Alan Robert Pearlman, designer of the famous ARP range of synthesisers and Moog’s most famous competitor, has died aged 93.
Arp (his childhood nickname) was, literally, a rocket scientist. After serving briefly in the US Army and then graduating from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, he started his career in electronics working for NASA, where he was involved in designing and building instrumentation amplifiers for the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft. He left NASA to co-found (with Roger Noble) first Philbrick Researchers and then Nexus Research Laboratory, whose primary business was the design and build of solid-state operational amplifiers. Both companies were sold to Teledyne in 1966, which created Teledyne Philbrick Nexus.
Three years later, after hearing Bob Moog’s synthesiser, Pearlman and David Friend established ARP Instruments to manufacture synthesisers of their own design. This switch to musical instrument production wasn’t such a stretch for a rocket scientist, because Pearlman was a proficient pianist and his senior thesis at Worcester Polytechnic had been an envelope follower which could sense the attack, volume, sustain and decay of a note played on an electronic instrument.
Pearlman introduced his first synthesiser, the ARP 2002 in 1970. It was followed then by the ARP 2500 (pictured above) and then the more successful ARP 2600 (pictured below), as well as a range of other synths including the Soloist, Omni and Quadra.
The early ARP synthesisers had the advantage of using matrix switches to interconnect the different synthesiser modules, which meant users didn’t have to use the patch cords that were omnipresent on competitive models. However, Pearlman knew that the switches on the 2500 were noisy, so with the ARP 2600 he re-introduced patch cords that could be used optionally, for those users wanting quieter circuitry.
One area where ARP initially started clearly ahead of its competitors concerned pitch stability. Early Moog synthesisers were renowned for going out of tune, a problem caused by temperature differences between the different oscillator modules. Pearlman solved this by putting both oscillators on a single chip, so the temperatures were the same. Pearlman was contemptuous of one company’s solution to the problem, which was to monitor the temperature of all the modules and use heaters to equalise their temperatures. ‘Temperature correction devices? Ppphh!’ he said in a NAMM interview (HERE).
Famous ARP 2600 users include Jean Michel Jarre, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Weather Report, Xpando, Chemical Brothers, Rick Wakeman, Pete Townshend, Stevie Wonder, Nine Inch Nails, and Edgar Winter.
Despite the fame of the 2600 it was so expensive that very few were ever built (industry estimates put total production at fewer than 3,000). ARP’s best-selling synthesiser was its Odyssey, introduced in 1972 and created specifically to compete with the low-priced MiniMoog. The Odyssey went through multiple incarnations culminating in the MkIII in 1981, released just prior to ARP’s bankruptcy, but in 2015, Korg re-issued its own version of the Odyssey, which is currently available as an instrument, as software, and as an iOS app.
Despite his sometimes-acrimonious commercial relations with Robert Moog, who claimed that Pearlman had stolen the design for his voltage-controlled filter, (see Analog Days, The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer, by Trevor Pinch) Pearlman was happy to give Moog credit where it was due, even to the point of publically admitting that Moog’s synthesisers had ‘more interesting sounds’ than his own. Pearlman registered more than two dozen patents concerned with sound synthesis, a list of which can be found HERE
Ironically, at the time of ARP’s bankruptcy in 1981, it was sitting on a goldmine in the shape of a yet-unreleased product, the Chroma (pictured above), a microprocessor-operated touch-sensitive polyphonic synthesiser. As a part of the bankruptcy settlement, CBS Musical Instruments acquired the manufacturing rights for the Chroma and sold more than $3 million worth of them in the following 12 months (HERE and HERE).
Following ARP’s closure, Pearlman moved into the field of computer graphics, establishing a company called Selva Systems, and also collaborated with Ray Kurzweil, helping develop synthesisers for his company Kurzweil Music Systems. He also collaborated with Korg on the development of the Korg Odyssey and with Way Out Ware on the development of its Timewarp 2600 emulator.
In a manner befitting Pearlman’s initial career as a rocket scientist, an ARP 2600 was used to help create the vocalizations for the Star Wars robot R2D2, and Peter Howell used an ARP Odyssey when he updated Roy Grainger’s original theme for Doctor Who. #