Alan R. Pearlman of ARP Synthesizers Dies
Alan R. Pearlman, who founded the ARP Instruments company and helped popularize synthesizers in the '70s, died on Jan. 6.
"My father passed away today after a long illness," his daughter Dina posted on Facebook. "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 in 1925, Pearlman studied engineering, eventually designing amplifiers for NASA before starting his own company in 1969. Taking its name from his initials (also a childhood nickname), ARP Instruments launched with the ARP 2002 but gained greater prominence with its update, the 2500. With two keyboards and banks of modules above, it was considered to be more reliably in tune than the Moog, which had debuted a few years earlier.
Pearlman followed up the instrument in 1971 with the smaller ARP 2600. It quickly gained prominence thanks to such practitioners as Pete Townshend, Stevie Wonder, Edgar Winter (who famously used it on "Frankenstein") and Herbie Hancock. Other models -- such as the Odyssey, the Pro Soloist and the Omni -- wound up being used by keyboardists like Genesis' Tony Banks, the Cars' Greg Hawkes and Billy Preston.
The synthesizers were also favored by some Hollywood sound designers, like Ben Burtt, who used the 2600 to create the sounds of R2-D2 in Star Wars. The 2500 provided the music prominently heard in the climax of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
ARP went out of business in 1981, largely as a result of a commercially unsuccessful and costly attempt to bring synth technology to electric guitars in the mid-'70s, from which it never recovered. Pearlman later founded a software company called Selva Systems.
“Alan R. Pearlman was an engineering genius,” Berklee College of Music Professor Dr. Richard Boulanger told Synthtopia. “But I truly believe that the heart and soul in his machines drew their spirit and life from Alan’s musical virtuosity on the piano, his truly deep musical knowledge, his passion and enthusiasm for all music, and his nurturing and generous support for young composers and performers, regardless of whether they were into classical, avant-garde, film, fusion, rock or pop.”