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As the world’s musical instrument industry gathers in person at the NAMM Show for the first time since 2020, the show will begin on a very sad note with news of the death of Dave Smith, legendary instrument designer, the ‘father of MIDI’ and founder of Sequential, at the age of just 72.

“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,” read a statement from the Sequential website.

Smith’s passing comes just shortly after it was announced he was collaborating with fellow engineer Tom Oberheim on a brand-new synth, the Oberheim OB-X8. The collaboration was to be the second between the two synthesis pioneers, after 2016’s OB-6.

David J. Smith was an American engineer and musician and founder of the synthesizer company Sequential. Smith was responsible for the first commercial polyphonic and microprocessor-controlled synthesizer, the Prophet-5, and later the multitimbral synthesizer. He is also referred to as the “Father of MIDI” for his role in the development of MIDI, now a standard interface protocol for electronic instruments and recording/pro audio equipment.

Smith had degrees in both Computer Science and Electronic Engineering from UC Berkeley. He purchased a Minimoog in 1972 and later built his own analog sequencer, founding Sequential Circuits in 1974 and advertising his product for sale in Rolling Stone. By 1977 he was working at Sequential full-time, and later that year he designed the Prophet 5, the world’s first microprocessor-based musical instrument and also the first programmable polyphonic synth, an innovation that marked a crucial step forward in synthesizer design and functionality. Sequential went on to become one of the most successful music synthesizer manufacturers of the time.

In 1981 Smith set out to create a standard protocol for communication between electronic musical instruments from different manufacturers worldwide. He presented a paper outlining the idea of a Universal Synthesizer Interface (USI) to the Audio Engineering Society (AES) in 1981 after meetings with Tom Oberheim and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi. After some enhancements and revisions, the new standard was introduced as “Musical Instrument Digital Interface” (MIDI) at the Winter NAMM Show in 1983, when a Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 was successfully connected to a Roland Jupiter-6.

In 1987 he was named a Fellow of the AES for his continuing work in the area of music synthesis. After Sequential, Smith was President of DSD, Inc, a Research and Development Division of Yamaha, where he worked on physical modeling synthesis and software synthesizer concepts. In May 1989 he started the Korg R&D group in California, which went on to produce the innovative and commercially successful Wavestation synthesizer and other technology.

Smith went on to serve as President at Seer Systems and developed the world’s first software based synthesizer running on a PC. This synth, commissioned by Intel, was demonstrated by Andy Grove in a Comdex keynote speech in 1994. The second generation of this software synthesizer sold over 10 million copies, as a result of being licensed to Creative Labs in 1996; it was responsible for 32 of the 64 voices in Creative Labs’ AWE 64 line of soundcards.

The third generation of Smith’s software synthesizer, renamed Reality, was released in 1997. Dave was both the lead engineer on Reality, and wrote all the low-level optimized floating point synthesis code. Reality was the recipient of a 1998 Editors’ Choice Award, and earned Electronic Musician Magazine’s highest possible rating.

In 2002, Smith launched Dave Smith Instruments, a manufacturer of electronic musical instruments.

In 2005, Smith was inducted into the Mix Foundation TECnology (Technical Excellence and Creativity) Hall of Fame for the MIDI specification, and in 2013, he and Ikutaro Kakehashi received a Technical Grammy for their contributions to the development of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) technology.

In 2015, Smith regained the rights to the Sequential name from Yamaha, and released the Prophet-6 under that name. Dave Smith Instruments rebranded as Sequential in 2018.

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