photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
i should start off stating that i am among the CONVERTED.
between my dad and i, we have several guitar AMPLIFIER by the likes of FENDER, MARSHALL, AMPEG, SUPRO, VOX, MESA-BOOGIE, and even a vintage SUNN. i get the appeal of running a guitar straight into a good AMPLIFIER. its because of this predisposition that i am a bit confused by the recent AMPIRE: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (2018, DNR PRODUCTIONS) documentary which is supposedly about guitar amplification but really is about the CULT / OBSESSION / FETISHIZATION surrounding it.
the conceit of this film is one of combatting the recent wave of DIGITAL MODELING TECHNOLOGY that has transformed the AMPLIFICATION INDUSTRY, both in terms of high and low price points. even beginning guitarists through low wattage MODELING AMPLIFIERS now have access to a myriad of quality sounds and effects unheard of ten years ago at an entry level price point. likewise, with the advent of studio-quality MODELING / PROFILING PLATFORMS like KEMPER, HELIX and AXE FX, touring and recording musicians have access to the tones of their existing AMPLIFIER collections in a more USABLE, TRAVEL-WORTHY package.
the message of this film is one of advocacy for the EMOTIONAL and PSYCHIC, almost ALCHEMICAL, connection between player, guitar and AMPLIFIER (whether tube or solid state). adherents to said worldview include an impressive list of interview participants such as PETER BUCK (R.E.M.), RICK NIELSEN (CHEAP TRICK), ALEX LIFESON (RUSH), JOHN 5 (K.D. LANG, MARILYN MANSON, ROB ZOMBIE), ROBBIE KRIEGER (THE DOORS), PAUL GILBERT (RACER X, MR. BIG), PAT METHANY, MIKE KENEALLY (FRANK ZAPPA, STEVE VAI), PETE THORN (CHRIS CORNELL), LITA FORD (THE RUNAWAYS), TOMMY HENRIKSEN (ALICE COOPER) and JOE BONAMASSA among others.
here is the thing: i dont buy the argument.
a more thoughtful approach would be to actual explain in some detail what a traditional tube AMPLIFIER actually consists of and how it technically functions. educate your audience. maybe throw in a little history about its TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT and throw some shine to past and present AMPLIFIER INNOVATORS like LEO FENDER, JIM MARSHALL, MICHAEL SOLDANO, DAVID REEVES, HARTLEY PEAVEY, EVERET HULL, REINHOLD BOGNER, RANDALL SMITH, LYNDON LANEY, DAVE FRIEDMAN, CLIFFORD COOPER, PETER DIEZEL, DON RANDALL and HOWARD ALEXANDER DUMBLE among countless other engineers. better yet, instead of seeing the incoming wave of technology and various techniques regarding onstage miking of low wattage AMPS to massive PA systems as competition, maybe get a little PHILOSOPHICAL about how these are all tools for conveying a musical idea. and they all have their place.
AMPLIFIERS are cool, dont get me wrong. but they arent the end-all-be-all of musical expression. arguing against incoming technology is a surefire way of rendering yourself an ANACHRONISM, which is sadly what some of these advocates have exposed themselves to be. others seem to embrace change which is where i stand. this film is essentially a variation on the topic of the relative merits of ANALOG vs DIGITAL equipment and the false attribution of AUTHENTICITY to the mix that was tread notably in DAVE GROHL's SOUND CITY (review linked HERE) documentary.
AMPIRE: THE SOUND OF MUSIC is an INTRIGUING and FUN film worth watching but the argument is a bit TEDIOUS and SANCTIMONIOUS at times, even for someone who absolutely adores both traditional tube and solid state guitar AMPLIFIERS like myself.