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Music

Dave Smith, synth pioneer and inventor of MIDI, has died aged 72

@SamWKemp

Synth pioneer and Sequential founder Dave Smith has died at the age of 72. The likes of Flying Lotus, Hot Chip, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and countless others have paid tribute to ‘the father of MIDI’, whose inventions include the Prophet-5, one of the most revolutionary synthesisers of the 1980s, later used by Radiohead on Kid A.

Sequential broke the news in a post via their website: “It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Dave Smith has died. 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.”

Smith was born in California and founded Sequential in 1974 when he was in his mid-20s. Four years later, he designed and released the world’s first fully programmable polyphonic synthesiser, the Prophet-5. It was also the first instrument to feature an embedded microprocessor.

In 1981, Smith worked with Sequential engineer Chet Wood to craft a basic MIDI interface. He took his the invention to keyboard manufacturers such as Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi, who had already proposed a universal language for electronic instruments. MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) was debuted that same year, winning Smith and his team Technical Grammys. The first MIDI synth, the Prophet 600, was released in 1983.

Yamaha took over Sequential in 1987, at which point Smith began working as a consultant for various synth companies. In 2002, he launched Dave Smith Instruments, which changed its name to Sequential in 2015 after Yamaha returned the company name. That same year, they released the Prophet-6, an updated and reimagined version of the classic Prophet-5.

Since news of Dave Smith’s death broke, many music makers have taken to social media to pay tribute to the music-tech innovator. The Cure’s Roger O’Donnell took to Twitter to write: “So sad to hear of Dave Smith’s death. He started Sequential Circuits who made some of the most iconic synths from the early ’80s until now. He invented MIDI!!! The Prophet 5 is one of the greatest synths ever made, he will never be forgotten. Great man and a dear friend.”

Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon also expressed his gratitude, writing: “​​Dave Smith made the best keyboards ever… (and) that’s saying it lightly. Innovator of so much. Inspiration. Thank you Dave Smith.”

Hot Chip said that they would “nothing without what (Smith) created.” They went on to call him “a legend & an incredibly warm, friendly person.” Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes also released a statement, in which he wrote: “I am really sad to hear Dave Smith, synth guru and designer of the Prophet V has left our analogue world. He was a pioneer and never stopped looking for new ways forward in the synth universe.”