The State of Network MIDI (2019)

Network MIDI was invented sometime around 2004 to send MIDI messages over an IP network. To handle network loss, a protocol known as RTP-MIDI was created and documented as RFC-4695. Network MIDI is built into OSX computers and iOS devices. Apple music creators think nothing of connecting MIDI equipment using Ethernet and WiFi, instead of MIDI cables.

Sometime around 2009, Network MIDI was built into iPads and iPhones. This made building touch-based control surface Apps easy, and ensured they integrated with MIDI Workstations over WiFi. While this capability created many cool demos, the unpredictable latency and jitter of WiFi made MIDI-over-WiFi not attractive where timing is important. MIDI-over-Bluetooth became a standard in the last few years, and seems to be the preferred method for sending MIDI over wireless links.

But Network MIDI persists, and new implementations of the protocol as software pop up, as do new hardware products implementing the protocol. This article is a round-up of some of the implementations available in 2019.

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Why McLaren Labs uses Objective-C

McLaren Labs was started with the idea that music and media creation on Linux should be as easy and fluid as Mac OSX. We had been inspired by AVFoundation and the modular way its pieces fit together. We loved being able to build media pipelines with sources and sinks that cleaned up after themselves when you were done with them them.

Many of the facets of the OSX components we liked were provided by ObjC features enabled by the Clang compiler and LLVM tool suite. LLVM has revolutionized language development by paving the way for Swift and Rust. Back at the time we were getting started, Swift on Linux was gaining traction and we considered adopting it. However, after some initial explorations with Swift and libdispatch, we discovered that libdispatch just wasn’t ready with Swift on Linux. That was in 2015 – Swift on Linux is much more mature. The equation might be different today … but it might not too.

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