Dave Smith, Synth Pioneer and ‘Father of MIDI,’ Dies at 72

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Dave Smith, a key figure in the development of synth technology in the ’70s and ’80s, has died. The official Instagram account for Sequential, the synthesizer company that he founded in 1974, announced “with heavy hearts” the news of his passing, in a post shared on Wednesday (June 1).

“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,” the post reads. Smith was 72.

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With Sequential (originally known as Sequential Circuits), Smith released various sequencers and programmers to be used with the Moog and ARP synthesizers prevalent at the time, before designing his own release: the Prophet-5, first polyphonic synth with programmable memory, to allow sounds to be stored and re-accessed at any time. The Prophet-5 quickly became the gold standard in its field, used in the recording both of epochal ’80s blockbuster LPs like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Madonna’s Like a Virgin and envelope-pushing scores for era composers like John Carpenter and Vangelis.

Though the Prophet-5 would be Sequential’s flagship instrument, and received many updates via future releases, Smith’s greatest legacy might be the introduction of MIDI to synth technology. Standing for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, Smith’s invention (along with Roland pioneer Ikutaro Kakehashi and Sequential engineer Chet Wood) of MIDI allowed unprecedented levels of synchronization and communication between different instruments, computers and other recording equipment, which was previously incredibly difficult to achieve — particularly between equipment designed by separate manufacturers. The innovation of MIDI helped facilitate the explosion of forward-thinking programming and creativity throughout the industry of the ’80s, essentially making the future of pop music accessible to all.

Smith would also develop the world’s first computer synthesizer as president of Seer Systems in the ’90s, and launched the company Dave Smith Instruments, an instruments manufacturer, in 2002. He has won many lifetime awards for his work in the field of musical technology, including a Technical Grammy for MIDI’s creation in 2013 (an honor he shared with Kakehashi).

Following his passing, tributes poured in from myriad synth-pop and electronic artists grateful for Smith’s contributions to popular music. Martin Doherty of alt-pop hitmakers Chvrches tweeted that the band “would not exist in this form without his innovations,” while legendary electronic producer Richie Hawtin was one of many figures to post heartfelt comments on the Sequential IG post, saying that “Dave was one of a kind. Lost an inspiration & a friend.”

See the full Instagram post below.

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