30. Black Midi


'Black MIDI' is a music genre consisting of compositions that use MIDI files to create song remixes containing a large number of notes, typically in the thousands or millions, and sometimes billions. People who make black MIDIs are known as 'blackers'. However, there is no specific criteria for what is considered 'black', and as a result, finding an exact origin of black MIDI is impossible.


Though the two are unrelated in origin, the concept of impossible piano existed long before black MIDI, manifesting itself within Conlon Nancarrow's work involving player pianos, where he punched holes in piano cards to create extremely complex musical compositions in the same impossible, unplayable spirit of black MIDI. Black MIDI was first employed by Shirasagi Yukki at Kuro Yuki Gohan's rendition of 'U.N. Owen Was Her?’, an extra boss theme from the Touhou Project shooter video game 'The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil’. It was uploaded to the siteNico Nico Dougain 2009, and public awareness of black MIDI started to spread from Japan to China and Korea over the following two years. In its beginning years, black MIDIs were represented visually with traditional two-stave piano sheet music, and contained a number of notes only in the thousands. They were created with MIDI sequencers such as Music Studio Producer and Singer Song Writer, and played through MIDI players such as MAMPlayer and Timidity++. The black MIDI community in Japan vanished quickly because, according to Jason Nguyen (owner of the channel 'Gingeas'), the group was 'analogous to those TV shows where theres a mysterious founder of a civilisation that is not really known throughout the course of the show.'

The popularity of black MIDI transitioned into Europe and the United States due to a video of a composition uploaded by Kakakakaito1998 in February 2011. Shortly thereafter, blackers from around the world began pushing limits of the style by making compositions with notes increasing into the millions and using an enormous number of colours and patterns to match the complexity of the notes. They also formed the sites 'Guide to Black MIDI' and 'Official Black MIDI Wikia', which introduced and set the norm of black MIDI.

The first of these tracks to reach the million-note mark was that of 'Necrofantasia' from the Touhou Project video game 'Perfect Cherry Blossom', arranged by TheTrustedComputer. The end titles of many black MIDI videos display how many notes are in the piece. The number of notes and the sizes of the playback files have grown with the rising amount of processing and 64-bit programs, which computers are now able to handle. While black MIDIs of Japanese video game music and anime are still common, the genre has also begun spilling into modern-day pop songs, such as 'Wrecking Ball' by Miley Cyrus. Despite this increased computer storage, there are still black MIDI files that could cause an operating system to slow down. The two largest black MIDIs are 'Armageddon v3' and 'TheTrueEnd', both of which contain the maximum number of notes allowed in the MIDI standard (about ninty-three trillion). Due to the nature of their creation and their sheer size, they are unable to be played back and recorded. English-language blackers have formed collaboration groups, such as the Black MIDI Team, where they make MIDI files and visuals together so they can be uploaded online sooner. Blackers around the world have used software such as Synthesia, FL Studio, SynthFont, Virtual MIDI Piano Keyboard, Piano From Above, MIDITrail, vanBasco Karaoke Player, MIDIPlayer (Java program), MAMPlayer, Music Studio Producer, Singer Song Writer, Tom's MIDI Player, TMIDI and Timidity++ to create black MIDIs. Some of them, like Jason, record the MIDI files at a slow tempo and then speed up the footage in video editing to avoid RAM and processing issues.

The term 'black MIDI' is derived from how there are so many notes in each piece that the score would look nearly black (or would look really black) when transposed to the form of traditional sheet music. According to California-based blacker TheTrustedComputer, black MIDI was intended as more of a remix style than an actual genre, and derived from the idea of 'bullet hell' shoot 'em up games, which involved 'so many bullets at a time your eyes can't keep up.' Black MIDI has also been considered the digital equivalent, as well as a response to composer Conlon Nancarrow's use of the player piano, which also involved experimenting with several thick notes to compose intricate pieces without hands. 'The Guide to Black MIDI', however, denies this influence, stating that, 'We believe that references to Conlon Nancarrow and piano rolls are too deep and black MIDI origins must be found in digital MIDI music world.'

Black MIDI first received coverage by Michael Connor, a writer for the non-profit arts organisation Rhizome, in September 2013, leading to attention from publications and bloggers including 'Aux', 'Gawker's Adrian Chen', 'Jason Kottke' and 'The Verge'. It has garnered acclaim from journalists, bloggers and electronic musicians, with many noting it as a distinctive and engaging genre thanks to how regular piano notes are combined to make new, abstract sounds not heard in many styles of music, as well as the visuals representing the notes. Hackaday's Elliot Williams spotlighted the style as ironic, given that the fast-paced arpeggios and 'splatter-chords', developed with a restricted number of voices, come together to make other tones that lead to a piano sounding more like a chiptune and less like an actual piano.


DE PLAYER has always had a strong interest in emancipating publishing from its stereotypical understanding as merely making things publican understanding that comes from an historical and economic media constraint linked to the print, software, music and film industries, and that has limited any form of meaningful, explorative, complementary or conflictual combinations between media in the field of cultural production. This not only counts for publishing but also for exploring new possibilities for artist practice in general. Transformation of information is a fact that occurs during the process of composing and performing the compositions. In that sense, there is never a perfect reproduction but always an interpretation. This is an interesting process in which boundaries can be explored and in which the idea of 'cracked media' – whose performers challenge the intended effect of the technology and actively use alternative acts through subversive acts of abuse and misconception to generate resultsis an interesting one. Black MIDI is a beautiful example of how new technology/consumer electronics and their abuse lead to new implications and applications. This one is a pretty contemporary example and results in great imagery and sound.

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