ARP Odyssey

The Querky Nerd


Alan R. Pearlman started out his engineering career in the 1960s by developing laboratory equipement. For example he built precicion amplifiers for the NASA’s Gemini and Apollo space programs and later on used his experience for designing synthesizers.
Being late to the game, as Bob Moog and Don Buchla already brought out their modular synthesizers, Pearlman tried to make things a little different. In 1970 his first product, the model 2500, was a modular synthesizer which used a switching matrix instead of the established patch cables to connect the modules. Thanks to his experience with laboratory precision requirements, his oscillators were much more stable than those of the Moog systems.

Without knowing, you might have already seen an ARP 2500 synthesizer. It was prominently used in the climax of Steven Spielberg’s movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” where it was set up in a football stadium to communicate with the alien life forms by playing a 5 note melody.

Just as the film pictured the 2500 as some strange scientific laboratory machine and not a musical instrument, in reality ARP synthesizers were more attracted by universities and labs for educational purpose that by actual musicians.
The 1971 successor model 2600 was much more hands-on, but it took the 1972 Odyssey to win musician’s hearts. Following Moogs example of deriving a compact synthesizer from the large modular system, ARP developed the Odyssey as a cut down, prepatched version of the 2600. Due to its laboratory history, albeit similar in concept, the Odyssey was quite different to the Minimoog – sliders instead of knobs, lack of the pitch and modulation wheels Moog introduced, and a more inscrutable but also more flexible signal path. This separated synthesists of the time into two different camps – the Moog and the ARP guys. Just as there were The Beatles and The Stones guys. Of course there were also the brave guys like George Duke who used both of them next to each other.

The particular Odyssey I have got, has an interesting story to it. It once belonged to the company Vermona, a company in the eastern part of cold war Germany, who built electronic organs in the 1970s. When they started developing an analog synthesizer, they sent one of their employees to the western part of Germany to buy a synthesizer and bring it back through the iron curtain to be analyzed for its circuits. These inspired the circuits of the Vermona Synthesizer. After 40 years of abandoned life on a shelf it was generously given to me and I put it back to use with the greatest pleasure.

Its sound can be aggressive and noble at the same time, since this rare whiteface mk I version has a 2-Pole Filter sounding similar to the one of the Oberheim SEM module, but can have a very present resonance with a singing quality to it.

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