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Remembering Dave Smith, inventor of MIDI and the Prophet-5 synthesizer

The sound of pop music in the '80s was shaped by synthesizers – and one of the most impactful people behind that sound was inventor Dave Smith, creator of the Prophet-5 synthesizer and founder of Sequential Circuits, the instrument's small-scale production company. Though his most well-known inventions were decades in the past, Smith, who died last week at the age of 72, is still remembered with reverence.

"He always knew more about what a musician wanted, or needed, than they did," says keyboardist Roger O'Donnell, who has played synths in some bands you might have heard of – The Cure and The Psychedelic Furs among them. But the legacy of the Prophet-5 is at least, if not eclipsed, by that of another Smith invention: the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, which allowed digital instruments to speak the same language for the first time. The technology remains in wide use today – thanks in no small part to it being made totally free.

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.