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They would produce computer music's hammer and sickle.
OSC's software would sell for the lowest price the owners could charge and still keep the company afloat. Where Digidesign rigs cost thousands, OSC began selling its Deck sound editing package for less than $400. OSC's designers would maintain constant Internet dialogue with users, adding modifications to Deck as users suggested them. Through this incessant dialogue, the OSC owners broke the veil of secrecy that surrounds much of Silicon Valley software development. Deck's developers were able to glean hundreds of engineering ideas from users, maintain a passionately loyal group of customers, and have a lot of fun.
The office would be much more than a "progressive workplace." Employees would have to be shooed home because they so loved their jobs. As much emphasis would be placed on the musical and artistic projects of the owners and employees as on the selling of software.
It would be the anti-corporate corporation that proved to the world that talent, ideals, brains, and balls were worth at least as much as business degrees and tassel loafers.
"I wish I had the hindsight to realize what a good place it really was when it was happening," says Kathy Tafel, OSC's former office manager and now an editor at MacAddict magazine. "They were a very unique company. I think part of it was that they really did operate on ideals. Mats, the engineer, really could have made three times as much money working for other companies. He took a huge pay cut working for OSC. People don't do that unless they really believe in something."
So they hired Ron MacLeod, remembered as the "soul" of OSC, who handled the practical side of the business and helped create a library of electronic musical sounds that became part of the OSC product line. There was Todd Souvignier, the Portland musician-cum-freelance writer-cum-professional soft-ware peddler, who wrote much of the socialist-ethic propaganda in the Audio Anarchist fliers.
They hired Jeff Moore, the gregarious hockey-player type who also happened to be a student of music and electrical engineering. Moore became the brain behind many of the upgrades in later versions of Deck. There was Tommy King, the rock musician and composer who became OSC's director of sales and its chief court jester.
"I woke up every morning wanting to go to work," King recalls. "Instead of being 10 minutes late to work, I was five minutes late to work. Josh would have to send me home every night, or say, 'When I get back, I don't want you here.' It was just the greatest experience; I mean, they were so open to letting us do what we wanted to do."
And so it went, for a while. Work consisted of occasional months-long cram sessions to get new versions of the software out, some heated debates about design philosophy, and interludes of joking, musical jamming, and assorted substance abuse.
They conducted hours-long rap sessions with users around the world, many of whom came to view Deck as a valid subject of high-minded intellectual debate, a la Kant or Foucault.
"I would have one of these conversations with Josh, or with John Dalton over a hamburger, and we would get off on a philosophical tangent about intellectual property, and that tangent would, two weeks later, become an editorial in the Anarchist," Souvignier recalls.
In another unique approach to research and development, OSC worked with the San Francisco avant-garde musical group the Residents, who set out to produce a record using an early version of Deck. The group was inspired by OSC's music-production-for-the-masses sensibility, recalls Residents manager Hardy Fox. Residents members and OSC engineers huddled together for months to bring the software up to the point where it could produce a commercial-quality CD, Fox says.
"They set out to do the album Freakshow as the first digital project done on inexpensive software," he says.
Perhaps the funnest, coolest, hippest part of all, though, was striding the globe like heroes. Session musicians for famous rock bands got in the habit of calling OSC to chat about compositional problems; they showed up at OSC parties and generally associated themselves with the OSC circle. A 1994 magazine article even quoted Chris Isaak band member Jimmy Wilsey as calling Rosen "a heavy dude."
The OSC Audio Anarchist iconography became popular even beyond the company's circle of customers. It is not unusual to see an old OSC "Tools Don't Equal Talent" poster in college dorm rooms and alternative rock sound studios.
The OSC boys' status as Valley heroes was etched in silicon in the December 1994 issue of Wired magazine. They're geniuses, they're rebels, they're changing the world, and they're fun to talk to was the gist of a four-page article. While OSC alumni don't take issue with the thrust of the article's assertions, one passage so exaggerates reality that it evokes weary, knowing smiles.
"OSC, so far, has managed to avoid the corporate pressures that so often close in on entrepreneurs once the company they've founded begins to grow," the article said.
This, of course, was a ridiculous notion. The pressures -- the bills, the software bugs, the upgrade deadlines, the capital shortages, the interest payments on mountains of credit-card debt the founders had used to keep the company going -- all were mounting until they seemed to press against everybody who worked at the place.