Alan R. Pearlman: Portrait of an Inventor

A Brief Biography of Alan R. Pearlman

The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

William Bond, via InMusic

Young adult Alan Pearlman (1943) by ARP FoundationThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

Alan R. Pearlman 1948

“The electronic instrument’s value is chiefly as a novelty. With greater attention on the part of the engineer to the needs of the musician, the day may not be too remote when the electronic instrument may take its place … as a versatile, powerful, and expressive instrument.”  

"Quite a foresight that early on, 20 years before commercial electronic instruments hit the market." Mark Vail

Before ARP: A Short Biography of the Long Life of Alan R. Pearlman

Early Family

Alan Pearlman was destined to be an engineer since the day he was born. His father designed movie theater projectors and his grandfather made parts for phonograph machines. A fascination with sound occupied his interest from an early age. (Hayim Kobi)

Ada, Julius, Alan and Donald Pearlman (1927) by unknownThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

Early Life

Pearlman was born in New York City on June 7, 1925. His father was a movie theatre projector designer and his grandfather made parts for phonograph machines. 

Top row, unknown relatives
Bottom row: Ada  Pearlman né Jacobs with Donald Pearlman on her lap, and Julius Pearlman with Alan Pearlman on his lap, New York, New York about 1926

As a child he built amateur radios and in 1948, as a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, he wrote a paper on electronic music in which he said: “The electronic instrument’s value is chiefly as a novelty. With greater attention on the part of the engineer to the needs of the musician, the day may not be too remote when the electronic instrument may take its place as a versatile, powerful, and expressive instrument.” (Hayim Kobi)

Front of Paper from WPI/AIEE (1948) by Estate of Alan R. PearlmanThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

Quite a foresight that early on, 20 years before commercial electronic instruments hit the market. (Hayim Kobi)

Alan Pearlman WPI Clubs in 1944, Estate of Alan R. Pearlman, 1944, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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Alan Pearlman with a group of young people cycle club, Estate of Alan R. Pearlman, 1948, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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Alan was in the military and then attended Worcester PolyTechnical Institute (WPI). Besides music and technology, he was passionate about cycling.

Alan & Buena Pearlman, unknown, 1958, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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Ralph Morse, 1967, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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Pearlman Family, Estate of Alan R. Pearlman, 1964, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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(left) Alan with his new wife, Buena Alcalay Pearlman, 1958 • (center) Part of Alan's work Pearlman involved designing amplifiers for NASA's Gemini and Apollo programs. (right) Alan, Buena and their daughter, Dina Ruth.

In 1969, after spending the first part of his career developing amplifiers for purposes unrelated to the music industry, he heard Wendy Carlos’ Switched on Bach, the influential album that overdubbed multiple tracks played on a Moog synthesizer. He decided to design his own electronic instrument and started a new company. He christened it Tonus and later changed it to ARP, his childhood nickname (after Alan R. Pearlman). (Hayim Kobi)

To learn more about synths, Alan consulted with a friend who used Moogs in the Electronic Music Lab at Brown University and Harvard University composer Leon Kirchner, who used Buchlas. (Mark Vail)

Morton Subotnick -from The Wild Bull (Buchla, 1968)

Entire Album follows this excerpt

Gershon Kingsley - Popcorn (Music to Moog By)

Alan's daughter, Dina remembers early electronic music in the house, including Gershon Kingsely... (Moog) 

We came to the conclusion,” Alan told me in 2000, “that neither of those systems was particularly stable for frequency. It wouldn’t be a very good musical instrument unless it stayed in tune.” (Mark Vail)

Bright Sparks Documentary

Thus was born the ARP 2500. If you don’t recall it, a version played a prominent roll in the “making-contact” scene of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when aliens in the mothership exchanged the familiar five-note motif with musician Jean Claude at a huge synthesizer console. The character was played by Philip Dodds (b. 5/17/1951, d. 10/6/07), vice president of engineering at ARP. (Mark Vail)

Alan R. Pearlman using ARP 2500 (1972) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

The ARP 2500

Al testing out the first ARP modular, the 2500 made by Tonus Inc, in their first location, 45 Kenneth Street, Newton, MA 1969

ARP Family of Instruments (1976) by ARP Instruments PromoThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

ARP Instruments became a major U.S. synth manufacturer...

...producing revered analog instruments including the 2600 (you’ll see Edgar Winter wield its keyboard like a guitar in the video for his sensational “Frankenstein”), Odyssey, Pro-Soloist, and Omni before shutting its doors in 1981. (Mark Vail)

Article, The Boston Phoenix, May 17, 1977 (1977) by Jib Ellis for The Boston PhoenixThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

ARP Ad the ARP product line., ARP Instruments, 1976, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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ARP Ad Odyssey Axxe, ARP Instruments, 1978, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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ARP Arpeggio V5N1 p1.jpg, ARP Instruments, 1975, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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ARP Arpeggio Volume 6 No. 1 p4.jpg, ARP Instruments, 1977, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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ARP Vinyl Record (ARP Family) side 2, ARP Instruments, 1977, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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Namm-Jamm-Al's notes.jpg, Alan Pearlman, 1974, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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Al's notes from the notorious 1974 NAMM JAM (NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants, holds a bi-annual world-class music industry trade show).  Al was blown away by the full sound that came from three keyboardists and a percussionist. 

Alan Pearlman running (1978) by Buena PearlmanThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

A never-ending quest for inner peace...

 ...led to Alan's nearly life-time practice of physical fitness. He managed to finish more than one Boston marathon. He was a long-distance runner for the majority of his ARP career, something keeping him grounded during a very public career.

After ARP closed its doors in 1981, the inventor still invented.

Al's basement office//lab, Alan Pearlman, 2004, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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Although he did some consulting with companies that wanted to recreate his synths ten years later, Alan told me (Mark Vail) in April 2000 that he didn’t miss making synthesizers because he kept busy developing “other electronic things.” (Mark Vail)


That included renewable-energy technology. “I suspect that using fuel cells and metal hydrides instead of liquid hydrogen or regressive hydrogen are going to be playing a role in the industrial world,” he said in early 2006. “Right now it isn’t clear to anybody exactly what’s going to be, but companies are already manufacturing hydride systems, and some of them are extremely interesting to me.” (Mark Vail)

renewable energy with metal hydrides, Wikipedia, 2020, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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Alan R. Pearlman and Way Out Ware 2600, ARP Instruments, 2005, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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Alan R. Pearlman's Keyboard 'A Keyboard Legend' 2005, N/A, 2005, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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Alan won numerous awards from industry peers, including a mention in the 2019 Grammy awards after his passing on January 5, 2019.

The Inventor with his 2600, Estate of Alan R. Pearlman, 2006, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
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Alan R. Pearlman with pianos and synths (2005) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

Alan Robert Pearlman 1925 - 2019

Alan Robert Pearlman 1925 - 2019

Alan Robert Pearlman 1925 - 2019

Alan Robert Pearlman 1925 - 2019

Credits: Story

Story by Dina Pearlman with excerpts from Alex Ball, Hayim Kobi, Dave Spiers and Mark Vail and edits by Mary Lock and Rich Formidoni of The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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