Blog:Lets Talk About SysEX Baby

Blogger Lagrange Audio explains      10/02/14

The first relates to the fact that while synthesizers were able to store data associated with sounds for later recall since the revolutionary Prophet-5, they were only able to do so in limited numbers due to onboard memory being so expensive. Even into the 1980's any machine capable of storing 32 or even 64 patches was considered well spec'd. This is a far cry from the situation we have now where instruments routinely come bundled with hundreds if not thousands of presets, particularly in software.

Very quickly sound designers ran out of room so to be able to 'offline' additional patches elsewhere was a godsend, even if was only to a second machine of the same type. Musicians loved this idea as it also allowed their instruments to be loaded with a particular sound set quickly and easily before a gig, something that was not possible before without constant and laborious re-programming or configuration.

The second major restriction of the day was that editing this new breed of digital instrument was a right royal pain in the proverbial and remains to this day the single most contentious characteristic of these machines. Having to navigate through button driven, hierarchical menu systems with the only visual feedback being a small two-line display caused much consternation particularly when the synth in question came with an unfamiliar synthesis method (no prizes for guessing which one!!).

 

Interestingly this interface design was the inevitable trade-off between cost to build and the functionality offered. In many cases some machines may never have been built at all if an individual knob or slider had to be provisioned for every single parameter. Front panel space further became a premium as MIDI also allowed instruments to be form-factored into a 19-inch rack and triggered with an external controller. SysEx in it's simplest scenario allowed for 'bulk dumping' between similar machines but more importantly it allowed emerging 8-bit computers and clever programmers to create an on-screen user interface that could display the synths architecture and all of it's editable parameters in one view. Once in the computer realm the number of patches that could be stored and edited became almost limitless. A more hardware based attempt at providing individual controls was arguably developed by Roland with their PG controllers offered as options on their various synths. At its heart however SysEx was predominantly the messaging used under the covers.




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10 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
Saxifraga    Said...

I think MIDI was a great achievement for musical machines. But it is now stuck in 80ties tec and has become a bottleneck. The protocol is unable to cope with modern volumes of data. Esp. if you have samplers to manage. This has lead to 'solutions' that are inferior. That´s why there is no workstation with a consisten way to write librarian software and manage big sample libraries. We need all instruments to be able to plug into high speed wlan or ethernet cable/ thunderbolt/USB3 and an API that breaks thetransmission limits of MIDI.

11-Feb-14 04:58 AM


to-pse    Said...

Actually MIDI is still able to cope with high volumes as long as one uses other transports than the DIN serial ports like USB, Firewire or Ethernet.

And with the CC #88 high resolution velocity prefix, one is not even limited to 127 different velocity values...

11-Feb-14 05:55 AM


Superlative    Said...

Mon dieu, Sysex... if there is a good software to transfer Data it is no Problem, but....i want not to write a Sysexfile by myselfe... remember anyone NRP and NRPN??? It was a nightmare to get access to the Filtercutoff and other stuff on the AWE64.... I don't understand the critics to midi. I never had Problems with it. If youn have Midiproblems you have A Midiinterface that is not as good as it can be.. to test a good midipipline they use allways the Nordmodular... i had a Nordmodular and never Problems, cause i had a good Midiconnection but there are Interfaces out there which can not handle Mididata very good... Midi works. You can easlie integrate it in every modern workstation... i never had Problems all works fine for me..., but please no Sysex... Sex yes, but without sy....

11-Feb-14 06:04 AM


S R Dhain    Said...

A great post and understandably a tech-flavoured one. It's remarkable how much data is spat out via midi and even more remarkable that for over 30 years ( just about), that hardware and software sequencers can mostly cope with the inflow/outflow. I used to use a phillip rees midi merge and a V3 midi thru box in my old studio setup and i NEVER had any crashes, even with loads of knob and slider movements being recorded in from multiple devices and obviously being played back. Now everything has the processing power, so there really isnt any excuse for clog, especially when a lot of it is in the box. The same rule still applies; you're only as fast as your slowest component, which ironically i don't think is midi itself, but the pc's and macs which are sometimes overloaded with stacks of plugs. To my knowledge there is no realtime way to monitor and auto adjust buffer sizes for midi throughput, which is necessary for the more complex stuff that has to be nested within a more layered software environment. It's akin to VM'ing within a VM, which is really heavy duty stuff. Kudos to a lot of the softsynth and DAW manufacturers for having to plough through as many combinations & permutations of stuff to get it ship shape from out of the box and in the studio, as Sysex and indeed software programming is a real game of multi level chess.

