There’s intense, and then there’s black MIDI. To give you an example, the average lossy MP3 will usually round out at less than 10 megabytes; black MIDI files can easily crack a terabyte. If that sounds insane, it is. The genre gets its name because its so densely sequenced with notes that, written out, it appears to be black. Here, like this:
To explain, it’s easy to start at the root. MIDI is a digital interface that allows electronic instruments to talk to computers. Its largely associated with 8 and 16-bit video games, a natural pairing given its sound, but MIDI is so much more than that. Because it allows keyboards and laptops and samplers and synthesizers to seamlessly interact, it finds itself at the core of basically every modern pop song. But black MIDI’s relationship to pop is tangential at best; below you’ll find a rendition of “Jingle Bells” so jarring, you’ll hardly recognize it. The reason for that is simple: it consists of more than 117,000 notes. Crazier still, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“Bad Apple,” also featured below, consists of more than 7 million notes and had to be re-uploaded on YouTube after it sputtered and stuttered on its creator’s computer. That’s not uncommon. These songs are so packed with notes that the processing power required to execute them can push even the most elite gaming rigs to the brink.
With captions like “my graphics card has enough memory to run this,” black MIDI does at times come off as little more than a pissing contest, but like with tuner cars and 3D benchmarking, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And when it all comes together, black MIDI becomes oddly enticing. Aside from its hypnotizing blur, the visual aspect of the genre can be downright beautiful, a fact that often factors into a song’s creation. Intentionally or not, patterns often emerge through the black blobs that otherwise dominate the sequences, and if your computer can handle it, the results can be mesmerizing. Unfortunately that can be a pretty big if.
Above, we trace the genre’s roots back to their Japanese origins. Below, some of the aforementioned examples. Brace yourselves.