored and browsed through the wonderful collection of innovations on display. One original-looking instrument that immediately caught my eye is the Abacusynth, which as its name suggests, is built in the style of an abacus. The synth is intended to emphasise musical timbre with its creator stating:

“Timbral modulation is arguably just as ‘musical’ as melody or rhythm, but it’s not often emphasized for someone learning music, usually due to the complexity of synthesizer interfaces”.

One aspect of its interface design that is ingenious is that by spinning the blocks it creates a modulation effect, aligning the visual and kinetic aspects of the instrument in a playful and intuitive way.

Another visually appealing instrument is the Beat Scholar, which uses a novel pizza-slice-type interface to subdivide rhythms, provoking the visual imagination and making the likes of quintuplets and septuplets subdivisions much less intimidating. It is a much more visually appealing representation of rhythm than your average piano roll sequencer, where the interface for advanced rhythms often feels like an afterthought. 

When it comes to slickness Roland’s AE-30 Aerophone Pro jumps out, with the company claiming it ‘the most fully-integrated and advanced MIDI wind controller ever created.’ It uses a saxophone key layout and mouthpiece and Bluetooth connection to free up players to move. It looks and sounds like a promising alternative to the keyboard and drum machine hegemony of electronic music, but will ultimately rely on the opinion of seasoned wind players as to whether it is adopted.

Finally, a music installation that stood out for its elegantly simple design is Sound Sculpture, which uses the collaboration and participation of a crowd to move glowing blocks around, which communicate their position to build a sequencer that creates a musical pattern. Watching people collaborate with strangers in this audio/visual artwork is particularly inspiring.

“This project utilizes 25 cubes in a space typically about the size of a half-basketball court. This spatial realization of composing, with blocks, allows multiple people to collaborate, co-compose as a community, and together create structures, rhythms, melodies, and harmonies.”

Whether you are in the depths of Argentina’s Patagonia or the buzzing metropolis of Lagos, you can join online to find out who the winners of this year’s MIDI Innovation Awards are, in a live-streamed 90 minutes show on Saturday, September 16th (10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 6 pm BST / 7 pm CET) that will be hosted by music Youtubers Tantacrul and Look Mum No Computer.

Build a MIDI 2.0 program using the Apple UMP API – Workshop 2 / December 6th

Date & Time: Monday 6th December 2021 6pm UK / 7pm Berlin / 10am LA / 1pm NYC

This workshop builds on the first UMP Workshop, and focuses on C++ development using the new Apple UMP API. Automatic 20% discount will be applied at checkout to this workshop if purchased at the same time as the first workshop.

2-hours

Difficulty level: Advanced

  • Inspect the new Apple UMP API
  • What can be done with the API, where are limitations?
  • Build a simple UMP program in C++

Overview

This workshop builds on Workshop 1, and will provide developers with knowledge and code for implementing MIDI 2.0 Universal MIDI Packet (UMP) development using the Apple UMP API in C++. The Apple UMP API will be presented and explained. Then, the participants will co-develop a simple implementation in C++ using the Apple UMP API. For that, a stub workspace will be provided. Exercises will let the participants practice the newly learned concepts. Xcode on MacOS 11 required for building the workshop code.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the workshop the participants will:

  • Be able to build MIDI 2.0 products using UMP using the Apple UMP API

Study Topics

  • Looking at the Apple UMP API
  • Extending the code from Workshop 1 with Apple i/o
  • Presenting fragments of the code in the stub workspace
  • Testing and interoperability with MIDI 1.0

Level of experience required

  • Attendees who joined workshop 1 <add link>
  • Some experience with C++ coding required
  • Attendees should be familiar with MIDI 1.0; they should have experience building and debugging applications using Xcode (macOS)

Any technical requirements for participants 

  • A computer and internet connection
  • A webcam and mic
  • A Zoom account
  • for development: Xcode on MacOS 11

About the workshop leader 

Florian Bomers runs his own company Bome Software, creating MIDI tools and hardware. He has been an active MIDI 2.0 working group member since its inception. He serves on the Technical Standards Board of the MIDI Association and chairs the MIDI 2.0 Transports Working Group. He is based in Munich, Germany.

