A Brief History of Matrix Software
Computers were made for astrology, although it took some astrologers a little time to recognize that fact. Astrologer Michael Erlewine founded Matrix Software in 1977 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the first company to create astrology computer programs and make them available to the general public. In fact, there is only one software company still in business on the Internet that is older than Matrix, and that is a little company called Microsoft.
Erlewine, who had been programming on programmable calculators since the early 1970s, switched to home computers the moment they became available. He became the first astrologer to program astrology programs on microcomputers and to make them available to other astrologers. Erlewine at first sent out his programs at no charge to all who asked for them, but soon so many were asking that he had no time for clients and other work. That was how Matrix Software as a business got started.
Michael Erlewine was soon joined at Matrix by his astrologer-brother Stephen Erlewine, who had some years before established “Circle Books,” one of the most influential metaphysical bookstores in North America. Stephen published early-on the “Circle Book of Charts,” a landmark collection of celebrity data, complete with hundreds of hand-drawn charts. When Michael Erlewine relocated to Big Rapids, Michigan to raise a family in 1980, Stephen soon followed and the two brothers made the company what it is today.
Prior to Matrix Software, astrologers did their charts using complex log tables, interpolation techniques, and a pencil and paper or, at best, a 4-function calculator. Some astrologers even tried to make an argument that the age-old ritual look-up tables had some special meaning in themselves and that computers inherently had no “soul.” This retro attitude did not last long and astrologers quickly came to depend on and love their computers. Today it would be difficult to find a professional astrologer who does not do charts on a computer. Creating charts with Log tables is already a forgotten art.
From the beginning, Michael Erlewine was primarily interested in the “meaning” of astrology rather than about computers or programming. He had to teach himself the rudiments of programming on handheld-programmable calculators in the early 1970s in an attempt to research techniques for which there were at that time no books or tables, techniques like Local Space, modern astrophysics, heliocentrics, and so on. Erlewine published his first book “The Sun Is Shining” in 1975, the first long-range heliocentric ephemeris. Some of his early algorithms were published by Hewlett-Packard. In 1976 he published a complete set of hand-drawn star maps for astrologers, “Interface,” a book on heliocentric planetary nodes, and “Astrophysical Directions,” the first astrological exploration of the astrophysics of deep space. This was before the advent of microcomputers and he had to do all the calculations on handheld calculators, in the beginning on just 4-function calculators and later on the programmables.
Not all astrologers welcomed the computer. When the Erlewines published an astrological calendar with a computer (with an astrological program on its screen) on the cover in the late 1970s, they received a letter from a nationally- known astrologer berating them for in any way associating computers with astrology. Astrologers were at that time quite computer-phobic, even though the computer was to eventually liberate them in such a significant way.
The same thing happened when Matrix pioneered Astro*Talk, their series of interpretive-report-writing software. These programs printed out complete astrological interpretation reports that astrologers could make available to their clients for a fee. Erlewine recalls a hot debate on these new interpretive reports at an AFA Convention forum discussion, where one astrologer burst into tears at the shame of allowing these computer-generated reports to even enter the field.
In the beginning, well-known astrologers would buy report writing software on the QT, not wanting other astrologers to know they even used them. Of course, the rest is history. The fact is these reports generated enormous revenue for professional astrologers, where suddenly they could make available a $10-$25 report to clients who could not afford a full sit-down session. One client reported selling over $300,000 of reports from a single $300 Matrix program investment.
Over the years, Matrix has held dozens of in-depth conferences and meetings, featuring some of the most distinguished astrologers of the time, speakers like Dane Rudhyar, Michel Gauquelin, Charles Harvey, Charles Jayne, Robert Hand, Theodor Landscheidt, Noel Tyl, Roger Elliot, Geoffrey Dean, John Townley, Robert Schmidt, and scores of others. In the late 1970s, Michael Erlewine and Charles Jayne teamed up to create ACT (Astrological Conferences on Techniques), a popular round-table forum that appeared for years at astrological conference such as those of the American Federation of Astrologers and the United Astrological Conference. In the 1980s, Michael Erlewine established the “Heart Center Astrological Library,” probably the largest library of its kind in the world and he remains the curator today.
Matrix Software has pioneered a number of astrological techniques aside from their initial calculations, hi-res chart wheels, and report-writing programs, including the first programs that performed simple astrological database research, programs that actually spoke astrology (audio) and astrology (voice-over) videos. Matrix helped to produce the award-winning Time-Life Astrology CD-ROM and has won scores of online awards. Matrix was also an early pioneer in online and internet-content, creating (at the request of Microsoft) the New-Age Forum on MSN, their own TheNewAge.com site, and Matrix helped to launch Astro*Net (AOL), which eventually became Astrology.com.
Michael Erlewine took a leave of absence from Matrix in the late 1990s and created a number of large entertainment-content sites on the web, the All-Music Guide (allmusic.com), the All-Movie Guide (allmovie.com), and others.
In 2008, Michael rejoined Matrix and continues as the director of Matrix along with his brother Stephen as lead programmer. Matrix Software continues to this day to provide astrologers in more than 120 countries with professional astrological software.