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Trial run for Dark Fire's RIP interface.

Today is the first of two days devoted to Ableton, and I’ll be spending them with Jesse Terry from Ableton and Brian Espinosa from Gibson. The main objective is to specify the ideal program to accompany Dark Fire, then see how close we can come to that ideal.

For example, we were hoping there could be an automatic installation routine that would install both Ableton Live Gibson Edition and Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 3 with a single mouse click. However, between the different ways that Microsoft and Apple go about installation, not to mention copy protection issues and how to handle the situation if one program gets updated before the other, it seemed like this would be difficult to pull off.

However, we were luckier when it came to the actual program itself. There are many possible ways to make Live less intimidating to those just getting into recording software, as well as more adaptable to Dark Fire’s advanced output options (standard magnetic pickups, piezo pickup and individual string outputs). We figured out default settings that would be as “friendly” as possible, and decided that rather than expose all of Live’s advanced features, we’d have it open up to a fairly standard linear DAW view so those who weren’t familiar with the program could get up and running right away. Of course, the advanced features would still be there for advanced users, or for beginners who wanted to move on to more complex projects.

The big news for Brian was that we were able to try out an early production model of the RIP interface box, which we can tell you worked perfectly! It can’t be bus-powered (because it also charges the battery while playing) but comes with a really cool little international adapter with plugs that cover any electrical system in the known universe. We also tested out the control panel software – again, no problems. Here are the some photos:

The front of the RIP has a jack for the guitar, and another for headphones, along with a volume control. And in case you’re wondering how Gibson manages to send signals from the standard pickups, the piezo and the six individual string outputs down a stereo TRS-type cable, we’ll talk about that in a future installment of this blog. Rest assured, it’s pretty clever.

From left to right, you see the AC adapter jack, FireWire port, hex pickup output for driving Axon and Roland guitar-to-MIDI converters (really!) and the two stereo line output jacks.

The RIP is quite compact. For a size comparison, here it is next to an iPhone.

We did see a potential tweak, though: Each interface output is numbered, but when using the individual string outputs the actual string number was referenced to the output number, which didn’t correspond. That could prove confusing, so we decided to check with Echo about changing the nomenclature of the control panel (conveniently, the two main designers for the Dark Fire project were in Hamburg tweaking the hex pickup output). A better way to do is (maybe) would be to say “A string” instead of “String 2,” which would eliminate the ambiguity of whether “String 2” means the second-highest or – as it is in this case – the second-lowest string. Small considerations like this can be very important when someone is trying something out for the first time.

There were lots of details that needed to be covered: What if the programs were being installed on a Windows computer that didn’t have a folder for VST plug-ins? Would Guitar Rig create it upon installation? Would Ableton recognize it, or would it have to be specified? What’s a good default value for the sample buffer? Should we trade off safety for more latency, or try to keep the latency as low as possible? How much content would need to be generated, and how much would we need to create? What about instructional videos? At the risk of boring everyone reading this, we won’t get into all these questions. But suffice to say there are many details that require serious consideration.

There was, however, a very pleasant surprise. We loaded up six instances of Guitar Rig 3 with pretty complex patches into a Core Duo-based MacBook Pro running Live and it ran smoothly with a 192 sample buffer. That meant a total latency (input + output) of about 15 milliseconds, which feels like real time. (Note that many DAWs list only the input or output latency; Ableton Live gives “honest” readings. Most DAWs should have listed the latency as 7.5ms.)

In any event, 1ms is about the same as moving 1 foot away from a speaker, so the total delay for a complex patch on a mid-grade computer is about the same delay you’d experience by being 15 feet away from your amp.

Well, that’s enough for today, especially because I’m writing this during a break and we still have a lot to go over. Meanwhile, here’s a photo gallery of Monday at Ableton.

In the reception area is a display with all the versions of Live that have appeared over the years, starting from Version 1 (called a “Sequencing Instrument) all the way to the latest, Ableton Live 7 Suite.

Here’s the reception area. The entire Ableton complex is very open and spacious, and as the company has expanded so has their space in the building.

Dennis DeSantis handles documentation for Ableton. The company’s manuals have always been well-received, so he must be doing something right!

Daniel B├╝ttner is in charge of sound development for Ableton. They generate a lot of content in-house, but also rely on third-party developers.

Here’s Claudia Wiedner of Ableton’s marketing and communications department. She’s always at trade shows, coordinating meetings and setting up interviews.

Here’s the customer care department. And no, it’s not outsourced to phone operators half a continent away.

And here’s the secret ingredient to Ableton’s success: The industrial-strength, nuclear-powered espresso machine. The coffee is indeed excellent.

Posted: 12/1/2008 1:16:48 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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