Electronic Music History in the San Francisco Bay Area

Published 9 May 2020 - Last update 28 January 2023


This is the incomplete history of electronic music in the San Francisco Bay Area. This area comprises all the counties that border the San Francisco Bay. They include the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma and San Francisco. Some counties not bordering the bay are sometimes included like San Benito, San Joaquin and Santa Cruz.

The Bay area has seen the creation of Buchla, Sequential and E-Mu synthesizers to name the most famous.

It is organized as a timeline


Q: What is the purpose of this page?
A: This page is an incomplete history of electronic music in the San Francisco Bay Area, covering the events, people, and technologies that shaped the scene from 1946 to 2022. It is a collaborative project by Franck Martin and other contributors.

Q: What are some of the highlights of the electronic music history in the Bay Area?
A: Some of the highlights are:

  • The Vortex concerts at the Morrison Planetarium in 1957, which combined surround sound and visual projections.
  • The San Francisco Tape Music Center, founded in 1962, which was a hub for experimental music and the birthplace of the Buchla synthesizer.
  • The Tudorfest in 1964, which celebrated the work of pianist David Tudor and featured performances by John Cage, Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, and others.
  • The creation of iconic synthesizers such as the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, the E-Mu Emulator, and the Buchla systems by Bay Area companies and engineers.
  • The creation of the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University with the invention of FM synthesis.
  • The creation of MIDI by Sequential Circuits founder Dave Smith and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi.
  • The creation of MAX software

Q: How can I learn more, contribute to or support this page?
A: You can learn more by following the links and references provided on the page You can also contribute to this page by contacting Franck Martin. You can also check out his website for more information and links to his music. If you want to support him and get exclusive content, you can join his mailing list or become a supporter starting $20/year.


The following people have contributed to this music history:

Many thanks for making this more informative and accurate. All errors are mine.

To know more

The Timeline


  • Jack Mullin brings back to San Francisco from Bad Nauheim in Germany some AEG Magnetophon high fidelity tape recorders. He will then work to improve the design of these first tape recorders. He produced a modified version that he demonstrated to the Institue of Radio Engineers in San Francisco on May 16.


  • Ampex based in San Carlos following the designs of Jack Mullin taper recorder produce the Ampex Model 200 which will be popularized with the help of Bing Crosby


  • Robert Erikson teaches composition classes to Pauline Oliveros till 1960 at the San Francisco Conservatory. He brings together Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnick, Terry Riley, Ramon Senders and Philip Winsor who will be instrumental in The San Francisco Tape Music Center (SFTMC)


  • Henry Jacobs and Jordan Belson organize Vortex at the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco. Magnetic tape compositions are played on a surround sound space with 38 speakers with visual projections. It is sponsored by KPFA and the California Academy of Sciences.


  • Ramon Sender has a small music studio in the attic of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, in October
  • Ramon Sender and Pauline Oliveros begin a series of concerts at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. They are called "Sonics" and the first one is on December 18.


  • Composers Ramon Sender, Morton Subotnick and Pauline Oliveros found The San Francisco Tape Music Center (SFTMC) during the summer. It is located at 1537 Jones Street in San Francisco, and after the building burns down, relocated in 1963 to 321 Divisadero in San Francisco. It is sharing the building with Dancer's Workshop and KPFA radio.



  • Pauline Oliveros organizes as part of the SFTMC the festival "Tudorfest" celebrating the work of Pianist David Tudor. Michael Callahan, John Chowning, Stuart Dempster, Warner Jepson, Douglas Leedy, Robert Mackler, Pauline Oliveros, Dwight Peltzer, Ann Riley, Loren Rush, Ramon Sender, Stanley Shaff, Linn Subotnick, Morton Subotnick, Ian Underwood, and Jack van der Wyck are preforming on compositions by Pauline Oliveros, George Brecht, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Alvin Lucier, and John Cage.


  • With $500 funding from the Rockefeller Foundation to the San Francisco Tape Music Center (SFTMC), obtained by Morton Subotnick, and with musical design direction from Morton, Don Buchla creates the Buchla Modular Electronic Music System (Series 100).
Buchla Systems - Picture Franck Martin
Buchla Systems - Picture Franck Martin


  • The Buchla 100 Series begins selling commercially
  • The SFMTC moves to Mills College in Oakland.
  • Stewart Brand and Ramon Sender organize the Trips Festival, January 21-23, at Longshoremen's Hall (400 North Point) in San Francisco.


