ARP Odyssey v GForce Oddity v ARP Odyssei
Computer Music|September 2021
Our second mono to take on its equivalent desktop and iOS software is the ‘other’ 70s classic, the ARP Odyssey. This not only went toe to toe with the Minimoog in that decade, but featured in many a synth pop classic (thanks to just one man), and its forefathers even took on a bunch of aliens, twice… and won!

ARP were founded by Alan Robert Pearlman plus cofounders Lewis G. Pollock and David Friend in 1969. As the main force behind the company, Alan got to use his initials as the company name (so much better than LGP or DF would have panned out). He also set out a clear direction for the company: to produce affordable – well, for the time anyway – stable and practical synthesisers, realising that the modular systems of the 60s were a million miles away from all three of these considerations.

The first thing to do was to invest in decent oscillator research, the fundamental core ingredient of synthesis, and the one variable that you could design to be not so variable and so stay in tune. The first fruits of this stability came in the form of the 1970 released ARP 2500, a hit with universities and research facilities (the main synth users of the time) and also with a certain alien species (see Ten Great ARP Appearances on p34).

The company’s next synth, the ARP 2600 was era-, tech- and synth-defining. It was portable (OK, not that portable), had three oscillators, built-in speakers and its own spring reverb. Much loved by everyone from Stevie Wonder to Underworld, it went through less than ten revisions over a ten-year period, and only sold around 3,000 units, but made such an impact that it is being emulated widely to this day by Korg and others in hardware, and many more in software. In fact it will get its very own feature like this one over coming months, but now to the start of the Odyssey’s, er, odyssey…

The Odyssey begins As successful as Pearlman’s first forays into commercially-available synthesisers were, Moog’s Minimoog, first released in 1969 (and discussed on p18) was becoming a runaway success so, not surprisingly, Pearlman wanted in on the action, and the ARP Odyssey was born.

The Odyssey was (and indeed is, as we shall see) a two-oscillator synth with both VCOs (saw or square and with sync) on the left, each featuring Coarse- and Fine-tuning sliders. As is standard these days, although not perhaps at the time, you then move into filter, mixer, amp and envelope sections, although the Odyssey features loads of extras to give its sound the edge.

The duophonic nature, noise, ring mod and sample and hold already give it a truly unique character but there’s more. The core oscillators have extras like FM and Pulse Width options and the FM sections of each can be modulated: VCO1 by sine or square waves, Sample & Hold or ADSR; OSC2 replaces the square wave with Pedal or S/M mixer modulation. The Pulse Width sections can each also be modulated by the LFO or ADSR.

In addition to the two oscillators you also get a switchable pink or white noise generator. The next LFO section has a Frequency slider and two more sliders controlling the output from VCO1 (with two sources) and VCO2 (or noise) entering the S/H mixer.

In the mixer section you can simply adjust levels of the sources and how the filter reacts to the S/H mixer/pedal, LFO or envelope generators. Then there’s the most important section: the filters, with VCF Filter and Resonance controls for a low-pass option and a High Pass Frequency Cutoff Frequency slider. This was the most changeable section on the Odyssey as it developed, as we shall now attempt to explain (it’s not as easy as it should be).

Odyssey versions: 3 into 1 The Odyssey actually had three distinct versions, each luckily signified with easy to recognise colours, although there was a period between the different marked versions where the colours crossed over, so you can’t 100% rely on one colour meaning one version. But generally the MkI can be considered the white one, the MkII was black and gold, and the MkIII, orange and black.

The MkI Odyssey arrived in 1972 (model 2800) aimed at being a more compact version of the ARP 2600. The 4023 filter on this model was 2-pole voltage controlled. The MkII came out two years later, featuring that colour change (in the main) and with a new 4035 4-pole VCF filter (again, ‘in the main’ as some still feature the original filter!). After clashing with Moog over the original filter designs, ARP changed the 4035 filter to a 4075 during the MkII period, which was retained in the

MkIII which arrived in 1978 (the 4035 MkII is still the most sought-after version). The synth remained in production until 1980 and, like its predecessor only sold around 3,000 units, but like the ARP 2600, it too certainly made its mark.

Famous users are many and varied with Stevie Wonder one of the first ARP fans, but followed by everyone from ABBA to Elton John, Human League to Herbie Hancock, Ultravox to (of course) Jean-Michel Jarre.

The Fender v Gibson of synths And the synth achieved what Pearlman set out to do: rival the Minimoog. The success of both synth giants ignited a kind of 70s ‘Blur vs Oasis’ battle – or more aptly perhaps, Fender v Gibson – that still rages (on certain forums anyway) to this day. Which was best monosynth of the 70s, the Minimoog or the ARP Odyssey? (And like the media tried to stir up a similar ‘who is the best, Westlife or Take That?’ debate, a similar rivalry sprung up in synth circles in the late 80s when the Roland D-50 and Yamaha DX7 took to the stage. And looking back, who really cared?)

Other ways to get the Odyssey sound

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