Science fiction and synthesizer enthusiasts alike will agree that making contact and communicating with life from another planet would almost certainly involve the use of a large, complicated synthesizer. Something metallic and sexy, with tons of sliders, knobs, and lights blinking purposefully into the cosmos. Perhaps the most famous example of this can be found in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind from 1977. The synthesizer featured at the heart of that film’s alien communication was the incredible ARP 2500. Phil Dodds, ARP’s VP of Engineering, was responsible for setup of the synthesizer on set and actually made an appearance as its operator in the scene. But beyond this notable film appearance, the ARP 2500 remains a fascinating synthesizer in a number of ways. Today, we’re taking a closer look at this model, its history, and the inner workings that made it such a compelling instrument.
This is what Sound on Sound Magazine wrote about the Cameo of the ARP 2500 in the movie:
Probably best known for its brief 1977 appearance calling to the alien spaceship in the Steven Spielberg sci‑fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the ARP 2500 dates from a time when synthesis was an art form which nevertheless required you to have a degree in physics to stand any chance of comprehending what was going on! Because they are so rare, very few people have ever had the chance to see a 2500, so unfortunately it is not often listed among the ‘classic’ synthesizers — that accolade usually goes to the smaller, much simpler ARP 2600. Total production numbers of the 2500 were probably as low as 100 worldwide, and maybe no more than 12 were sold in the UK, making it an exceptionally rare instrument. Rarest of all are examples with so‑called ‘wings’, additional cabinets at the side of the main instrument which make the overall synthesizer truly enormous in size.