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ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast


hosts: Randy Kindig, Kay Savetz, Brad Arnold
email: antic@ataripodcast.com
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Jul 21, 2020

Dorothy Siegel, Pioneer in Computer Music

I'm Kay Savetz, and this is ANTIC: The Atari 8-bit podcast. This interview, however, is about events that happened before Atari released its first computers.

This interview is with Dorothy Siegel, a pioneer in computer music. The music she created was on an IMSAI 8080 computer and a clarinet.

The First Philadelphia Computer Music Festival was held August 25, 1978 as part of a show called Personal Computing '78 held at the Philadelphia Civic Center. In 1979, Creative Computing Magazine published a record album, also titled First Philadelphia Computer Music Festival. The 12" 33 RPM record was of music performed at the festival: 18 pieces, including Dorthy's.

Dorothy was co-founder of Newtech, along with her husband Michael Abram and business partner Stuart Newfeld, a company that built add-on music cards for two S-100 bus computers: the IMSAI 8080 and the Southwest Technical Products Corporation 6800. The Newtech Music Cards cost $59.95 each. (Newtech was not the same company as NewTek, the company that sold the Video Toaster in the 1990s.)

Dorothy performed Johann Wanhal's Rondo from Sonata in B-flat for Clarinet and Piano. The IMSAI, with three Newtech music boards, performed the piano part, and Dorothy accompanied it on clarinet.

I'm going to play the song now. It's about four minutes long.

Regarding Dorothy's song, the album notes read: "Newtech's music card for the S-100 bus is essentially a digital-to-analog converter controlled by an output port on the computer. The analog output is fed into amplifiers to be heard. This approach to computer music synthesis is extremely flexible since hypothetically any possible sound can be created. In actual practice the performance of the music circuitry is somewhat limited by the speed of the host computer. Each card can produce up to three voices output to one channel.

Newtech's music software consists of a BASIC program which converts music into binary tables, and a machine-language interpreter to play the music with three voices and different envelopes. The piece on this record uses three cards each playing one voice."

Check the show notes for an extensive list of links to people that we talk about and the articles that Dorothy wrote for ROM Magazine and Popular Electronics. You can hear the entire First Philadelphia Computer Music Festival at VintageComputerMusic.com or buy the album on a remastered audio CD directly from Dave Ahl of Creative Computing Magazine.

This interview took place January 7, 2014, when I was doing research for a book about the first personal computer magazines. Although I've decided not to write the book, I am publishing the interviews that I did while doing the research.

Personal Computing '78 flyer

Popular Electronics magazine, January 1975

Edward Miller's Piece for Clarinet & Tape

Stan Viet

Electro-Harmonix

ANTIC Interview 332 - Mike Matthews, founder of Electro-Harmonix

ANTIC Interview 280 - David and Betsy Ahl, Creative Computing Magazine

Samuel Abram, Dorothy's son

ROM Magazine Issue 4: Scott Joplin on Your Sci-Fi Hi-Fi by Dorothy Siegel

ROM Magazine Issue 5: Make Me More Music, Maestro Micro by Dorothy Siegel

Popular Electronics November 1979: CP/M: The Standard Microcomputer Software Interface by Dorothy Siegel

Listen to/download First Philadelphia Computer Music Festival album

Buy the album on a remastered audio CD from Dave Ahl