Writings About Music
Priceless Musical Gems
Legendary music software designer and writer Emile Tobenfeld
"Simplicity is the ultimate in sophistication." - Steve Jobs
For my purposes, music software designed and written by Emile Tobenfeld is incomparable in terms of ease of use and seemingly limitless capability. The power, beauty and elegance of Emile’s software is an aesthetic uplift by itself. Simply using it brings one in touch with his creative genius.
After I first learned of computer-synthesizers from jazz bassist Reggie Johnson in 1984, I was fortunate to find the Roland CMU-800 at Alex Music in Manhattan - no one else in the city was carrying it - together with the Apple II computer that worked with it. Soon after, the CMU-800 was supplemented by the CMU-810 for dynamic control and the CMU-802 for tempo control, the latter two instruments only available from Roland Canada.
Five years later, once again, it was Alex Carozza himself who first showed me Tobenfeld's KCS software, enthusing about its miraculous power. Just recently, I learned how one of Alex’s associates, Al Hospers (another bass player!), first met Emile on the phone when calling in response to a tiny ad fortuitously noticed in Keyboard magazine for the original version of KCS. Emile and Al had a great conversation, clicking perfectly, and Al eventually left New York City for Boston to work together with Tobenfeld, who had received a PHD in theoretical physics from Cornell University before shifting his focus to music software.
Their Dr. T's Music Software quickly became the leading music software company of the time. The company's clever and entirely appropriate double entendre name came from a 1953 musical fantasy film created by Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and Stanley Kramer titled The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. Their slogans were Serious software for the thinking musician and Software to unleash your imagination. Truer words were never written or spoken. How fortunate I was to receive product advice from Alex on that fine day! Transitioning from the CMU-800 software to KCS was a seamless experience because their basic concepts are similar, with the latter building upon a shared foundation with the former.
Jack Tramiel, who survived Auschwitz, became a leader of the digital revolution
It’s amazing that the Atari computer originally running KCS (later versions of the software are named Omega) has still to this day in 2016 never been matched for MIDI timing by Apple or PC. The technical explanation (without getting into arcane minutiae) has to do with how Apple and PC computers are based upon multi-tasking, unlike Atari, and how Atari has MIDI built directly into the hardware.
Shiraz Shivji led a team of engineers designing what became a phenomenal music computer
Nolan Bushnell established Atari Inc, followed by Jack Tramiel forming Atari Corporation where engineer Shiraz Shivji developed an advanced form of Atari computer whose musical capabilities have been described as "genius". I love the coincidence of "Shivji" being the name used by friends of Shivkumar Sharma, a towering figure in Hindustani music who has had a profound influence upon my music.
My attraction to Roland products has also persisted, finding them to achieve the best results for my sound sources. The stunning perfection of their design remains a source of wonderment.
For being in my opinion the crème de la crème among visionary musical instrument builders of our time, I cannot be more thankful for software produced by Emile Tobenfeld and Al Hospers; Ikutaro Kakehashi, the founder and guiding force of Roland; the Atari world of Nolan Bushnell, Jack Tramiel and Shiraz Shivji; Alex Carozza for his music store acumen; and Reggie Johnson who awakened me to the possiblity of new musical vistas.
Visionary musical instrument developer Ikutaro Kakehashi
Meruvina is a name I invented for the efficacious combination of software and hardware used to create performances of my compositions (together with denoting my connection with Indian classical music), the idea being to get away from overly technical and scientific terminology. At the same time, I wish to acknowledge the visionaries whose inventions have been my musical partners and even saviors. Amen.
- Michael Robinson, December 2016, Los Angeles (additions made November 2018)
© 2016-2018 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Emile Tobenfeld website
Emile Tobenfeld interview
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).