Legendary synth pioneer and Sequential founder Dave Smith has died
02.06.2022

Legendary synth pioneer and Sequential founder Dave Smith has died

(Image: Sequential)
Words by Eli Duxson

Vale Dave Smith, the "Father of MIDI"

Sequential founder and synth pioneer Dave Smith has passed away as confirmed by the company’s social accounts.

Keep up to date with the latest industry news here.

“It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Dave Smith has died,” the statement read.

“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.”

 

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Smith was born in San Francisco and obtained degrees in both Computer Science and Electronic Engineering from UC Berkeley.

He bought a Minimoog in 1972 after becoming interested in electronic music and synthesisers due to Wendy Carlos’ late ‘60s album Switched on Bach.

“[It was] just interesting to hear something electronic, sounds,” Smith said at a 2014 Red Bull Music Academy lecture

“It was just so lifelike the way she played was just, it sounded like an acoustic instrument. 

“We all know what’s electronic and what’s not. It just had this life into it that was just amazing to hear and the way she played it.”

From there, Smith built his first analog sequencer and founded Sequential Circuits in 1974, and was working full-time with the company three years later.

The famed Prophet 5 was released in late 1977 which was the first commercial polyphonic and microprocessor-controlled synthesiser, changing the face of the synth in not just design, but functionality. 

In the early ‘80s, different synth manufacturers had systems that meant their products could only speak to themselves, and not to a different manufacturer’s synth.

Oberheim had its ‘System’ to sync up its drum machines and sequencers, Roland had its ‘DCB’ and ‘DIN Sync’, but Smith envisioned that with a little collaboration and some elegant simplicity, they could create a standard that meant all these instruments could talk to each other.

He published a paper on Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) in 1981, before pioneering the implementation with Roland’s Ikutaro Kakehashi. 

In 1982, the Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 was released; the first instrument with MIDI.

The new standard was introduced at the Winter NAMM Show in 1983, when the Prophet-600 was successfully connected to a Roland Jupiter-6, and from there, he earned the nickname the “Father of MIDI”.

In 2013, Ikutaro Kakehashi and Dave Smith were awarded a Technical Grammy for the invention of MIDI. It’s made modern electronic music production what it is today and continues to evolve.

In 1987 he was named a Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society (AES) for his impact and continuing work in the area of music synthesis.

Since then, Smith’s work can be seen almost everywhere you look in synthesisers and electronic music instrument design, from R’n’D teams at Yamaha and Korg, to developing world’s first software based synthesiser running on a PC, to launching Dave Smith Instruments which later rebranded to Sequential.

His impact did not slow down until his sudden and unexpected passing, as he will remain one of the most influential figures in synthesis and electronic music instrument design.

Read our review of the Sequential Take 5 here.