Company History

  E-MU: Birth of a Species    
  Some folks think E-MU Systems was born in the early eighties in an old Victorian house on Broadway Street in Santa Cruz, California. In fact, Dave Rossum and a few friends started E-MU Systems in 1971, in a fifties-era house on Water Street, a few blocks away. Dave, then a graduate microbiology student at UCSC, had stopped by the school's electronic music lab to help unpack the new Moog Model 12 modular synthesizer. The story goes that nobody could figure out how to make the thing work except Dave, who shouldn't have had the slightest idea, microbiology being the study of really tiny little gooey things, and the electronics of the day being somewhat more firm and not at all slimy or green. Later during Christmas vacation, Dave visited his Caltech friends, among them Steve Gabriel and Jim Ketcham, to try to build their own synthesizer. The electronics suppliers kept asking for a company name, so they decided on E-MU Systems (pronounced 'Ee-myoo'), which of course are the first syllables in 'Electronic Music'.    Dave-Rossum-Modular
Dave Rossum with E-MU Modular
  
 
  E-MU's very first prototype was called the Black Mariah. It had matrix switches, was voltage controlled, and made (not very good) sound. It was ultimately pushed out of the Caltech library window into Dabney House courtyard, and useful components were salvaged from the wreckage. Over the summer of 1971, Steve, Jim, and UCSC students Paula Butler, Marc Danziger, and Mark Nilsen joined Dave at 625 Water Street in Santa Cruz to build another prototype. While Dave was off backpacking, they built the Royal Hearn in a shoebox as a joke. It had a tin foil keyboard, a unijunction transistor VCO, and was deliberately out of tune. It kicked around E-MU for many years, but eventually disappeared. They also produced the first E-MU 25 synthesizer that summer, which actually worked great but had a fixed (non-modular) front panel. At the end of the summer of 1971, future E-MU president Scott Wedge joined the company, and he, Paula and Dave continued working on another E-MU 25 which was later sold to Burt Arnowitz. It was last seen at the Museum of Conceptual Art in San Francisco, where Burt was curator. Why it was named the '25' is a matter of some conjecture; only Uncle E-MU knows the truth.

  Scott-Wedge-in-factoryScott Wedge in E-MU Factory  

In the summer of 1972, E-MU moved to Santa Clara and officially opened its doors for business that November, selling VCO, VCF, VCA and ADSR submodules (both assembled and in kit form to hobbyists). It was April of 1973 when the first E-MU modular synthesizer was sold to future Director of Manufacturing Ed Rudnick, who had started hanging around E-MU looking for a job so he could learn how to design and build synthesizers. E-MU spent most of the 1970's designing ultrastable VCOs, lab-quality filters, digital/analog sequencers, dedicated music ICs, and polyphonic voltage control keyboards. The new keyboard design utilized a Z-80 1MHz CPU and a board full of 1K memory chips and featuring a very capable software sequencer written by Scott that ran in a miniscule 2K of memory. They also produced custom synthesizers in gorgeous, walnut cabinets handmade by Dave's brother John for universities and experimentally oriented artists like Leon Russell and Frank Zappa. There's a wall-o'-patents hanging at E-MU that'll give you some idea of just how inventive E-MU's engineers were (and are to this day). Remember, those were the days when "digital" usually meant "having fingers," and microprocessors would choke on a single megabyte of RAM.

 

 

When E-MU's lease in Santa Clara expired in the Fall of 1978, Dave and Scott bought a commercially zoned house at 417 Broadway for lower monthly payments than the rent in Santa Clara, and were joined shortly thereafter by future Director of Marketing Marco Alpert, who had been E-MU's Southern California Sales Rep for years. Around this time, some competitors realized that the technology invented by E-MU could be used to reduce cost and increase features, and subsequently licensed these technologies and began producing programmable polyphonic keyboards at lower costs. E-MU spent the next couple of years designing and supporting Sequential Circuits and the SSM chips, and the royalties provided a nice cash flow for the development of the Audity - a 16 voice twin Z-80 computer-controlled analog synthesizer system. Using technology first developed by E-MU for Sequential Circuits' Prophet 5, this much larger unit had slots for sixteen voice cards, each of which was about as large and busy as an Intel motherboard and had a power supply big enough to make the lights go dim. The Audity was debuted at the May 1980 AES Show. Only trouble was, at over 200 pounds and around $70,000, it was so bulky and expensive that nobody seemed interested. That same month, Sequential Circuits decided to stop its royalty payments to E-MU, leaving Dave and the team to look for a new direction.

Thus, in a space a lot smaller than the typical inventor's garage (namely inside Scott Wedge's VW Rabbit) the Emulator I was conceived on the way home from the May 1980 AES Convention, although nobody is sure whether it was in the back or front seat. Adapting well to the notion of borrowed technology, E-MU's Emulator I  took the concept of sampled audio and made it both musical and affordable. This sixty-pound, steel-shrouded newborn sonic masterpiece hit NAMM in 1981. Stevie Wonder and Daryl Dragon were among the first to break new ground using its eight user-sampled voices and E-MU's fresh, young sound library. 

  Thus, in a space a lot smaller than the typical inventor's garage (namely inside Scott Wedge's VW Rabbit) the Emulator I was conceived on the way home from the May 1980 AES Convention, although nobody is sure whether it was in the back or front seat. Adapting well to the notion of borrowed technology, E-MU's Emulator I  took the concept of sampled audio and made it both musical and affordable. This sixty-pound, steel-shrouded newborn sonic masterpiece hit NAMM in 1981. Stevie Wonder and Daryl Dragon were among the first to break new ground using its eight user-sampled voices and E-MU's fresh, young sound library.   Emulator-I-at-NAMM-1982-bwMarco Alpert Showing the Emulator I at NAMM 1982
  wall o patents
Wall o' Patents
Obviously, the story of E-MU doesn't end there: the Emulator Istarted E-MU down a long and storied road of digital instruments and technologies that continue to be developed to this day. Many of these instruments, like the SP-1200 and Proteus 1, have fundamentally changed the way the world makes music today, and E-MU continues to develop new products and technologies that will inspire great music into the future.