  • John Chowning creates the first digital FM synthesis algorithm at Stanford University in Palo Alto. He spends seven years perfecting and expanding it. In 1974 Stanford licenses the technology to Yamaha Corporation.
  • Recorded in 1966 and 1967 on a Buchla 100, Morton Subotnick releases in July the album "Silver Apples of the Moon".
  • Stan Shaff and Doug McEachern open the first Audium Theater in San Francisco. The theater is specially conceived for listening music in space. It has many speakers all around the listeners.


  • Suzanne Ciani studies for a master's degree in composition at University of California, Berkeley. She meets Don Buchla and spends some times at the SFTMC.


  • Max Matthews, and John Chowning give a class on music at the Stanford Artificial Laboratory. Max Matthews is known to have written, in 1957, MUSIC the first widely used program for sound generation.
  • Allen Strange becomes Professor of Music at San Jose Stat University until 2002. He will release the book "Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls" in 1972 and "Programming and Meta-Programming the Electro-Organism" in 1974. Additionally he will write the operations manual for the Buchla Music easel.


  • Don Buchla creates the Buchla 200 Series
  • Suzanne Ciani takes a job at Buchla & Associates to work on assembling the 200 Series and to later purchase one. There, she has access to Don's studio. She receives a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation via the SFTMC and composes extensively at the center. She releases her debut record "Voices of the Packaged Souls" which was finalized at the local radio station KPFA. On this record, she uses tape methods to organize sounds recorded at Stanford, Buchla's and in her garage.
  • Allen Strange becomes professor of music at San Jose State University and publishes the book Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls


  • Dave Rossum, Steve Gabriel and Jim Ketcham found E-mu Systems in Santa Cruz. It will be acquired in 1993 by Creative Labs and will cease operations in 2011


  • Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney found Atari in Sunnyvale and releases a game created by Allan Alcorn under Nolan's direction: Pong. The game would generate sounds after Alcorn found out that the sync generator could generate different tones. The company will operate till 1984.
  • Allen Strange releases the book "Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls", a classic to teach and learn electronic music. It will be rereleased in 2023 via a kickstarter


  • E-Mu Systems develops a digitally scanned polyphonic keyboard that will be licensed to Oberheim Electronics and Sequential Circuits for the Prophet-5.


  • Dave Smith founds Sequential Circuits in San Francisco. The first product is an analog sequencer for use with Moog and ARP synthesizers.



  • Ray Dolby moves Dolby Laboratories that he founded in 1965 in London, United Kingdom to San Francisco.


  • Jim Horton, John Bischoff, and Tim Perkis found in Berkeley, The League of Automatic Music Composers, the first computer networking band.
  • Dennis Saputelli founds Salamander Music Systems in San Francisco, which sells modular based synthesizers until 1985.
  • Atari releases Atari Video Music, the earliest commercial electronic music visualizer.


  • The Prophet-5 is for the first time demonstrated at NAMM in Los Angeles in January. The first units are shipped later in that year.


  • Roger Linn and Alex Moffett found Linn Moffett Electronics (renamed Linn Electronics) in Los Altos, California.
  • Keith McMillen founds Zeta Music and develops a prototype electric violin for Laurie Anderson
  • Doug Curtis founds Curtis Electromusic in San Jose. It will operate till 1988. The first product, the CEM3310, is used in Oberheim and Moog instruments.


  • The Serge factory moves from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a three-story Victorian House on Haight Street. The Serge synthesizer was developed by Serge Tcherepnin, Rich Gold and Randy Cohen at CalArts in 1972, the first 20 "Tcherepnins" were built in 1973.
  • Roger Linn releases the world's first drum machine to use digital samples the LM-1 drum computer.


  • Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi contacts Dave Smith to create a standard to synchronize instruments. Based on Roland Digital Control Bus (DCB), Dave Smith and Chet Wood of Sequential Circuits publish a specification called "Universal Synthesizer Interface" at the Audio Engineering Society conference in New York City in October. After many contribution by representatives of Roland, Yamaha, Korg, Kawai, the specification would become the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) Standard. In 1983 a Midi connection between a Prophet 600 and Roland JP-6 is demonstrated.


  • Robert Rich releases his first album on cassette, Sunyata. During this time Robert Rich gives sleep concerts in the San Francisco Bay area.


  • Dave Oppenheim founds Opcode Systems in Palo Alto to produce MIDI sequencing software.


