Dave Smith, who created the Prophet-5 synthesizer and pioneered the use of MIDI, has died. His company, Sequential, shared the sad news, writing, “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.”
Born in 1950 in San Francisco, Smith founded Sequential Circuits in 1974, and in 1977 debuted the now legendary Prophet-5, which was the world’s first fully-programmable polyphonic synth, and the first musical instrument with an embedded microprocessor. The Prophet-5 can be heard on Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Madonna’s Like a Virgin, many John Carpenter soundtracks, Radiohead’s Kid A, and The Terminator soundtrack, just to name a few.
Smith is also known for shepherding the use of MIDI, the universal technical standard that allowed different synthesizers, sequencers and drum machines to work with each other and changed the world of electronic music. He coined the acronym (“Musical Instrument Digital Interface”) too. Smith won a technical Grammy in 2013, alongside Ikutaro Kakehashi, for the creation of MIDI.
Yamaha acquired Sequential Circuits in 1987, and Smith worked for Yamaha and KORG. In 2015, Yamaha returned the Sequential Circuits trademark to Smith, which he rebranded as Sequential in 2018.
Rest in peace, Dave. Read tributes from Duran Duran, Hot Chip, Flying Lotus and more — and watch a video about the Prophet-5 — below.
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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.