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Early Days of Software Synths: Glenn Spencer, Avram Miller, and Stanley Jungleib

Posted on : 10-11-1991 | By : admin | In : Seer History

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Seer Systems is recognized as the creator of the first professional software synthesizer, Reality.  In fact, Reality was not the first software synthesizer that Seer produced. By 1995, Seer had already produced software synthesizers for Intel and Creative Labs, though these programs were not the full-featured synthesizers that today’s electronic musicians take for granted. Stanley Jungleib established Seer Systems to develop the first software synthesizer for Intel, and his experience in leading their development helped move Seer Systems towards designing Reality and the SeerMusic system.

So what motivated Jungleib to take the leap from the world of hardware synthesizers and MIDI into the world of software synthesizers? According to Jungleib, two people played pivotal roles in that leap: Glenn Spencer and Avram Miller.

Glenn Spencer was a scientist, who in the late 60’s abandoned his career to become a piano teacher in Stanford, CA. Over the years he became a center of the mid-peninsula music community, organizing concerts and establishing the Music Special Interest Group (MuSIG), and the Stanford MIDI Users Group.

Through the MIDI User’s Group, Spencer met Stanley Jungleib, who was teaching MIDI and electronic music at Cogswell College. The two became friends and remained in contact until Spencer’s passing in 1998. Jungleib recalls, “Particularly at Glenn’s service where many spoke, I learned how enthusiastic a believer he was in every one of his students and friends.“

“Aware of his work leading the Stanford spinoff Music Special Interest Group (MUSIG), I looked up Glenn when moving from Los Altos to Palo Alto. MIDI and the new multimedia explorations I was reporting interested him so much Glenn quickly became the charter President of the local Stanley Jungleib Fan Club. He volunteered to become my secretary — which I could not accept.”

Jungleib was overwhelmed to be on the receiving end of Spencer’s support for musicians and composers. “Of Glenn’s many musical qualifications were that he spent years discussing music and aesthetics with Stanford roommate, twelve-tone composer Roger Sessions. So, when Glenn tells one that Earth Sighs is ‘the most beautiful piece he had ever heard’ and goes ‘way beyond Mahler’ it resonates nicely—and actually, they did say they found my CD in his player.”

Glenn Spencer and Stanley Jungleib at Seer Systems, 1997

Spencer’s support for Jungleib’s work in electronic music went even farther in 1991, however, when he suggested to one of his senior jazz piano students that he contact Jungleib for help with a project that had crossed his desk. The student’s name was Avram Miller. And he was vice-president of development at Intel.

Miller intended “To make the PC the music platform of the 90s.” Intel’s interest in sound and music emerged first by supplementing the 486 with a DSP board called the Mikado. The Mikado was intended to enable fully Multimedia PCs, which in 1991 corresponded to x386-based PCs with built-in audio features and FAX support.

The Mikado employed an industry-standard DSP chip, with its own OS that was completely foreign to the pro audio community. When Jungleib could not get other music software companies to bid on the project, he assembled his own group of developers and got to work. By mid 1992, however, it was determined that the Mikado board would not have sufficient horsepower to support faxing, to say nothing of the desired audio functions. Enter Ralph Smith.

Smith held Intel badge #14 and was Jungleib’s main engineering contact at Intel Architecture Development Labs in Oregon. When the Mikado’s shortcomings became evident, Smith asked if Jungleib could get the code to run on a host processor instead of the DSP board. What incorporated as Seer Systems in December of 1992 got to work, and in March, 1993, delivered Satie, the first x86 host-resident real-time software synthesizer.

Jungleib credits Glenn Spencer and Avram Miller for being the two people without whose efforts he would never have established Seer Systems. He maintains photos and press clippings in the Seer Systems archives to recognize their contributions to their friends and communities. “Our relationship with Intel was long and complex, but everyone I worked with there modeled the highest standards of professionalism. Their cultured demanded being open to reason,” he concludes.