Chapter

From Analog to Digital: The Evolution of MIDI Hardware

Peter Manning

in Electronic and Computer Music

Published in print January 2004 | ISBN: 9780195144840
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199849802 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195144840.003.0015
From Analog to Digital: The Evolution of MIDI Hardware

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In 1981 the Japanese electronics manufacturer Casio launched a miniature all-digital synthesizer known as the VL-1, costing less than $100. This consists of a tiny keyboard of just over two octaves, a bank of five voices controlled by a set of pushbuttons, a one-hundred-note sequencer, and a rhythm unit offering a choice of ten different patterns. Some commentators dismissed the VL-1 as little more than a mass-produced toy, citing the rudimentary nature of the synthesis facilities and the limited audio fidelity. Others, however, quickly came to realize the underlying significance of a system that embodied the essential elements of a programmable digital music synthesizer for little more than the price of an upmarket scientific calculator. The VL-1 provided a major stimulus to two other manufacturing sectors with broadly similar interests. The first of these concentrated on the design of basic electronic keyboards, products that use an electronic means of sound production but are specifically engineered to function as simple instruments with a fixed repertory of voices. The second provided sound resources for a rapidly developing video games market, characterized by products that ranged from self-contained systems, complete with control paddles plugged directly into the aerial socket of a domestic television, to sophisticated arcade machines designed for the purposes of gambling. All three sectors became linked by a common mission to develop low-cost, high-performance sound chips offering a range of functional characteristics from sound effects to a programmable repertory of musical timbres.

Keywords: sound chips; Casio; video games; electronic keyboards; arcade machines

Chapter.  16044 words. 

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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