(In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award. In the days leading up to the 55th GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY.com will present the tributes to the 2013 Special Merit Awards recipients.)
Working away in the dark attic of a picture framing factory back in 1982, Annie and I were in experimentation mode. I was obsessed with finding a new sound, a new way to surround Annie's incredibly soulful voice with a juxtaposing edgy feeling in the music.
We didn't have much money and were basically using very cheap equipment and a limited amount of keyboards, a Roland SH-101, a tiny Wasp synthesizer, and occasionally we borrowed an Oberheim OB-X that belonged to the owner of the factory. We were attempting to make an album on an 8-track Teac tape recorder and were struggling to get all our ideas down on seven tracks (at the time we saved the last track for time code). We used a newly invented drum machine referred to as Movement MCS Percussion Computer. This was a large machine and quite difficult to control but we struggled along trying to marry these sounds with natural sounds like hitting empty bottles (for the bridge of "Sweet Dreams"), slide guitars mixing with sounds of an underground railway station, etc. What was missing was the "glue." We spent hours, days, weeks trying to get these synthesizers and drum machines in time with each other and often would have to do a mix hundreds of times playing manually along with the drum machine synced to tape!
One day I was going past a music store in Camden Town and there was a crowd inside so I went in and there was a kind of hush whilst someone was explaining that this Sequential Circuits Prophet 600 had MIDI! Once I grasped what they were talking about I felt quite faint, my head spinning with the possibilities. I've never been the same since and neither has the rest of the world.
It was in 1983 that a collaboration between competing manufacturers resulted in a new technology that was introduced at the winter NAMM show where Ikutaro Kakehashi, founder of Roland Corporation, and Dave Smith, president of Sequential Circuits, unveiled MIDI. They connected two competing manufacturers' electronic keyboards, the Roland JP-6 synthesizer and Sequential Circuits Prophet 600, enabling them to "talk" to one another using a new communications standard. The presentation registered shockwaves at the show, and ultimately revolutionized the music world.
Sequencers, sampling, digital drum machines, dedicated computer control, ultimately a complete revolution within the recording industry … it is hard to imagine that any of these technologies or developments would have occurred, or certainly have been as wide-reaching, without the glue of MIDI. Dave Smith and Ikutaro Kakehashi, you turned my world upside down and in doing so gave birth to a revolution that will never end.
(As a member of Eurythmics with Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart won a GRAMMY in 1986 for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for "Missionary Man." Artists he has collaborated with include Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Alison Krauss, and Stevie Nicks. In 2012 Stewart released his latest solo album, The Ringmaster General.)