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Dark Fire at Sweetwater GearFest 09

Sorry I’ve been gone for a while…sometimes life gets in the way. But I have to say that as I use Dark Fire more and more, I become increasingly aware that it gives a whole new set of possibilities for guitar. In some ways, I see its relationship to guitar as the relationship synthesizers have with pianos – pianos didn’t become any less cool after synths appeared, but thanks to the synth, keyboard players had a whole new sonic palette.

Which brings us to GearFest, Sweetwater’s annual open-to-the-public event that features seminars, workshops, gear tents, a flea market, and lots of exhibitors showing off cool stuff. For GearFest 09, EQ magazine wanted to sponsor my doing a seminar on amp sims in the Sweetwater Performance Theater (Fig. 1), and of course, how could I say no?

Fig. 1: Part of the seminar included techniques for “mastering” the amp sim sound with EQ to create a smoother, creamier tone. Photo Credit: J. Perry.

Actually, the airlines almost said “no” instead. I was slated to arrive in Fort Wayne, Indiana (where Sweetwater is located) the night before, so I could make sure all the elements were in place for a successful seminar and that if I needed anything else, I could run out the next day before the show and take care of it. But I had two layovers – Denver and Minneapolis. The flight out of Denver kept getting delayed, and delayed, and delayed…finally, I called Sweetwater’s Editorial Director, Mitch Gallagher, and asked him what cities were within driving distance of Fort Wayne, figuring I could fly in and rent a car.

But everything was booked or disrupted by the weather, so the only way I could get to Fort Wayne was to take the last flight out to Chicago, then get another flight out in the morning to Fort Wayne. To make matters worse, I had to check my Dark Fire for part of the haul. That alone was pretty scary (I’ll spare you the suspense: It survived with nary a problem). And just to add an incredibly surreal touch, when I got off the Chicago flight well after midnight, I ran into a camera crew from the local ABC affiliate. They were interviewing former Illinois Governor Rob Blogojevich and his wife Patti, who was returning from being in a reality TV show. You can’t make this stuff up.

To make a long story short (it’s been long enough so far!), I ended up in Fort Wayne around noon, after about four hours’ sleep, with my seminar slated for a 1PM start time. I rushed over and started setting up. All looked good until…I was getting weird, spiky noises on my Vista laptop from the Dark  Fire’s magnetic pickup outs. This was on my PC Audio Labs Rok Box notebook, which has always been solid as a rock. What the ?!? Fortunately Mitch had all the needed software on his MacBook Pro except for the RIP console, so I copied that over with my programs and everything was fine – I started about five minutes late, but given the circumstances, that wasn’t too bad.

As it turned out – and let this be a lesson to you about updating without testing! – I had just updated to Vista 64-bit Service Pack 2 before leaving, as I’d heard it had optimized a lot of audio-related issues. However, the update turned on the background services, indexing, and other CPU-consuming stuff that had been turned off to make my computer a lean, mean audio machine. Once I figured that out, as soon as I got back home I re-tweaked my laptop and all was well again.

Anyway, using Dark Fire with Ableton Live and Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig is a perfect way to demonstrate what amp sims and high-tech guitar can do. I used my 44 signature hex patches that should be posted to the Dark Fire site soon, and it was very interesting to see everyone’s reaction as I played the guitar equivalent of splits and layers, as well as some fun effects like tape style flanging and hex distortion pads (Fig. 2).


Fig. 2: Dark Fire in action. The hex patches (with Live serving as a host program for live performance) were definitely the ones that interested the crowd the most. Photo Credit: J. Perry

I was a little surprised that 72 people attended, especially during a work day, because I had thought of the whole high-tech guitar thing as a bit of a niche. Not so. There was a lot of interest among not just the people who attended, but countless others watching the streamed seminar over the internet. As one person said to me when he left, “You’ve completely changed my mind about amp sims.” I think part of the interest was I didn’t spend much time trying to sound like a synthesizer, or like a conventional guitar for that matter. I mostly used patches that created new types of sounds - clearly “guitaristic” in nature, but not something people had heard before.

And I also made a mental note of one more application for robot tuning: I’ve always felt it was great for the studio as well as live, but it’s also wonderful for seminars, because there’s no “dead air” when you tune your guitar – and besides, the audience loves seeing those tuners turn when you do.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. In the process of preparing for the seminar, I also found a new type of recording technique that’s especially well-suited to Dark Fire – but we’ve covered enough for now, so that will be the subject of the next entry.

[Note: As I write this, it’s just been announced that Les Paul passed away. His impact on the world of guitar, music, and recording is incalculable, and I offer my deepest condolences to his family, friends, associates, and fans, If it wasn’t for him and Bob Moog, I doubt my life would have taken the path it did. Rest in piece, Les.]

Posted: 8/14/2009 12:17:23 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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