Phil Dodds

There are synthesists, and then there are people like Phil Dodds. He’s perhaps best-known as the man who wrangled the (real) ARP 2500 synthesizer in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind so that it could perform an elaborate jam session for (fictional) aliens. But he left an extensive legacy of achievements that helped make music technology more than science fiction.

Our friend Yann Seznec (aka The Amazing Rolo) writes:

You’ve mentioned Phil Dodds on your site before, the guy who played the ARP 2500 in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He was VP of Engineering at ARP, he wrote all of their service manuals and schematics and helped design and build many ARP synths, from the 2600 to the Chroma. He then went on to work for Kurzweil, developing digital piano systems. He was even involved in the creation of the MIDI standard. He also happened to be my uncle. I thought you might be interested to know that he died last weekend.

Our condolences to Yann and all of Phil’s friends and colleagues. There’s some really moving commentary at the Aviation Industry CBT Committee blog (really, because after all of his work in synthesis, he also was a driving force behind a distributed online learning initiative for the Department of Defense):

“What are we saying to each other?”

That was a single line, spoken by the sound engineer at the end of Close Encounters of a Third Kind, as he played chords and a friendly alien spaceship played music back.

The Passing of Philip V.W. Dodds

… and more on Wikipedia:

Phil Dodds

We talk a lot about tools, of course, but that question of “what are we saying to each other” couldn’t have deeper resonance for what we do. And if aliens do show up, thanks to Phil Dodds, I think we might put on a great show.