Looking Back at the Legacy of Alan R. Pearlman, Founder of Iconic "ARP Instruments" Company

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

ARP Odyssey, the company's most popular synth © ARP Instruments

Alan R. Pearlman, founder of the highly influential and innovative synthesizer company ARP Instruments, has died at age 93. His daughter Dina Pearlman, took to social media last Sunday to make the announcement, saying: "My father passed away today after a long illness. At 93, too weak to speak he still managed to play the piano this morning, later passing away peacefully in the afternoon. He was a great man and contributed much to the world of music you all know today".

Indeed the contributions of Alan Pearlman and his company have been far reaching, in many ways not unlike those of Bob Moog. Having worked on electronics since he was a child, Pearlman would go on to run a multimillion (a lot at the time) dollar company after designing amplifiers for NASA's Apollo and Gemini missions. It would not be long before he would found synth manufacturer ARP Instruments with David Friend, and introduced the world to the ARP 2500 modular synthesizer (the instrument used to communicate with the aliens in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind).

While proving innovative at the time for its approach of using sliding switches instead of cables for interconnecting modules, which could get in the way of important parameters or panel information, the 2500 was not very commercially successful, instead leading the way to one of the single most iconic and influential synthesizers of all time, the ARP 2600.

ARP 2600 © Vintage Synth

When released, the 2600 was also very innovative for early modular systems, this perhaps the first semi-modular design of its kind, which essentially meant that the individual modules were already interconnected for basic sound generation, but could then be further manipulated using conventional patching cables as well. The ARP 2600 was also designed not just as a professional musical instrument, but also for educating purposes, providing a more compact, user-friendly version compared to the much bigger and more complex systems coming from Moog and Buchla at the time. Some of the artists who have used the ARP 2600 over the years include: David Bowie, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Herbie Hancock, and many more.

While it is true that the ARP 2600 would have quite an impact, it would also prove to be still rather difficult for many to use, and so it lead ARP to design what is widely considered to be another incredibly legendary and revolutionary synthesizer, the Odyssey; an instrument known the world over to be able to challenge even the best of solo guitarists with screaming leads and basses that can pierce through just about anything on stage or in studio.

The Odyssey, a keyboard synthesizer, essentially packaged the basic concept of the 2600 into a smaller, 37-key version that was already interconnected. Its appeal was quite far reaching, affordable enough for any average musician, and going on to become known as the first "Punk" synthesizer, rebellious, aggressive, and with a very unique sound.

Alan Robert Pearlman back in 2010 © Dina Pearlman

ARP Instruments enjoyed quite a bit of success throughout the 70's and very early 80's, revisiting the ARP Odyssey, which went on to become their most popular synth, three times before closing doors in 1982. Alan Pearlman would then go on to found a successful graphic design company, and while he would leave a life and legacy with manufacturing synthesizers behind, the same could not be said for music itself. A lifelong virtuoso of the piano, his passion for music was something that ran quite deep and through many layers, devoted always to seeing the cause of music expanded to further enrich composers young and old, no matter their background or aspirations.

So iconic have been ARP's instruments and their designs, that in 2015, Japanese synthesizer manufacturer Korg, approached ARP co-founder David Friend, in hopes to recreate the infamous ARP Odyssey, which was going for very high prices in the vintage synth market and in high demand. The company has since released 3 different colored versions, faithfully recreated as their original counterparts (albeit smaller in size), all including the filter designs of each revision offered at the flip of a switch, and unleashing in a once-again affordable package, the powerful sound of this legendary synth.

While it is indeed sad to hear the news of Alan R. Pearlman's passing, we should continue to honor and value his contributions, which for music and the world of synthesizers will be felt for years to come. It is truly admirable when someone in a position to lead the world in such a way, does it with a keen interest in seeing that their gift to the world is easily obtained by the average person, not just a select few, so that they can then be the ones who continue to push the envelope of sound exploration. The way it should be.

Long live the legacy of Alan Pearlman!

Services will be held Wednesday January 9th at 12:30 pm at:

Temple Shalom 175 Temple St West Newton, MA

Watch synthesist David Baron perform on the ARP 2500, paying tribute to the late Alan Pearlman: