Peter Samson designed and built a real-time signal-processing computer for music applications in the 1970s. The Systems Concepts Digital Synthesizer (“Samson Box” for short) was installed at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University in 1977, where it served for over a decade as the principal music generation system. It was an important landmark in the transition from general-purpose computers to real-time systems for music and audio, and helped set the stage for the sea change in the music industry from analog to digital technologies that began in the 1980s and continues at a rapid pace today.
This article focuses on the historical context of the Samson Box, its development, its impact on the culture of CCRMA and the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, its use for music research and composition at Stanford, and its role in the transformation of the music and audio industries from analog to digital practices. A list of compositions realized on the Samson Box is included, which shows that from 1978 to its decommissioning in 1992 it was used to create over 100 finished works, many of which were widely performed and were awarded prizes. A companion article provides a detailed architectural review and an interview with Pete Samson.