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Ode To MIDI: The Story Of A File Format That Just Wouldn’t Die

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Put a quarter into any old Galaga machine (or better yet, play it online) and those nostalgic 25 notes play the same tune Namco programmed into the arcade ROM in 1981. What Namco probably didn’t know then is that countless fans would later immortalize that fuzzy Star-Wars-wannabe theme in MIDI form.

The General MIDI file format approximates note frequencies generated by any game console or arcade ROM, yet you have to work pretty hard to get MIDI processors to sound like them. Usually, the result is somewhere in between: a tingly electronic buzz that, in my opinion, gave birth to the synthesized sounds of avant-garde electronic and noise music genres.

Even with the advent of Sound Blaster Pro in 1991, the progenitor of .mp3 files, MIDIs still dominated how players shared video game music until the late ’90s.

Typing in any video game title to a search engine used to often bring up a first page full of MIDI shrines, archives of fan-made tributes of both classic and obscure video game songs.

Today, these MIDI shrines, such as MidiShrine.com and VGMusic.com, have congealed into massive collaborative repositories of free video game soundtrack tributes.

These fuzzy tributes range from bare video game music replications to what VGMusic’s Coordinator and MIDI composer Dave “Blitz Lunar” Harris refers to as unique stylings of the often cheesy synth lines we’ve all come to love.

TLDR: Call up these notes — C#-2 G0 F-2 G1 B2 D#-1

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