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A visit to Native Instruments.

First of all, last night after dinner we walked to the tram station so we could return to the hotel, and went past the historic Brandenburg Gate — so of course, I took a picture. Incidentally, Brian Espinosa and I either walk to get around town or take public transportation, which is excellent and convenient. We never have to wait for more than a few minutes for a bus, subway or tram.

Bradenburg Gate
Here’s the Brandenburg gate, at night in the rain.

Tomorrow we return to Ableton; today we visited Native Instruments. We expected a short meeting, but ended up hammering out a lot of details. With Native Instruments contributing Guitar Rig 3 to the Dark Fire package, one order of business was figuring out who was going to do the Guitar Rig 3 presets for what’s now being called the “Digital Supplement Pack” (Ableton Live, the RIP interface, and Guitar Rig 3). We sat down with Patrick Arp, Director of NI’s Guitar Division, and AndrĂ© Estermann, the Guitar Division’s Product Manager.

Patrick Arp
Patrick Arp of Native Instruments, captured during a rare moment when he wasn’t smiling.

I’d met Patrick before at NAMM, and although (unlike me!) he never got heavily into Gibson’s Digital Les Paul, he was very excited about Dark Fire—in particular the Chameleon Tone Technology aspect, but also the second generation Robot tuning.

NI has a strong sound development team, and so we decided that NI would tweak Guitar Rig 3 presets for the standard magnetic pickup sounds, and I’d handle the presets for the piezo pickup along with the ones for the hex string setups. That suited me just fine, as I’d already done so much work with the digital guitar I had a repertoire of useful hex processing-based presets. As to the piezo sounds, it would be a challenge to try and get some “acoustic”-type sounds, so that definitely interested me.

At that point Brian started getting nervous about what I needed to get done before the launch. But I reassured him that having worked with both Guitar Rig and Ableton Live for years, as well as logging so many hours with the Digital Les Paul, I had a head start that someone just encountering these technologies for the first time wouldn’t have. I think he felt a little less concerned after that …

The rest of the meeting consisted mostly of technical issues, such as the best way to handle installation, the pros and cons of downloading the programs vs. providing them on a DVD (I’m hoping for the DVD, because we can include more content), scheduling, print manuals, when Dark Fire guitars would be shipped to Native Instruments, and the like. It seemed that every question raised another question, but eventually we got a handle on the situation and started setting target dates. I must say, this whole project has been a real education to me about exactly what’s involved in launching a technologically-advanced project on a tight schedule—especially one where there’s no margin for error.

Before leaving, I was able to take some pictures of NI’s facilities, which sprawl over several floors of several buildings. Unfortunately a lot of the company was off limits, because they’re hard at work on products to be introduced at NAMM, and they didn’t want anything to leak out. Still, this should give you an idea of the place.

Like Ableton, NI follows the “European office high-tech company standard” of open space, lots of white to bring light in, and spaciousness — no cubicles here. In general, I get the feeling that European companies tend to treat their employees more like people than “assets.”

NI’s DJ division is a big part of the company, which might come as a surprise to those who know the company mostly from their virtual instruments. Here are just a few of the awards they’ve received for their DJ gear.

This shows a sort of ad hoc “history of Native Instruments,” as expressed by product boxes stacked on top of a wall.

NI’s conference room is for more than just show: Every week or so, they do an extensive video conference with their Los Angeles office.

NI tests their software with a ton of gear, and here’s a sampling. Gibson’s Brian Espinosa is on the left, and NI’s Florian Grote (who handles press relations) is on the right.

In addition to the informal box display, there’s a more official one in the reception area. Hmmm, maybe I should do something similar for the various albums and CDs I’ve done over the years.

I’m beginning to think that the first thing a German software company buys is an espresso machine — then they worry about putting out products. Okay, not really, but I must say NI makes a great cup of cappuccino. In case the music software business ever collapses, NI and Ableton should open a coffee shop.

Walking back to the hotel from NI, we saw the infamous Berlin wall. Berlin is separately naturally into east and west by a river, and the wall was next to the river — basically, East Berlin was cut off from the west by a wall and a moat.

Berlin Wall
The Berlin wall, as viewed across the river from West Berlin. Note the graffitti.

A closeup of the wall. It was thinner and not as tall as I expected, but back in the day, fear and constant surveillance added to its effectiveness. Even today, there’s still something very creepy about it—even though only small fragments remain.

Last night, we saw a place where the wall had been, with crosses commemorating some who died trying to escape from east to west. Visiting Berlin today, it’s hard to imagine that not all that long ago, machine guns, barbed wire, and the wall were a part of everyday life. Those days are gone, and today Berlin is not only a vibrant metropolis, but has become one of the hippest places in Germany. And I must say, despite the tough schedule and the considerable amount of work to be done, this is a fascinating place to be.

Posted: 12/4/2008 2:35:40 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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