MIDI 2.0 – Introduction to the Universal MIDI Packet – Workshop 1 / November 29th

Date & Time: Monday 29th November 2021 6pm UK / 7pm Berlin / 10am LA / 1pm NYC

This workshop is followed by two more workshops exploring the specific implementations with Apple UMP API and the JUCE UMP API (cross-platform). Automatic 20% discount on workshop 2 and/or 3 will be applied when purchased with this workshop.

2- hours

Difficulty level: Advanced

MIDI 2.0 is set to power the next generation of hardware and software with enhanced features for discovery, expression and faster communication. The Universal MIDI Packet (UMP) is a fundamental aspect of MIDI 2.0, which allows programs to negotiate and communicate with MIDI 1.0 and MIDI 2.0 products.

In this workshop, you will learn from a member of the MIDI Association Technology Standard Board, who wrote the specifications, how to get started working with UMP, and write a simple C++ program that utilises UMP.

Overview

This workshop will provide developers with knowledge and code for starting MIDI 2.0 Universal MIDI Packet (UMP) development in C++. The concepts of UMP will be explained. Then, the participants will co-develop a first simple implementation of a generic UMP parser in plain C++. For that, a stub workspace will be provided. Exercises will let the participants practice the newly learned concepts.

Who is this workshop for:

Developers wanting to learn how the new MIDI 2.0 packet format works under the hood, and how to get started writing software for it right away.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the workshop the participants will:

  • Understand the core concepts of UMP
  • Be able to build applications in C++ using UMP

Study Topics

  • UMP Basics
  • packet format
  • MIDI 1.0 in UMP
  • MIDI 2.0 in UMP
  • Translation
  • Protocol Negotiation in MIDI-CI
  • Inspecting the UMP C++ class in the stub workspace
  • A simple UMP parser in C++
  • Unit Testing the UMP class

Level of experience required: 

  • Some experience with C++ coding
  • Have a development environment set up and ready with Xcode (macOS) or Visual Studio (Windows).
  • Working knowledge of MIDI 1.0

Any technical requirements for participants 

  • A computer and internet connection
  • A webcam and mic
  • A Zoom account
  • Xcode (macOS) / Visual Studio (Windows)

About the workshop leader 

Florian Bomers runs his own company Bome Software, creating MIDI tools and hardware. He has been an active MIDI 2.0 working group member since its inception. He serves on the Technical Standards Board of the MIDI Association and chairs the MIDI 2.0 Transports Working Group. He is based in Munich, Germany.

Getting started with Max – October Series

Date & Time: Wednesdays 6th / 13th / 20th / 27th October – 6pm UK / 7pm Berlin / 10am LA / 1pm NYC

Length 2-hours

Level: Beginners curious about programming

Get started with interactive audio and MIDI, and discover the possibilities of the Max environment. In this series of workshops, you will learn how to manipulate audio, MIDI, virtual instruments and program your own interactive canvas.

Connect together Max’s building blocks to create unexpected results, and use them in your music productions. Through a series of guided exercises you will engage in the pragmatic creation of a basic MIDI sequencer device that features a wealth of musical manipulation options.

Learn from guided examples and live interactions with teachers and other participants.

This series of online workshops aims to enable you to work with Max confidently on your own.

