Monday, November 16, 2009

E-mu Emulator, Keyboard Magazine 1982

E-mu Systems Inc. Emulator sampler advertisement from page 41 of Keyboard Magazine January 1982.

Wow, what a great ad. Simple and memorable. And, probably hit the right market segment - musicians that were into samplers at the time were probably also heavy into science fiction as well.

But it begs the question - did Sir Arthur C. Clarke actually endorse the Emulator? If so, what was the connection between Clarke and E-mu?

I had to find out,
but this is one case where I took the long road.

Science fiction readers, including myself, will tell you that Clarke wrote some awesome sci-fi - heavy on the science. Movie buffs will throw out the fact that he collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. And tech-junkies will quickly remind you that he is known for contributing to the idea of the geostationary communications satellite. But none of these facts connect Clarke directly with music technology or with E-mu.

Clarke's quote in this ad is well known among sci-fi enthusiasts as the third of his Three Laws of Prediction and has been referenced or alluded to numerous times by others in literature, movies and video games. I took a look at the Wikipedia page for further investigation, but again, found no direct links to music technology or E-mu.

Clarke's Wikipedia page didn't bring up anything directly related to music technology either, but following a few links from his page did eventually lead to a few surprising musical connections.

One of those links was to John Pierce's Wikipedia page. Turns out John Pierce, also associated with the concept of the geostationary communications satellite, was a good friend and colleague of Clarke as well as a fellow science fiction author. But most importantly, he was prominent in the research of computer music.

And, according to the Bell Labs Web site, Clarke was visiting Pierce at Bell Labs in 1962 while a demonstration of a vocoder synthesizer was underway. The song used in this demo was 'A Bicycle Built for Two' (aka 'Daisy Bell') and Clarke was so fascinated by the performance that he later used it in the climactic scene of the novel and screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It gets better...

Pierce, while working at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA, pronounced 'karma'), presented an excellent speech for the Arthur C. Clarke Lecture series in Sri Lanka in 1987. During the talk, Pierce spoke on such topics as space, satellites, and computer music. He also mentions John Chowning, the director of CCRMA.

Chowning, among other things, just happens to be an electronic music pioneer, composer and the guy credited with inventing FM synthesis - you know, the technology used in many of Yamaha's synthesizers including the DX-7. The Mix Web site has a great 2005 interview with Chowning where he talks about FM synthesis, CCRMA, and other things music-related. Definitely check that out. A 2006 audio interview with Chowning is also available on Wikipedia.

Clarke was obviously connected to some electronic music heavyweights. But still, throughout all this research, there was still nothing to connect Clarke directly with E-mu.

Time to get creative. Or logical, depending on how you look at it.

According E-mu's corporate history, Marco Alpert was the marketing manager at E-mu around the time this ad came out. And, in an E-mu article in the September 2002 issue of Sound On Sound, Alpert is credited with "...many new product ideas as well as some of the company's best adverts. This guy would know the connection.

I tracked down Alpert at Antares Audio Technologies (maker of Auto-Tune and other plug-ins) where he now works as V.P. of Marketing. I left a voice-mail message and he called back almost immediately.

Finally - an answer to the question. What is the connection between Clarke and E-mu?

Marco Alpert is a fan.

"I didn't have any permission." Alpert admitted. "We were young at the time, learning as we went along. I was a big fan of science fiction like many synthesizer/tech guys at the time. Clarke was a popular author and I loved that quote. Best of all, it fit perfectly."

The long road to a perfectly simple answer.


Unknown said...

Awesome story...and look at all of that delicious white-space.

khoral said...

Great article, thanks!

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