11-Feb-14 06:42 AM


mattsynth    Said...

The great part about midi is that it works. That is why it has lasted so long.

11-Feb-14 01:41 PM


MIDIot    Said...

MIDI DOES work -- and it works VERY well -- if you are using a COMPUTER DAW, and not a stand-alone MIDI "workstation."

I used to be one of those die-hard "hardware is better" guys. I gave it up and am much happier with my PC and a bunch of software.

Anyone who complains about the speed of MIDI is using a DIN-plug system, and is not using USB 3.0, an SSD, and a core i or AMD Bulldozer processor.

Get with the times folks! Get rid of that weighty malfunctioning beast that you call a music production keyboard, and get thyself to Best Buy PRONTO.

On a related note -- I agree whole-heartedly that SysEx is for the birds. I once created an entire album's worth of music -- about 41 minutes altogether -- nine out of ten songs used RPN, NRPN, and SysEx messages to control effects and filters on my Roland MC-80.

That was not fun.

But I learned something --

I HATE SYSEX.

11-Feb-14 05:19 PM


Saxifraga    Said...

@to-pse Said... "Actually MIDI is still able to cope with high volumes as long as one uses other transports than the DIN serial ports like USB, Firewire or Ethernet."

That´s incorrect. MIDI devices only accept the data with 31250 bps. The carrier may be much faster but the data is just read with that old transfer rate.

So we now have hardware synth that have modern CPUs and hidden gigabit connections (Kronos Atom board) but get controled by the slowest possible protocol.

It´s obvious that something has to be done. But as long as all manufacturers sell us that old tech and people applaude them, we will not get good modern solutions. Just look how ridiculous Kronos and Fantom G handle sample data. You have to transfer samples and patch banks via usb device or internal ftp server (via usb to RJ45 adaptor). And the Fantom G takes ages to load samples from USB stick like the Korg M3 does. This is retro. No one accepts this other than musicians. Yamaha is even more lame but has flash ram to hide it´s incontinence.

11-Feb-14 05:20 PM


Saxifraga    Said...

@to-pse Said... "Actually MIDI is still able to cope with high volumes as long as one uses other transports than the DIN serial ports like USB, Firewire or Ethernet."

That´s incorrect. MIDI devices only accept the data with 31250 bps. The carrier may be much faster but the data is just read with that old transfer rate.

So we now have hardware synth that have modern CPUs and hidden gigabit connections (Kronos Atom board) but get controled by the slowest possible protocol.

It´s obvious that something has to be done. But as long as all manufacturers sell us that old tech and people applaude them, we will not get good modern solutions. Just look how ridiculous Kronos and Fantom G handle sample data. You have to transfer samples and patch banks via usb device or internal ftp server (via usb to RJ45 adaptor). And the Fantom G takes ages to load samples from USB stick like the Korg M3 does. This is retro. No one accepts this other than musicians. Yamaha is even more lame but has flash ram to hide it´s incontinence.

11-Feb-14 05:20 PM


Saxifraga    Said...

@to-pse said... "Actually MIDI is still able to cope with high volumes as long as one uses other transports than the DIN serial ports like USB, Firewire or Ethernet."

That´s incorrect. MIDI devices only accept the data with 31250 bps. The carrier may be much faster but the data is just read with that old transfer rate.

So we now have hardware synth that have modern CPUs and hidden gigabit connections (Kronos Atom board) but get controled by the slowest possible protocol.

It´s obvious that something has to be done. But as long as all manufacturers sell us that old tech and people applaude them, we will not get good modern solutions. Just look how ridiculous Kronos and Fantom G handle sample data. You have to transfer samples and patch banks via usb device or internal ftp server (via usb to RJ45 adaptor). And the Fantom G takes ages to load samples from USB stick like the Korg M3 does. This is retro. No one accepts this other than musicians. Yamaha is even more lame but has flash ram to hide it´s incontinence.

11-Feb-14 05:21 PM


Saxifraga    Said...

Sorry for tripple posting. Please erase two of them.

11-Feb-14 05:22 PM


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