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Jeff Rona

In 1982 I was a young composer writing music for theater, dance, and programming synthesizers for a few recording artists to earn money. But an unexpected and odd opportunity came to me that seemed right to try at the time. I was really one of the first people in Los Angeles experimenting with linking desktop computers (a very new thing at the time) with synthesizers. I had a computer mentor of sorts, a scientist from Jet Propulsion Laboratories whose hobby was developing hardware and software to make music. All very experimental – but amazing things were possible with some effort. I learned just enough about writing computer code to be dangerous. It was all purely musical. I was by no means a software expert. But I had a good aptitude for it. I was eventually invited to speak about computers and music at the first TED conference.

Photo-TED-(Web)There I am at the TED Conference (circled) with the group, courtesy of PANTONE.


I was at a local music store in Hollywood and struck up a casual conversation with a couple of guys from Roland who happened to be there at the time. When I told them what I was doing with synths and desktop computers, they got very excited. Within a couple days I found myself in the office of Tom Beckman, the president of Roland US, explaining my work and background. When he asked me if I wanted a job and could I write code for music software. I lied, basically, and said yes. I became a programmer and instrument designer for Roland that day.Within a few weeks of starting (I quickly got a programming coach to help me get up to speed fast) I had my first official meeting with some of Roland’s top engineers and designers, who were in LA from Roland headquarters in Japan. We hit it off very well right from the start. I had learned a few words of Japanese and did my best to express my deep admiration for their work (one of my guests had designed the TR-808 drum machine!). They brought me two prototype keyboards. They showed me a 5 pin jack on the back each and said “we think this is very useful…we want you to devote all your time to writing software for this.” These were likely the first 2 MIDI instruments in the country. The plan was to develop software to show what could be done with combining keyboards and sequencing. I was blown away. I had already written some software to sequence analog synthesizers with a pre-MIDI computer interface. This was a whole new world. [click to continue…]