Fabled audio engineer and founder of ARP Instruments Inc, Alan R. Pearlman passed away yesterday at the age of 93. He is hailed for being one of the earliest pioneers of audio synthesis and without his contribution to audio technology, it’s unlikely that we’d have the rich pallet of electronic instruments available to us today.
Alan R. Pearlman, the legendary engineer and synth pioneer most known for founding ARP Instruments Inc, has passed away at the age of 93.
Pearlman’s daughter, Dina Pearlman, stated in a Facebook post:
“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.
Hopefully, I can find something more eloquent to say, but I am too sad for words right now.”
Born in New York, Pearlman attended the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, where he designed a vacuum tube envelope follower for his senior thesis, which could record the envelope of a sound from an instrument.
His expertise in audio design earned him a position early in his career at NASA, designing amplifiers. In the 1960s, he co-founded Nexus Research Laboratory, a successful manufacturer of analog modules and op-amps.
With a handy bit of revenue in his pocket, Pearlman decided to start his own company, and in 1969 he invested $100,000 into, ARP Instruments Inc. The name ‘ARP’ was derived from his own initials and had actually been a nickname growing up, however, within a year it took on a whole new meaning when it was printed on the company’s first model, the ARP 2500.
It’s not an overstatement to say that the new synth was a game changer.
The ARP 2500 is remembered for its stable oscillators and unique sliding switches used for patching, which helped to keep the synth’s knobs clear of a tangled sea of cables. It was also hailed for its uncanny ability to stay in tune, which was a bit of a struggle for a lot of early synths.
The follow-up, the ARP 2600, offered three oscillators and is famed for its use in Star Wars and its ability to go ‘bleep bloop bleep bloop’, which saw it play R2D2’s legendary vocal parts. The 2500 and 2600 became favourites of many recording artists in the 1970s, however, as they were bulky modular synths, their use was more suited for the studio.
The ARP Odyssey, released in 1972 was designed to be more compact and performance ready. It was the most popular synth ARP ever made and was produced all the way up until the company closed in 1981 due to financial difficulty. Pearlman went on to found a digital graphics company and entered semi-retirement, however, as his daughter notes, he always made time to tickle some keys.
Despite the factory closing its doors, the legacy of ARP didn’t die there. The infamous circuitry that Pearlman designed has been replicated in both software and hardware forms and has gone on to inspire many different models of synthesisers that we celebrate today.
Although Pearlman will be sorely missed, his contribution to the world of music is undeniable. It’s safe to say that without his sound design expertise, the modern era’s rich musical landscape would be a very different place.