Thursday, October 15, 2009

ARP 1976 family of products, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

ARP advertisement of its 1976 family of products including the ARP Odyssey, ARP Pro Soloist, ARP Axxe, ARP String Ensemble, ARP 2600, ARP Explorer, and ARP Little Brother from back inside-cover of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine March/April 1976.

Time to add another family photo to the blog!

As noted in previous blog posts, ARP used musician endorsements more than most to help sell their instruments and this ad is no exception. But they satisfied the gear-heads as well by providing a delicious family photo that included all of ARP's latest wares.

The ARP marketing team must also have known that this was a great issue of CK to showcase their whole collection, because it just happened to also include a good-sized article on one of the big-wigs of ARP - David Friend.

The article, written by Hans Klein and simply titled 'David Friend of ARP Instruments' is a great read from a historical perspective of the company. It is also a great journey into the mind of David Friend. The Article starts with a bit of Friend's history including his work towards a double major in music and engineering at Yale, and how he came to meet ARP's founder Alan R. Pearlman (ARP). As I continued to read through the article, it became clear why Friend was "credited with ARP's 'human engineering' in synthesizer design."

For example, it is obvious that Friend cared about designing synthesizers that would be easy to perform with. He knew it would take time for most of the musicians who were still used to the relatively non-expressive electric pianos and organs to become familiar with the expressive performance tools and techniques available with a synthesizer:
"The surface has barely been scratched... Since 75% of the synthesizers sold have been sold in the last three years, it's not surprising that most of the people using them today are still doing so in a fairly unsophisticated, elementary way."
Friend also had (what CK called) some 'provocative comments' about monophonic and polyphonic synthesizers and their separate uses, including:
"Polyphonic and monophonic instruments are played completely differently, and have to be used in different types of music. A melody is by its very nature generally one note at a time. People who play trumpet, saxophone, or other traditional lead-line instruments have never felt any resentment about the fact that they couldn't play a chord, because that's not what the playing of that instrument is all about. "
His recognition of musicians other than keyboardists was most likely what led Friend to try to find ways to get non-keyboard musicians interested in synthesizers:
"For many musicians, the keyboard may be their second instrument, or they may want to process their first instrument's signal through the synthesizer. I expect that as time goes on, more specialized types of synthesizers will be available, that can be played using techniques that are more familiar to people who play other instruments."
In my mind, this thinking led directly to the production of the ARP Avatar - an instrument that was developed to be used by guitar players to control a synthesizer. But the pitch-to-voltage converters weren't the greatest and the instrument didn't do well in the marketplace. According to an April 1983 Keyboard article entitled 'The Rise and Fall of ARP Instruments' by Craig Waters, Pearlman recalled later about the Avatar - "Essentially, we blew our brains out on that instrument." Ouch.

Friend's comments in the article often reached outside the world of synthesizer design. For example, he also observed how the synthesizer was going to expand upon and become an important part of the familiar 'hook' to be found at the beginning of many future hit songs:
"A skillful musician can use the synthesizer to create a musical signature for a song that makes it immediately identifiable to the listener, and that instant recognition factor seems to be one of the necessary ingredients in making a hit record."
It was Friend's ability to look at synthesizer design from a musician's point of view that helped ARP build performance-friendly instruments and this article captures this point of view perfectly.

Lastly, one more quote from the article - a single sentence by Friend that pretty much explains the current state of my bank account:
"Every keyboard player I know has more keyboards this year than he had last year, and I think that's a healthy trend that should continue."
Could he really have predicted 'gear lust'?

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