Alan R. Pearlman, Synthesizer Pioneer, Dies at 93


Alan R. Pearlman, the engineer who based the synthesizer firm ARP Instruments and designed its pioneering gear, died on Jan. 5 in Newton, Mass. He was 93.

His loss of life was confirmed by his daughter, Dina Pearlman.

ARP’s analog synthesizers — notably the compact, transportable ARP Odyssey, launched in 1972 — grew ubiquitous in pop and digital music. By the mid-1970s, ARP was the main synthesizer producer, commanding 40 % of the market and outselling its predecessors and opponents, Moog and Buchla.

ARP sounds have been central to quite a few songs, together with Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein,” Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon,” Kraftwerk’s “The Robots,” Underworld’s “Rez,” Nine Inch Nails’ “The Hand That Feeds” and the early-1980s model of the theme to the tv collection “Doctor Who.”

The five-note signature motif of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was performed on an ARP 2500 synthesizer, which is seen within the movie. An ARP 2600, combined with pure sounds, offered the voice of R2-D2 within the first “Star Wars” film.

Alan Robert Pearlman was born on June 7, 1925, in Manhattan and grew up in Bridgeport and Milford, Conn. His father, Julius, designed projectors for film theaters. His mom, Ada (Jacobs) Pearlman, was a homemaker.

Mr. Pearlman, whose childhood nickname was Arp, preferred to explain himself as being a nerd “before the term was invented,” according to “Analog Days” (2002), a history of synthesizers by Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco. Mr. Pearlman was devoted to engineering and research, not corporate development or the pop music business; he amassed more than 20 patents.

“My father was not a fame seeker; he was humble almost to a fault,” Dina Pearlman said in a telephone interview. “If he put his mind to something and he knew there was a better solution, he found it.”

Growing up, Mr. Pearlman took piano lessons and built ham radio sets. He served briefly in the Army at the end of World War II. He studied engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, where his senior thesis project, in 1948, involved electronic music. It was a vacuum-tube envelope follower, which could sense the “envelope” — the attack, volume, sustain and decay shaped by a musician — of a note played on an instrument.

“With greater attention on the part of the engineer to the needs of the musician,” Mr. Pearlman wrote in the accompanying paper, “the day may not be too remote when the electronic instrument may take its place as “a versatile, powerful and expressive instrument.”

Mr. Pearlman, who lived in Newton, married Buena Alcalay in 1958. She and his daughter survive him.

Mr. Pearlman worked for NASA designing amplifiers for Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, then helped found Nexus Research Laboratory, which built precision solid-state analog modules, including operational amplifiers.

Nexus was sold to Teledyne in 1967, the year Morton Subotnick’s “Silver Apples of the Moon,” an album-length electronic composition made on a Buchla synthesizer, was released. Mr. Pearlman was impressed, and in 1968, after hearing “Switched-On Bach” by Wendy (known at the time as Walter) Carlos — a hit album of Bach pieces recorded on a Moog via overdubbing and editing — he decided to work again on electronic instruments.

“I went into the basement and did some playing around,” Mr. Pearlman told Inc. magazine in 1982.

Mr. Pearlman founded ARP, initially named Tonus Inc., in 1969. Early synthesizers tended to go rapidly out of tune. Mr. Pearlman solved that problem by placing two functions on the same chip, and that stability became a major selling point.

The company’s first instrument was the ARP 2500, a large console-size synthesizer introduced in 1970; it was acquired by many universities for electronic-music laboratories. The 2500 used a matrix of switches to connect its modules instead of patch cords, which the Moog used. The slightly less bulky ARP 2600, using patch cords but also including built-in preset connections, arrived in 1971. Like other early synthesizers, they were monophonic, playing just one note at a time.



Source link Nytimes.com

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