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Passport Designs Inc. was a pioneer in the field of computer music, introducing the pre-MIDI SoundChaser in 1982.
The company was founded in 1979 by David Kusek and John Borowicz, and incorporated in 1980, with Kusek as CEO and Borowicz as Vice-President of Development. They had previously worked together at Electronic Music Labs from 1973–76 and Star Instruments from 1976-79. The company was originally headquartered in Montara, California, moving to Half Moon Bay, California and finally to Foster City, California. An engineering office was also briefly maintained in Minnesota.
The company was a pioneer in the field of computer music, introducing the pre-MIDI SoundChaser in 1982. This Apple II-based system included the Mountain Computer Music System, a programmable 8-voice wavetable synthesizer that fit in two Apple II slots, the Soundchaser 4-octave keyboard, and system software, written by Kusek, that emulated a four-track tape recorder. After Mountain Computer discontinued the Mountain Computer Music System, Passport developed the Soundchaser MX-5(MX-500) Card to use instead. The MX-5 contains not only Mountain Computer Music System compatible sound function but also MIDI interface and keyboard interface of Sound Chaser Music keyboard in single card. In 1983, composer John Melcher developed 4-Track Editor, a composing application that enabled music to be entered like a word-processor. The same year, Passport released Turbo-Traks, a 16-track version of their recording software. At this time, they also released Notewriter, a "real-time monophonic music transcriber", and Notetools, an add-on to convert Notewriter files to 4-Track Performance files. They also released a series of educational applications, written by Dr. Charles Brody.
When the first MIDI specification was adopted in 1983, Passport put all of its development resources in this direction, licensing and developing a MIDI interface from Rittor Music in Japan and hiring Melcher to develop MIDI recording software. Composer Phil Stone was also hired at this time, first to develop audio for games on the Commodore 64, and then to port MIDI applications from Apple II to Commodore.
The first of these were MIDI/2 and MIDI/4, two-track and four-track MIDI sequencer/recorders for Apple II and Commodore 64 platforms, including OEM versions of MIDI/4 for Yamaha and Korg. These were introduced at the 1984 National Association of Music Manufacturers (NAMM) trade show, the first commercially-available MIDI sequeners in the United States. These were followed by Master Tracks in 1985, and Master Tracks Pro in 1986. This software pushed the Apple II to its limits, working with an optional card to extend the Apple's memory from 48K to 2M. In 1987, after Melcher left Passport, Master Tracks Pro was completely rewritten for the Apple Macintosh, and later the Atari ST series computers.
By this time, Passport Designs was attracting nationwide media attention for their products. An article in the May 28, 1984 issue of Newsweek described the upcoming MIDISOFT conference of music software publishers, and featured a photograph of Passport's demo room with a bank of MIDI-controlled synthesizers.
PolyWriter, Passport's first music notation application, was released in 1984, followed by Encore, a professional music notation application capable of creating high-quality scores. The Encore feature set was adapted to different markets and sold as Rhapsody, MusicTime and MusicTime Deluxe. There was also a version called music@Passport, an attempt to integrate web-based music publishing into a desktop notation editor.
Alchemy was a waveform audio editor, originally developed by Blank Software and subsequently purchased by Passport, that integrated Macintosh computers with most current digital sampler brands that supported the MIDI Sample Dump Standard, including Akai, Casio, E-mu, Ensoniq, Korg, Kurzweil, Peavey and Roland. Later versions allowed users to create a sound library that could be shared those sounds across multiple sampler formats. The final version, version 3.0, was released in 1996.
Sale of the company
Competition from Macromind/MacroMedia Director, coupled with the atrophying of the core music product line, led to the sale of some of the company assets to GVOX in 1998, when Passport Designs ceased to exist as a company. In the latter half of 2013, GVOX sold off its software interests to Passport Music Software, LLC.