  • Opcode Systems releases the first commercially available computer sequencer program, MIDIMAC. Eventually the program was expanded to include digital audio and was renamed Vision.


  • Sequential Circuits goes out of business.
  • Max Matthews becomes Professor of Music (Research) at Stanford University.



  • Julius O. Smith III files a patent on Digital signal processing using waveguide networks, or Digital waveguide synthesis, for Stanford University in September.


  • Opcode Systems releases the first commercially available version of MAX, licensed from IRCAM in Paris, France. Released to Cycling β€˜74 in 1999.


  • David Zicarelli, former Opcode employee, creates MSP for MAX at Cycling β€˜74 (San Francisco).


  • Adrien Freed and Matt Wright inventing Open Sound Control (OSC) at The Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT)


  • Opcode Systems is absorbed into Gibson Music Corp.
  • Doug Lynner, modular synthesizer artist and Synapse Magazine editor/publisher, relocates to the Bay Area and relaunches his performance career there in 2013. He currently performs and teaches internationally.



  • Dave Smith founds Dave Smith Instruments in San Francisco.
  • Steve Taormina establishes Robotspeak, a synthesizer shop, in Lower Haight in San Francisco
  • Gur Milstein founds Tiptop Audio in Sunnyvale and releases the Z5000 Multi Effects Eurorack module. The company will later relocate to Thailand.
Sequential Studio - Picture Franck Martin
Sequential Studio - Picture Franck Martin


  • The Dead Presidents Society, a group of friends, meets every Thursday morning at a coffee house in Berkeley. The names comes from members that were presidents of companies that died. Members: Don Buchla, Ingrid Linn, Roger Linn, Keith McMillen, Tom Oberheim, David Wessel, Max Mathews, John Chowning, Dave Smith, Jaron Lanier.


  • Tim Thompson creates the Space Palette, a Kinect-based musical instrument.
  • Dimitri Ponce starts The Church of Thee Super Serge at Robotspeak. It starts as a workshop where students build every month a modular synthesizer Serge panel, and evolves into a free monthly concert done by local artists.


  • Ilya Rosenberg and Aaron Zarraga found Sensel in Sunnyvale and release the Morph in 2017 a touch pressure sensitive sensor to be used as a synthesizer controller.
  • Lance Hill opens the Vintage Synthesizer Museum in Emeryville. It is a recording studio with a many old analogue synthesizers. The Museum will relocate to Los Angeles in 2021


  • Yamaha returns the Sequential Circuits brands to Dave Smith in January
  • The Prophet-6 is created in January
  • Dave Rossum founds Rossum Electro-Music LLC which mainly makes modules for the Eurorack format.


  • Danny Kim starts in March Binary Society Open Night in San Jose, a monthly event, until Binary Society 09 in October 2017. Many local artists will perform at this event, mainly on modular synthesizer.
  • r beny releases "full blossom of the evening"


  • Tenkai Kariya founds Zetaohm in San Francisco and releases the FLXS1, a Eurorack Module Voltage Sequencer, via a Kickstarter.
  • Jeremy Black starts Resident Electronic Monthly in October. It is a monthly open mic for electronic music performers, held on the second Tuesday of the Month at the Laundry in San Francisco.


  • Kevin Friedrichsen and Bill Wiatroski start Resonant Frequencies in January. It is a monthly open mic for electronic music performers, held on the first Sunday of the month in Oakland at Soundwave studios.
  • ose | ΰ€“ΰ€Έ releases "just a feeling"


  • Richard Hogden and Korey Luna start Piqued in April. It is a monthly concert with Q&A where 2 electronic music artists perform. It is held on the third Wednesday of the month in San Francisco.
  • Thorsten Sideboard’s Algorithmic Art Assembly festival


  • Brian B. James and Betsy de la Garza open Mission Synths shop in San Francisco in December


  • Electric.Kitchen, Malarki, KZZL, musicalfungus, Alphastare, Franck Martin, DirtyBill, Kit Yound perform in September at the Gray Area Theater as part of the LeftCoastLights Eclectic Trips Festival
  • The AV Club SF is funded. It is a San Francisco based algorave artist collective focused on live performance where technology itself is the instrument. They use samplers, sequencers, livecode environments, modular synths, feedback loops, generative art, microscopes, & more to make sights and sounds you haven't encountered before but will want to experience again.


  • Resonant Frequencies is now an event every 2 month at the Balboa Theatre in San Francisco
  • Resident Electronic Music is now hosted at Noisebridge