Sessions overview: 

Session 1 – Understand the Max environment

Session 2 – Connect building blocks together and work with data

Session 3 – Master the user interface

Session 4 – Work with your MIDI instruments

Requirements

  • A computer and internet connection

  • A good working knowledge of computer systems

  • Access to a copy of Max 8

About the workshop leader 

Kyle Duffield is a Toronto based Interactive Experience Design Professional who creates immersive interactive installations and brand activations. He is also known for his affiliation with the studio space Electric Perfume. His decade-plus expertise spans audio, video, creative coding, electronics, and interaction design with the intent of bringing play and multisensory spectacle to public spaces. As an Educator, he has facilitated interactive media courses and workshops with various institutions, galleries, and universities across Canada, Shanghai, the UK, and online. Currently, Kyle is a Cycling 74 Max Certified Trainer, and is focusing on creating unforgettable technological experiences.

Getting Started with Max – July series

Dates & Times: Wednesdays 7th / 14th / 21st / 28th July 6pm UK / 7pm Berlin / 10am LA / 1pm NYC

Level: Beginners curious about programming

Get started with interactive audio and MIDI, and discover the possibilities of the Max environment. In this series of recorded videos, you will learn how to manipulate audio, MIDI, virtual instruments and program your own interactive canvas.

Connect together Max’s building blocks to create unexpected results, and use them in your music productions. Through a series of exercises you will engage in the pragmatic creation of a basic MIDI sequencer device that features a wealth of musical manipulation options.

Learn from guided examples.

This on demand content aims to enable you to work with Max confidently on your own.

Learning outcomes: 

  • Understand the Max environment

  • Connect building blocks together and work with data

  • Master the user interface

  • Work with your MIDI instruments

Requirements

  • A computer and internet connection

  • A good working knowledge of computer systems

  • Access to a copy of Max 8

Getting Started with Max – June Series

Dates & Times: Wednesdays 2nd, 9th, 16th & 23rd of June 6pm UK / 7pm Berlin / 10am LA / 1pm NYC – 2 hours live sessions

Level: Beginners curious about programming

Get started with interactive audio and MIDI, and discover the possibilities of the Max environment. In this series of recorded videos, you will learn how to manipulate audio, MIDI, virtual instruments and program your own interactive canvas.

Connect together Max’s building blocks to create unexpected results, and use them in your music productions. Through a series of exercises you will engage in the pragmatic creation of a basic MIDI sequencer device that features a wealth of musical manipulation options.

Learn from guided examples.

This on demand content aims to enable you to work with Max confidently on your own.

Learning outcomes: 

  • Understand the Max environment

  • Connect building blocks together and work with data

  • Master the user interface

  • Work with your MIDI instruments

Requirements

  • A computer and internet connection

  • A good working knowledge of computer systems

  • A Zoom account

  • Access to a copy of Max 8

MIDI Programming in Ableton Live – On-demand

Level: Beginner

By turning off the quantize function on his MPC  J Dilla ushered a new era of groove in electronic music production. Composing beats using both rushing and dragging feels while also making sure that notes remained musically coherent. This workshop intends to equip you with the skills to program hip hop beats and music ideas with a drunk drummerfeel inspired by producers and musicians such as J Dilla, Questlove, Flying Lotus, or Kaytranada.

Session Learning Outcomes

By the end of this session a successful student will be able to:

  • Develop an understanding of pulse, subdivision and polyrhythms

  • Acquire an understanding of the Groove

  • Using the Groove Pool and Warping to program beats with both MIDI and audio content

  • Identify & apply the right quantization values to apply to your programming

Session Study Topics

  • Drum rack for composition

  • Audio & MIDI warping for rhythm programming

  • The groove pool and timing features

  • Audio effects for enhancing rhythms

Requirements

  • A computer and internet connection

  • A web cam and mic

  • A Zoom account

  • Access to a copy of Live Suite or Standard (i.e. trial or full license)

About the workshop leader: 

Simone Tanda is a musician, producer, multi-media artist, tech consultant, and educator.

Based across London & Berlin he is currently creating music for his own project, as well as multidisciplinary artists, film, and commercials.

Creative Riff Composition with MIDI – On-demand

Level: Beginner

The riff by nature is repetitive so you get it, again and again, you get it reinforced and the rest of the song is built around it like the riff was the skeleton of the song.

