The year we made contact: the first-ever MIDI connection, recorded for posterity. Think about that the next time you plug in a MIDI cable. Photo evidence now proves that the first public MIDI connection was made between a Sequential Circuits Prophet 600 and a Roland Jupiter 6. Now, get those instruments and an Instagram filter and recreate this shot, if you like. Courtesy Dave Smith (personal collection).

It’s been almost 30 years since MIDI was first demonstrated at the winter NAMM show, 1983. Marking the anniversary, The Recording Academy is giving a coveted Technical Grammy to the two people most associated with its creation – so-called “father of MIDI” Dave Smith (then founder of Sequential Circuits, now Dave Smith Instruments) and Roland founder and engineer Ikutaro Kakehashi. Actually, it’s a bit interesting to me that Mr. Kakehashi is being left out of some of the news; it was the fact that MIDI could connect between two pieces of gear that demonstrated its value. In other words, it takes two to tango.

We’ll be looking more in depth at the history of MIDI for the anniversary. In the meantime, back to that connection: Dave is at last able to clear up the mystery of what gear make the historic first public link.

Dave deserves credit for shipping the first-ever MIDI-equipped synth, the Prophet 600. In fact, BBC recently marked the anniversary of MIDI as the first shipments of that hardware in December 1982.

Most people, however, including the MIDI Manufacturing Association, mark the connection as the seminal moment. The date is undisputed: it was a public demo at NAMM 1983 that first introduced MIDI to the world. And the Dave Smith side of the equation – then branded Sequential Circuits – was the Prophet 600.

It’s the Roland side that produced some confusion. Called upon to remember back across the decades, various reports described the first link as connecting the Prophet 600 to Roland’s JX-3P. That synth does deserve credit as the first Roland synth to ship at NAMM. But Dave digs up a photo that finally proves it wasn’t a JX-3P at NAMM; it was a Jupiter 6.

It’s a good thing this news is coming out now: there’s still time to rustle up a Prophet 600 and JP-6 and recreate that first demo.

More on the announcement:
Dave to Receive Technical GRAMMY® Award [Dave Smith Instruments]

Got questions for Dave before CDM talks to him? Or were you at NAMM in 1983? Let us know.

Another NAMM ’83 shot, courtesy Dave Smith Instruments. From left, John Bowen (in the red jacket), Roland’s Jim Mothersbaugh, Dave Smith.

  • James Lewin

    Where can we get one of those sweet Sequential Circuits jackets?

  • denLab99

    Good to point out Mr.Kakahashi – it did , and still does, take a village! Hopefully kudos will trickel down to the dozens, then hundreds of folks who expanded the reach – Rittor Music with the first MIDI computer interface, Dave Kusek of Passport Designs with the first MIDI software (MIDI4) for Apple & Commodor computers, and the dozens of other visionaries from Korg and Yanmaha etc. who all agreed to play nice in the sandbox! BTW, thanks for the mention to the MIDI Manufacturers Association, the standard-keepers and expanders of the MIDI spec – without them , MIDI could have splintered into uselessness!

  • markLouis

    “Photo evidence” — Kids are going to be laughing and wondering why nobody took a VIDEO of the event with their phone.

  • gwenhwyfaer

    “Another NAMM ’83 shot, courtesy Dave Smith Instruments. From left, John
    Bowen (in the red jacket), Roland’s Jim Mothersbaugh, Dave Smith.” Um, I count four people in the foreground…

  • AikiGhost

    Interesting seeing Jim Mothersbaugh in that photo, he was an originating member of DEVO if I remember correctly.

  • loyal spud

    Now we just need to get DEVO into the rock and roll hall of fame!!

    DO IT!

  • Chris Stack

    Every once in a while something comes along and forcefully reminds you of the passage of time. The Roland JX-3P was my first MIDI synth… and it was far from being my first synth. Have I really been doing this that long 😉

    I, like many people, believed it was a JX-3P at that historic event. Good to finally know the truth. This is the electronic music equivalent of the transcontinental railroad’s “Golden Spike” photo.

  • redgreenblue

    Jim Mothersbaugh was DEVO’s original drummer and went on to work for Roland. He played a very primitive electronic drum set on the early DEVO stuff.

    • Maxwell M.

      It’s said that Jim’s first electronic drum kit was an acoustic kit with Barcus-Berry guitar pickups attached to the drum heads. He ran those through various fuzzboxes and wah-wah pedals, and an echoplex. Jim later used Remo drum pads. Keep in mind that he was a TEENAGER when he first did this and joined Devo.
      “Jungle Jim” was also a hardcore circuit bender. He went and modified a lot of Devo’s early gear. Eventually, he stopped playing in the band altogether and modded their stuff full-time. I guess that’s around the time when he decided to go develop MIDI.

      TL;DR: We owe a couple thanks for MIDI to a circuit-bending teenage drummer.

  • Samuele Cornell

    Midi is one of the greatest innovation in contemporary music, but i think its time to move on something better like the HD Midi which has also backward compatibility as well as greater resolution and data range…it basically overcome all the midi and osc drawbacks

  • Old Synth Guy

    OK, this is silly. BEFORE the big public outing of MIDI, the night before after the show closed a handful of people stood around with their fingers crossed hoping the “big connection” would work when Roland brought a Jupiter 6 down to the Sequential booth and hooked it up, no hoopla, no media, just a cable and a prayer. Nobody knew if it would work or not. I’d seen the reams of pin fed green bar on Dave’s desk for a couple of months, and the converations and data exchanges were held primarily on, get this, a teletype machine. But it did work, one number off for patch select. The real back story that isn’t being told here is that while the very first after hours test was being conducted, Brian Auger was beating the snot out of an organ patch on an infant T-8. So infant that only Dave and John were allowed to really show it because they knew what worked and what to stay away from.
    I still have one of those jackets, but believe me, they aren’t in “flattery” sizes by today’s standards. I even have a Sequential Circuits MIDI cable that still works. Just like MIDI. Thirty years old, still at Rev 1 and still functional. Thanks Dave!
    Phil Huston
    Yeah, I was there.