Gear Industry and Musicians Remember Sequential's Dave Smith

If you've ever synced electronic gear together, used a MIDI controller, or played a preset on a synth, you've benefited from one of Dave Smith's innovations.

As the founder of Sequential (FKA Sequential Circuits), designer of the first programmable polysynth, and co-inventor of MIDI, Smith changed the way that electronic music is made and heard.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith. Photo via Sequential.

On June 1, Sequential announced that Smith had passed away, just weeks after Smith attended Berlin's Superbooth synth convention.

One of Smith's formative influences was Wendy Carlos' Switched-On Bach album, which he admired for the way Carlos brought a lifelike, acoustic quality to her synthesis. That became a guiding ethos in the instruments he created, from his breakthrough Prophet-5 through decades of gear innovation.

After creating a sequencer for the Minimoog and ARP in the early '70s, in 1977, Smith developed the first Prophet-5. The Prophet combined a five-voice analog architecture with a microprocessor—new technology at the time—that Smith programmed to save and store preset patches.

It was the first synth of its kind. Knowing how microprocessors worked through his engineering day job, he thought Moog or ARP must have been working on some synths that would utilize them. Then, realizing that in fact no one was doing it, he made one himself.

That creation spawned not just the "Prophet" sounds replicated on countless instruments and software plugins today, but introduced the idea of easily recallable synth sounds.

In a 2014 Red Bull Music Academy interview, he told a story he once heard about Pink Floyd from the pre-preset days. When the band members finally created a patch they liked on their Moogs and ARPs, they'd instruct roadies to place duct tape on the knobs to hold or mark the position. Obviously, Smith thought, this level of "preset" recallability couldn't stand.

Smith's next major invention was MIDI, which he developed with Roland's Ikutaro Kakehashi and other Japanese synth makers. At the time, electronic gear companies were primarily interested in connecting their own instruments with each other, developing their own interfaces that wouldn't work with another company's gear.

Smith and Kakehashi instead wanted a universal interface so that, say, a Sequential synth and a Roland synth could be synced together. By 1983, they unveiled MIDI at the NAMM convention, with Smith connecting his Prophet 600 to a Roland JP-6. Though it has evolved since that time, to now include USB compatibility and other modern connections, the basic protocol that Smith and Kakehashi made is what allows all electronic instruments and computers to work together.

As news spread of Smith's passing, gear industry veterans and musicians have been sharing statements and memories online, which we're compiling below.

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