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Interview: Dave Rossum E-MU, Part One – English Version

Peter:
You were still studying when you started with its construction. Did you actually plan on making a living with the synthesizers or was it just a hobby?

Dave:
When we began designing the synthesizer at Caltech, it was purely for fun. But early in 1971, one of the Caltech guys, Jim Ketcham, heard that there was a request for bid from the San Diego School District for music synthesizers to add to their high school music program. We decided to build a prototype and try to get the bid – if we won, we’d start a business. The prototype we built, which we called the „Black Mariah,“ wasn’t all that good a synthesizer – after all, this was our first attempt. We were never seriously considered by San Diego, and eventually we pushed the Black Mariah out the Dabney House library window.

I had a modest inheritance from my grandmother, about $3,000, and decided that I would use this to bankroll our summer 1971 project to build the E-mu 25.

There were six of us then: myself, my girlfriend Paula Butler, two UCSC friends (Marc Danziger and Mark Nilsen), and Jim and Steve from Caltech. Our goal for the summer was to build a saleable prototype E-mu 25, and then we’d consider starting a formal business. At the end of the summer, we had succeeded in building the synthesizer, but the Caltech guys decided to complete their education, and Marc and Mark chose to pursue other careers. The Caltech guys took possession of the first prototype E-mu 25, and Scott (who had just joined me), Paula and I were left to pursure E-mu Systems as a business.

According to Dave the best available foto of E-MU 25.

According to Dave the best available foto of E-MU 25.

A dream of a Modular System with aluminium-potis.<br /> The E-MU System, a special edition with transparent covers.

A dream of a Modular System with aluminium-potis.
The E-MU System, a special edition with transparent covers.

Paula got a job at American Microsystems (AMI), Scott went back to school at UC Berkeley, and I began working with some Caltech classmates at a semiconductor test startup called Santa Clara Systems. My deal with SCS was that I would work for a very modest salary, but I could use all their equipment and lab supplies after hours to work on synthesizers.

We re-designed the E-mu 25, sold the second prototype, and then started work on the E-mu Modular System, which we announced in the fall of 1972. On November 27, 1972, E-mu officially became a business. We didn’t know if it could support us – I still worked at SCS, Scott had dropped out of UC, but was living with his mother and had no living expenses, and Paula had a good job at AMI to keep us all fed. We had high hopes for E-mu Systems.

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