* The MIDI Opera *

by Manuel Bürger

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The MIDI file is on its way out. MIDI file music played by an inbuilt synthesizer of your computer is perceived by many as annoying, cheap-sounding and very cheesy. Even though MIDI file sizes are tiny and provide a perfect opportunity to play music on the web, they vanish. Furthermore, latest electronical devices ignore the .mid format - the iPhone doesn't play MIDI files at all. The simplicity of MIDI files, their unique sound and the idea of interpretation didn't catch many partisans... especially after mp3 and audio compression conquered the broadband web of today.

This MIDI Opera is a little homage to the MIDI file format. Due to its limitation composing songs with the MIDI synthesizer of my laptop was always an attraction to me. The sequencer software is simple, and cheesy melodies are clicked within a second. After clicking S-T-A-R-T you'll find a compilation of songs squeezed into a little story about Gérald Midi, a hard working businessman, who is caught in his dreams of a colorful, exciting life. Maybe similar dreams are shared by MIDI files themselves as well.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1


* MIDI Music Background *

One main advantage of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) files lies in their small data size. "MIDI does not transmit an audio signal or media - it transmits 'event messages' such as the pitch and intensity of musical notes to play, control signals for parameters such as volume, vibrato and panning, cues, and clock signals to set the tempo." (wikipedia.org) A sound card with embedded synthesizer can interpret this information and plays the song more or less like the author of the file intended it to sound. As each computer system works with different soundprocessors, the MIDI file might possibly sound different eg. on a Macintosh, Windows PD or cellphone. Your sound card's synthesizer might not reproduce the exact sounds of another soft- or hardware-based synthesizer.

The classical "GENERAL MIDI" format from 1991 gives you a choice of 128 defined instruments on maximum 16 channels, from classical ones like various pianos, basses, trumpets and drumkits to more novel ones like sound effects, synthesizers, pads... Each channel can have one or more voices at once to make a chord, but can only use one instrument. According to different MIDI standards, these paramteres can change. GENERAL MIDI allows 24 voices to be active simultaneously (16 melodic and 8 drumsounds at once). See a complete list of the typical instruments and percussion elements.

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The MIDI Opera is composed with Easy Beat 2.2
and a QuickTime Music Syntheziser on a Macbook

The solo entertainer was the first person who took advantage of defining instruments/channels through a MIDI specification. As his MIDI file controlled keyboard could accompany him now with different instruments and drum elements he was able to play fully arranged songs perfectly by himself. MIDI files were produced, interpretations of real songs were done and sold or shared among these entertainers. It was just so easy: mute the melody or lead voice of the MIDI file and start your (half)playback session. There is still a discussion if the MIDI file detracts to much of a real solo entertainers qualities. Later the MIDI files also find their use in the karaoke culture for quite a long time, as interpretation of exisiting songs is literally the goal. A different file format *.KAR contains also the song text as subtitles for screening it on tv - only with special karaoke players.

Nowadays MIDI file music seems more old-fashioned then ever. Moreover, internet browsers and mobile phones are pissy with MIDI files. Sound design and pop music are far away of the sound aesthetics of your interior MIDI syntheziser. "The term 'MIDI sound' has gotten a poor reputation from some critics, which may be the result of the poor quality sound synthesis provided by many early sound cards [...]" (wikipedia.org)

The small file size made .mid a perfect solution for playing your favorite song interpreatation on your homepage in the early days of the world wide web. MIDI file music culture did mostly reproduce songs from the world outside the web: "There isn't the same tradition of composing music for a web page as there is for GIF images. Instead, popular songs are adapted to this format. A MIDI file is usually considered of good quality if the adaptation gave a somewhat faithful reproduction of the original, given the limitations of the format. " A Vernacular Web, Olia Lialina, teleportacia.org

* 3D Illustration with WordsEye *

The story is supported by pictures I created with WordsEye, a webbased 3D software in which you type your picture! Means, every picture is created from a text:

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Generated from text: the ground is shiny water. a 50 feet tall glass sphere is -25 feet above the ground. a 35 feet tall dinosaur is on the ground. the body of the dinosaur is green. the eyes of the dinosaur are red. a white illuminator is 1 feet in front of the UPTEETH of the dinosaur. a black businessman is 40 feet in front of the dinosaur. the businessman is facing the dinosaur. the businessman is unreflective.

Both composing music with Easy Beat and drawing pictures with WordsEye have to deal with a hard - or software interpretation process. Going through this process allows you to play around with its rules and frontiers. But as the end-product of a MIDI file is quite open according to the sound card, WordsEye is quite the opposite. You create mostly accidentally beautiful pictures which you can save as jpeg.

* Composing *

For exploring the characteristics of different instruments the structure of "The MIDI Opera"'s songs is simple, repetitive and clear. As I listen mostly to Disco music, the MIDI Opera follows almost as well a 4 to the floor sympathy. Each song carries a name of a significant instrument and all instruments of each song are mentioned as well. Actually, you should try to decode the music and appreciate every tone that flys into your sophisticated sense organ.

* Links *

Midkar - Simply the best Midi Downloads
Chris B's Introduction to Midi, from 1989
A Vernacular Web by Olia Lialina
Arcangel & Espenschied's Midi-Battle on Hyperground Radio
Transform Midi Files
Seecoy's Midi Skirt

* Czech out "The MIDI Opera" Ringtones *

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Ring Ring Ring [click me]

* The MIDI Opera Remixed *

Call for Interpretations

"The MIDI Opera" is composition and interpretation at the same time, were the perception of sound quality depends on the listener's computer configuration. Shalom Salon will publish a remix compilation of this opera to demonstrate the variety and greatness of MIDI file music and archive these tracks for future generations. "Go with the flow of the tight kick as beats and catchy melodies, or jump onto the conceptional branch of this awesome mind-twister". This is how it goes:

1. Remix a part of the opera. Mostly welcome are interpretations that keep the MIDI format through the whole process. Therefore download the midi files here or on the Shalom Salon website
2. Record your scores in wav/mp3 format and take a picture of your remixing enviroment. Send it to Shalom Salon.

* The Midi Opera Trailer *

* Listen to The MIDI Opera, NOW! *


* Listen to the MIDI Opera *

MP3 (320k/bits) Release on Shalom Salon

* Stop by *


midiopera manuel buerger

* Proudly presented
by Shalom Salon *

midiopera manuel buerger