Smith leaves behind a legacy innovating the craft of electronic music production and impacting generations of producers in the process.
Dave Smith, a trailblazer in synth design revered as the “father of MIDI,” has died at the age of 72.
Sequential, the synthesizer design company Smith founded, announced his death earlier this week in a statement shared via social media.
"We’re heartbroken, but take some small solace in knowing he was on the road doing what he loved best in the company of family, friends, and artists,” Sequential wrote.
Perhaps Smith’s most impactful creation was the Prophet-5. Built in 1978 while Smith was in his twenties, the Prophet-5 broke ground on two fronts: it was the first synth with an embedded microprocessor and the first fully programmable polyphonic synth.
Prior to the invention of the Prophet-5, synths involved manually adjusting cables and knobs with no way of reproducing exact settings. By storing patches in memory via microprocessors, Smith’s innovation empowered musicians to reliably recreate sounds. The Prophet-5 set the standard for poly synths, and over 50 years later, most continue to take design inspiration from it.
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Apart from this crowning achievement in analog synth innovation, Smith also made a mark in digital music technology.
In 1982, frustrated by a lack of standard communication between different types of synths, Smith worked with Tom Oberheim, Ikutaro Kakehashi of Roland and representatives from Korg, Yamaha and Kawai to develop a common communication protocol for computers and synthesizers from varying manufacturers. Smith dubbed the protocol "MIDI" (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and created the first MIDI synth later that year, the Prophet-600. The following year, at the January 1983 NAMM show, the Prophet-600 and a Roland Jupiter 6 were successfully connected and performed together. It marked the first time synthesizers from different manufacturers integrated with each other.
MIDI revolutionized the craft of electronic music production, standing strong as the “universal language for electronic instruments” to this day. It’s the reason a myriad of DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations), controllers and keyboards can seamlessly integrate with each other. Smith, alongside Kakehashi, won the Technical Grammy in 2013 for their work bringing MIDI to life.
Smith’s synths impacted generations of musicians across the gamut, like Dr. Dre, Radiohead, Madonna, Michael Jackson and John Carpenter. But modern electronic dance music producers owe a lot to Smith’s creations too. Many have taken to social media to pay tribute, like Flying Lotus, Richie Hawtin, Nina Kraviz, Skream and more.
The Sequential team has opened an email inbox for all to share thoughts and memories. We at express our sincere condolences to the family, fans, friends, and loved ones of Dave Smith.
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