Ian Ethan Case
Ian Ethan Case’s guitar is difficult to ignore. Upon first glance, one might suspect that the double-necked, 18-string piece of functional art may be a gimmick at best, or a stage prop at worst. These suspicions are dispelled the instant Case begins to play the instrument in a manner that must be heard and seen to be believed. Suddenly, one has no choice but to forget the guitar and instead focus on what’s really important: Case’s music, technique, and talent.
He draws from a rich well of extended guitar technique, including fingerpicking, two-hand tapping (on both necks, no less) artificial harmonics, and rhythmic thumping of the guitar’s body. Add a looper pedal to the equation and things get really interesting, as Case builds layer upon layer of rhythm, melodies, and harmony parts—all done live.
Case began his musical upbringing on the piano at age five and later studied the drum set, orchestral percussion, saxophone, electric guitar, and bass, which goes a long way toward explaining his diverse array of techniques.
Today, PreSonus® Studio One® Professional 2 is his DAW of choice, and he employs a PreSonus FireStudio™ [26x26] as his recording interface and live mixer. He also uses Studio One in his live shows, which provides access to myriad plug-ins and real-time processing options. Most recently, he’s added a FireStudio Mobile to the lineup.
“I'm really psyched about the FireStudio Mobile!” Case exclaims. “I swear it’s the best deal out there. Eight analog input channels, including two XLRs, and that's with no breakout cable, for $250 bucks! In the short time I've had it, it has proven extremely useful. It's not just some sort of cheap-o backup for my regular interface, it's got the exact same high-quality XMAX preamps. I can leave my main interface wired up in my pedalboard, or in my studio, and easily grab the FireStudio Mobile if I need to quickly record something somewhere else. Because it’s bus powered and daisy-chainable with my other interface, all I have to do to hook it up to my main setup again is literally plug in one FireWire cable.
“I used the FireStudio to record most of the tracks for my latest CD, The Narrow Way,” Case says. “We recorded a lot of tracks in my home studio but it was great to have a portable, high-quality setup when we needed to go somewhere else to record a particular musician. Some of Jeremy Kittel’s fiddle tracks we recorded in our friends' house, which has amazing acoustics, and all we needed to take with us on a cross- country flight were the FireStudio interface, a laptop, and two really nice mics. I'm super happy with how the album sounds—partially thanks to the great mastering that Peter Stevens did. But with mixing and mastering, you can only do so much to improve tracks that are recorded badly, so I think it's safe to say that some solid credit is due to the FireStudio!
Case is content to dig a little deeper into his specific applications for his FireStudio/Studio One combo and how it is ideally suited for his unique, live looping applications.
“I've been using a PreSonus FireStudio 26x26 interface as my main recording interface for several years now,” Case recalls. I recently switched from using Universal Control [controlling the FireStudio’s internal mixer] to Studio One 2 as a live mixer, so now I can use all kinds of plug-ins to process audio in real time and then send it all to the PA as a simple stereo feed. It's great because I can keep all my mics, instruments, and looper ins and outs permanently hooked up to the FireStudio, which is in my pedalboard. With screen sharing, my sound engineer can control everything from an iPad out in the audience. Just a month ago we added a FireStudio Mobile, which we daisy chain to the FireStudio 26x26 so that we can have more inputs—16 analog ins!
“One of the coolest things to me about the FireStudio interfaces is their ability to send a bunch of different zero-latency mixes out of the back,” says Case. “This is super- important for us, not only for recording but for live use. One of the big challenges involved in live looping with a DAW as my mixer is the fact that I have double the latency on the loop that I do on everything else. All the instruments and mics have to get converted from analog to digital before being processed by the DAW, and then back to analog to be sent to the looper, and then the resulting output from the looper goes back through the same conversion process again, to be finally sent to the PA—and that's without adding any plug-ins!
“So, what makes it all work for us is the fact that Studio One gives us the ability to send a zero-latency aux mix to the looper,” Case continues. “Doing so really cuts down the latency difference, while still giving the sound engineer the ability to create a custom mix for the looper. We can send a little less mic and a little more DI signal to the looper to help avoid feedback buildup as I overdub dozens of parts on top of each other.
“In our live performances, a DAW is unusable if I can't run it at an extremely small buffer setting,” Case asserts. “Studio One is living up to its billing as a ‘no bloat’ DAW—it runs extremely efficiently, and with a few tweaks to the laptop, we've got Studio One running at 32 samples of latency—the lowest setting most DAWs will even let a user select—with no pops or clicks. We’re using a lot of EQ, multi-band compression, reverb, and delay plug-ins. Try doing that with Logic!”
Case closes with some heartfelt appreciation. “I'm just really grateful that PreSonus exists. I honestly have no idea how I would get through a live concert without Studio One and my PreSonus interfaces. It's the only solution I've been able to find without selling my car and taking out a small-business loan. I'm really glad to see PreSonus continually innovating and pushing into totally new territory. That's what I'm interested in doing musically, and the reality is that doing so requires some equally innovative technology in order to be able to present that music well—so I'm grateful that there's a company taking care of that part of things!
“On the very rare occasion that I get stuck with a technical issue,” Case continues, “I find the PreSonus forums to be really helpful, as well as their tech support. It's never fun to have to call tech support, no matter what the company, but with PreSonus it's about as great as it gets.
“I was introduced to PreSonus hardware on the recommendation of Emmy-winning composer and sound engineer Peter Wilder,” Case recalls. “He has been a great mentor to me. Very few engineers have the ears, expertise, and real-world experience that he has. He strongly advised me to go with PreSonus because of their history and expertise designing and building great preamps.
“I trusted him, and that unit has not let me down,” states Case. “On the album I just finished, we recorded some tracks in million-dollar studios with $2,500 preamps and super-expensive converters. The other tracks we produced in the home studio with the same or similar mics but just the FireStudio interface and its built- in preamps. No joke, the stuff we recorded at home fits right in with the tracks recorded in the big studios. We're talking about back-to-back tracks of exactly the same instrument. I bet you can't tell by listening which tracks were recorded where, and that's pretty cool.” Case closed.