Masters of MIDI: Howard Jones

Each day this week, to mark the 30th anniversary of the release of the first synthesizer to feature MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) capability—the Prophet 600 by Sequential Circuits—TWTR will focus on an electronic music pioneer and one of their performances during the early days of MIDI in the 1980s. This is the first in a five-part series.

Howard Jones – “Conditioning” (Live, 1983)

We kick off the “Master of MIDI” series—celebrating 30 years of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)—with a look at Howard Jones, who was probably the single biggest influence in my becoming interested in electronic music during my early teens. This means he was also a big reason why, instead of having a decent savings account from years of having a newspaper route and part-time job, I decided to spend a lot of money on synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, sequencers and other gear while I was still in high school (see the post previewing this series for a picture showing the result of all this).

Even though we had cable television back in the early 1980s, our system did not carry MTV until later in the decade. But my grandmother had it at her apartment in Edison, N.J., so my sister and I would watch it when we went to visit. I still remember the first time I saw the video for “What Is Love?” by Howard Jones on MTV at my grandmother’s apartment, and thinking that it was amazing. Not too long after, I bought the cassette of Jones’ brilliant debut album, Human’s Lib, which is absolute electronic pop perfection.

The video above shows Jones performing “Conditioning” from Human’s Lib in 1983, within the first year of MIDI’s introduction to the world. Note that he is singing, playing and coordinating all his keyboard settings in the midst of a live, solo performance (aside from the mime, of course). At times, he looks like a mad scientist—and the orange jumpsuit adds to that effect in some ways. Yet, the performance does not suffer one bit.

Again, this was 1983, so he was performing these shows using an entirely new technology (MIDI), at the time, and pulling it off masterfully. And the confidence to do these shows like this, especially at this early, pre-pop-star phase of his career, speaks volumes for the type of artist and person Jones is.