This workshop aims to provide you with the necessary abilities to begin composing riffs and arranging a composition around such an important musical element.

Session Learning Outcomes

By the end of this session a successful student will be able to:

  • Apply critical listening skills to riff & recurring motifs.

  • Extrapolate core musical qualities of a riff.

  • Construct a riff within a selected musical genre.

  • Apply arrangement techniques around a riff within a track.

Session Study Topics

  • MIDI programming

  • Rhythmic subdivision and polymeter

  • Micro fills and macro fills

  • Layering and subtractive arrangement techniques

Requirements

  • A computer and internet connection

  • A web cam and mic

  • A Zoom account

  • Access to a copy of Live Suite or Standard (i.e. trial or full license)

About the workshop leader: 

Simone Tanda is a musician, producer, multi-media artist, tech consultant, and educator.

Based across London & Berlin he is currently creating music for his own project, as well as multidisciplinary artists, film, and commercials.

Livestream: Nestup – A Language for Musical Rhythms

Date & Time: Monday 10th May 6pm UK / 7pm Berlin / 10am LA / 1pm NYC

In this livestreamed interview, we will speak with Sam Tarakajian and Alex Van Gils, who’ve built a fantastic live-coding environment that works within an Ableton Live device called Nestup

The programs we use to make music have a lot of implicit decisions baked into them, especially in their graphical interfaces. Nestup began as a thought experiment, trying to see if embedding a text editor inside Live could open up new creative possibilities. We think the answer is that yes, text can work well alongside a piano roll and a traditional musical score, as a concise and expressive way to define complex rhythms.

With Nestup, you define for yourself any size of rhythmic unit, any sort of rhythmic subdivision, and with any scaling factor. These language features open your rhythm programming up to musical ideas such as metric modulation, nested tuplets, complex polyrhythm, and more. Rhythms from musical styles which would have been prohibitively difficult to program in a DAW can therefore be rendered in MIDI, such as rhythms from Armenian folk musics or “new complexity” compositions.

Overview of speakers

Sam is a Brooklyn based developer and creative coder. Sam works for Cycling ‘74 and develops independent projects at Cutelab NYC. Alex is a composer, performer, and generative video artist based in Brooklyn. 

Sam and Alex have been making art with music and code together for over 10 years, beginning with a composition for double bass and Nintendo Wiimote while undergraduates and continuing to include electroacoustic compositions, live AR performance art, installation art, Max4Live devices, and now Nestup, the domain-specific language for musical rhythms.

Where to watch?

YouTube –

 

Creative Audio and MIDI in Ableton Live – On-demand

If you’d like to support the Music Hackspace to continue to build a program of free workshops, a voluntary contribution would be much appreciated. 

Level: Intermediate

Ableton Live offers a vast playground of musical opportunities to create musical compositions and productions. These include converting audio based harmony, melody and rhythm to MIDI, alongside techniques such as slicing audio into sampling tools which can be triggered via MIDI. In this workshop you will creatively explore and deploy a range of Audio and MIDI manipulation tools in a musical setting. This workshop aims to provide you with suitable skills to utilise the creative possibilities of Audio and MIDI manipulation in the Ableton Live environment.

Session Learning Outcomes

By the end of this session a successful student will be able to:

  • Convert Audio to MIDI

  • Slice Audio to MIDI

  • Manipulate Audio via MIDI slices

  • Utilise Audio and MIDI to create novel musical and sonic elements

Session Study Topics

  • Converting Audio to MIDI

  • Slicing Audio to MIDI

  • Manipulating slices within Simpler

  • Creatively using Audio and MIDI

Requirements

  • A computer and internet connection

  • Access to a copy of Live Suite (i.e. trial or full license)

About the workshop leader 

Anna is a London based producer, engineer, vocalist and educator.

Anna is currently working as a university lecturer in London, teaching music production, creating educational content and working on her next releases as ANNA DISCLAIM.