I remember the first time like it was yesterday, being face to face with an ARP 2500 modular synthesizer at the Electronic Music Education and Preservation Project near Philadelphia. Everything about the instrument was flat-out sexy, from the knob colors to the natural wood to the intriguing matrices. I had seen many pictures of a 2500, but it was so different in person.
The ARP 2500 was an analog modular synthesizer created by ARP Instruments, manufactured from 1970 through 1981. The units were costly and technically advanced challenging for the novice, only 100 or so units were created. They are truly unique and have a sound of their own.
You might be familiar with the dynamic intro to Elton John’s “Funeral For a Friend”. The epic piece was created by producer David Hentschel on an ARP 2500. You also hear it all over The Who’s album, “Who’s Next”. In addition to using it as a keyboard synth, Pete Towshend processed his guitars and keyboards through sets of modules on a number of songs.
French electronic music composer, Eliane Radigue used her ARP 2500 almost exclusively throughout her career. Synthesist Jean Michel Jarre considers the 2500 to be one of his favorite instruments. We share this in common.
Nowadays, I have the opportunity to be in the presence of this ARP 2500 on an almost daily basis as the Director of EMEAPP. With two wing cabinets on stands and fully-loaded with modules, this is truly a rare bird. Only 100 or so units were built and each was a custom order; there were no standard configurations.
We care for quite a few ARP instruments at EMEAPP. We always have a white Odyssey wired up near with a Pro Soloist, our Quadra is always at the ready. But, the ARP 2500 is the Godfather of the collection and sits on a high pedestal, figuratively and literally.
Our ARP 2500 began with a single large cabinet synth. Years later, a second large cabinet rig was sourced, which sat atop the other for years. We lovingly called it our ARP 5000. Then our curator caught wind of an über-rare matched pair of wing cabinets with their original wooden stands. They were clean and good looking– cherry switch matrix heaven!
Then it was time to merge the beasts, to comingle the two wide-cabinets into a large center cabinet with a pair of wings. Tim Warneck was brought into the ring with the intention of assembling our beautiful monster. Our first goal was to make certain that the power supplies were in top-order, a requirement to prevent damage to the modules. Next Tim populated the wing cabinets with modules from the donor cabinet.
The good news about the 2500 is that the modules can be configured in almost any way we like. We discussed our module layout plans and Tim took action. Then, after a good clean out and inspection, the units were powered up and tested for basic function.
ARP 2500 SESSIONS
We have done quite a few sessions with our ARP 2500 in the last three years, beginning with the single-cabinet machine and then with the behemoth above. Some sessions were quite simple, but others were deep and complex. In any case, a lot of work goes into an ARP 2500 session, especially when it comes to planning.
Our first ARP 2500 session was with Scottish artist, Luke Fowler. We had quite a learning curve to get comfortable with matrix patching, for both audio and voltage. We had a blast getting a taste of each module, some are really unique! The session went very well, the instrument behaved nicely and was a joy to work with. Read up on Luke Fowler here.
VOICE OF THE CYLON
Our next sizeable ARP 2500 session was in support of a unique project indeed, to recreate the Cylon character’s voice from the TV series, Battlestar Galactica. Joe Grandberg and Chris Dexter came to EMEAPP to discover and recreate the original synth component, derived from an ARP 2500.
Joe brought a beautiful selection of vintage gear for the session to help determine the proper sound and operation of the 2500. It took quite a bit of effort, but the outcome was worth it! Check out the entire series of the process, it’s really cool!
One sunny Philadelphia afternoon, Dina Pearlman of the Alan R. Pearlman Foundation reached out to us. She spoke about a huge video project that was underway that could benefit from some resources that we might have at our facility. Alan R. Pearlman was A. R. P. of ARP. He, along with partner David Friend and a crew of talented folks created the 2500 and many other vital instruments. The Foundation has always been of importance to us, seeing as how Alan played such an important role in synthesizer development. He was a true pioneer.
Dina indicated that video producer, Alex Ball, was nearing completion of this full-length video that does a deep-dive into the history of ARP synthesizers. He needed pictures of some rare and unique instruments, many of which we have under our roof. It was quite an effort, but we sent him dozens of images and video demos for the project.
Check out the finished product called Electromotive: The Story of Arp Instruments. You’ll see many of the images, videos and sound samples that we provided. It was a great project for EMEAPP to take on as this video will have historical and informational value for decades to come.
Another great 2500 session series was with synth pioneer, Don Slepian, who spent some quality time with the instruments when they were still in manufacture. He also had the rare opportunity to create original compositions on the famed ALLES computer, built by Bell Labs in 1979. It was fascinating to watch Don utilize individual 2500 modules similar to Pete Townshend, using a series to modify an external audio source. In the videos below, Slepian used a wooden flute and an ARP Quadra run through a series of modules, proving that the black and white keyboard certainly isn’t necessary.
Don ended up creating an outstanding series of music and videos during his sessions at EMEAPP. Keep your eyes open for a future article about Don, he has an interesting history and a huge body of work.
Don was even gracious enough to give the audience a general tour of the EMEAPP ARP 2500.
SONIC TEST DRIVE
Vince Jr and I have created quite a few episodes for our Sonic Test Drive series. Here is Vince taking our ARP 2500 for a spin. In this video, he added a Roland CR-78 CompuRhythm drum machine and an ARP 1613 sequencer. We ran the rig through our vintage ARP8 mixing board as we did with Don Slepian’s session. As you’ll hear, it sounded pretty huge!
I have certainly gained an immense amount of ARP 2500 knowledge over the last three years, I am a better synth guy for it. I also truly appreciate every day that I get to walk the halls of EMEAPP and be surrounded by such a rare and valuable collection of historically significant gear like the ARP 2500. I hope my access to this instrument continues for a long time, as it fascinates and intrigues me on a continuing basis. It lights me up when I see it, I can’t wait to make amazing sounds at any opportunity in the future. Thanks, Alan R. Pearlman, David Friend and the rest of the ARP team, you did a great an amazing job.
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