What would happen if you made a song with 6 million notes in it? The chaotic yet strangely beautiful answer lies within the strange world of Black MIDI.
It’s been over a decade since the strange chaotic creations known as Black MIDI found their initial community in underground forums on the web. The concept: to create music on computer MIDI that used so many notes it would often crash computers, that they could paint pictures with and develop a dimension beyond the music whilst still creating a composition that sounded incredible.
In 2011 the first Black MIDI video was uploaded to YouTube and an artform in itself was born. The original video was deleted but you can see it in it’s original glory from a re-upload below.
It’s hard to believe that this pixelated, manic video of discordant sounds representing something like a Matrix fever dream captured the hearts of millions around the world and inspired an entirely new artform but it did. P.S. the best bit starts just after the 2 minute mark.
Black MIDI is named to describe literally what these compositions look like when played on a MIDI scrolling program on computers. As the notes come down towards the piano (think Guitar Hero if you’re unfamiliar) the compositions eventually become so dense that the screen becomes black – hence why creators will often colour their notes to distinguish them.
The compositions are, or certainly were, the main event with Black MIDI. Created as some sort of neurotic evolution of classical composition that has slowly gotten more complex and mind-boggling. To emphasise this strange dichotomy of composition and chaos, here is a classic from Grieg brought up to the Black MIDI standard.
The above video begins to example how Black MIDI has evolved itself in the decade since its inception. What I perhaps find most impressive about modern Black MIDI compositions is the focus creators have made on the visual aspect. In fact, to describe some of the creations made in the past few years as ‘Black’ does them a disservice.
This is where I believe it has gone beyond simply an experiment or at stretch a new genre.. What originally began as a sort-of musical experiment has become an almost three dimensional art form, where the music is only half of the creation that pairs up colourful, psychedelic visuals created by utilising the natural patterns within music and the density of Black MIDI compositions.
In some cases it is simply overwhelming and perhaps complete random, but I believe that many of these have been thought out in depth. The use of colours and patterns are as methodical as the music notation themselves. They represent something like a Bullet Hell game, pure visual chaos but a frenzy that has been designed with love and dedication.
As the popularity of these strange MIDI creations have grown and so has its base of creators, so too have the abilities to produce them enhanced. There are specific programs now capable of colouring and patterning MIDI piano rolls to provide the canvas for this new breed of artist.
As an excellent display of the emphasis on visuals within Black MIDI that I’m talking about, check out this piece called Tau which exemplifies everything that makes modern Black MIDI so great – and also features over 6 million musical notes in it’s 6.5 minutes!
The archetype of the best of Black MIDI: Colours and patterns used to incredible effect, chaotic sound that remains somehow emotionally resonant and enjoyable, and even the use of shapes in a form of MIDI Art.
It may not be an art form for everyone. In fact, some of you may not agree that it justifies existence as it’s own form of art as I do. But whatever you believe you cannot deny the effort that goes into creating these wild and wacky combinations of visual and aural madness.
To play us out, here’s a song we all recognise that has been transformed by one of the many Black MIDI mad geniuses in the world. Building on a classic and renowned composition in an entirely new way.