In the Arpeggio Mystery, we explore the difficulties a person is likely to encounter reverse engineering Yngwie Malmsteen’s arpeggio-based solos in a world populated by jagged trees, wolves shrouded in fog and shadows, and a circus full of little moving angular pick people. It’s a scene that’s become a favorite of mine, but it didn’t just form out of the ether. A lot of consideration went into the conceptualization of this world, and a lot of work went into its execution, so how did we go about making it? And where did the inspiration for the scene come from?
Let’s go back to November 19, 1990, to a mid-size concert venue on the edge of campus in a college town on the eastern seaboard…back to one rocking night at Toad’s Place, where both Alice in Chains and Extreme took the stage, performing to a crowd of twenty-somethings, buzzed, and abuzz with excitement. While Troy remembers this night clearly — the cheering crowd, the lights, the energy, the unique sound of Alice in Chains, the picking mastery of Nuno himself — I don’t remember it at all; I was still in Seattle (and in diapers) and wouldn’t set foot in New Haven for another couple decades. If you weren’t there either, it’s hard to imagine the atmosphere and excitement that permeated the space, hard to feel the experience of being at that particular concert. But it’s an important scene to the narrative of Cracking the Code, and in the process of creating Episode 7: Licks et Veritas, we had to come up with some way to depict this event in all its glory.
The dog may not have eaten our homework, but we did have to chase him around the yard for a week to get it back! Episode 7, “Lix et Veritas”, delayed for a week, is finally ready.
To quote a band you’ll see in Episode 7, it’s a monster! Episode 7, at over 20 minutes long, is nearly a double episode. And this is after cutting a two or three scenes which would have pushed the total length closer to half an hour. It’s also perhaps the most television-esque of the series so far, featuring some of our most immersive animations, and a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat guitar contest showdown. Before you hit the play button, you’ll definitely want to hit the concession stand.
Cracking the Code Impulse Response Pack
Record the speaker cabinet sounds of Cracking the Code with the Cracking the Code IR Pack!
Includes all the pine cabinet H30 impulses — plus the Marshall 1960A impulses we use for rhythm tracks, and a couple ultra-rare Cornford 2×12 impulses featuring the Vintage 30 speaker recorded via the Shure SM57.
UPDATE: We don’t currently have the impulse response pack for sale, but will try to get it added to our new store soon.
Amid the seemingly illimitable interest in amplifiers, with their mysterious tone crafting abilities, and their steam-punk innards so attractively aglow with filaments and glass, it’s easy to overlook the humble wooden box at the end of the chain. But if your 10-second Chevelle is only as fast as the slicks that hook it to the tarmac, then your supercharged big block of an amp only sounds as good as the device actually emitting those pressure waves into the room: the speaker cabinet.
Indeed, the speaker and cabinet assembly is a good part of any classic tone. That sparkle on the first Van Halen album? Reportedly the work of the glittery JBL D-120 speaker. But with a nearly endless variety of speaker cabinets available in all shapes, sizes, and power handling capabilities, why build your own? As is often the case in the world of extreme guitar sports, the answer is simple: because we can.
In 1986, Steve Vai was having one of those years. March saw the debut of the film Crossroads, for which Steve wrote and performed both the rock and neoclassical sequences of the now-famous guitar duel, and in which he also landed a starring role as the devil’s swaggering henchman, Jack Butler. Trailer clips of the film’s climactic musical showdown, with its mesmerizing cascade of diminished arpeggios, had just begun to explode adolescent minds across the country when David Lee Roth stepped into the studio with Steve to record his highly anticipated post-Van Halen grudge album.
The Cutting Room Floor
Not all great ideas make the final cut, and the overly ambitious scene “Eddie’s Arcade”, from Season 1, Episode 1 of Cracking the Code, is a great example of that. An over-the-top homage to Tron Legacy and Back to the Future, it was a tour de force of cinematic animation whose demands on my personal time were ultimately at odds with the exigency of actually getting things finished.
Season 1 is halfway complete; we’ve released our first four episodes, and are hard at work on getting through the back nine. Back four, rather. Sorry to mix the metaphors. Episode 4 is (as of right now) live on the Season 1 page, and it just might be our best yet. (Though I also really like Episode 3. And Episode 1 will always be close to our hearts…) Suffice it to say, we’re happy with the quality of what we’ve been putting out, and hope you’re enjoying Season 1 as well. We’d love to know for sure, though, so if you have a minute, we’ve created a brief questionnaire to get your feedback and find out what we can do to make the show even better.
Retro gaming meets rock in this sneak peak of an upcoming behind-the-scenes look at our audio production process. In this sequence, from Season 1’s Episode 3, “A Pick and Hard Place”, Atari’s trackball-powered classic Centipede provides the visual analogy for an investigation of the fretboard contortions of the infamous descending fours lick. You’ve played it. You’ve cursed it. Don’t worry, we all have.
Stay tuned for the full Centipede studio feature in weeks to come.
One Thing Leads to Another
Did you ever get out to the parking lot, realize you forgot the milk and the eggs, and have to go all the way back inside? It’s just like that time you had that killer idea to film those guitar players in slow motion, and print it up on a DVD. But then you realized you left out the truckload of technical research necessary to understand it all, and, on top of that, the historical backstory explaining why anyone even cares about this stuff in the first place. Totally — happens all the time!
And so it is that a simple idea born in the era of spinning optical discs grew into the most detailed investigation of picking technique ever put to internet video: Cracking the Code, the series.
Across three seasons, and more than five hours of in-depth historical and mechanical analysis — and, for that matter, five hours of plain old fun — the puzzle of plectrum dominance is expounded, unraveled, and finally mastered.
Once upon a few billion years past, a chance lightning strike on the roiling seas of an empty world synthesized the tiny germ of an idea: a plot to unravel the secrets of guitar pick mechanics. From that moment, a mad accretive genesis ensued, piling idea upon idea, giving rise to the florid tangles of jungles, the heaving throngs of cities, the sandy spires of the pyramids, the…
…er, the sound of my alarm going off? (Queue the iPhone “Marimba” jingle.)