A friend of mine loaned me his Korg RK-100S KEYTAR last weekend. Wow - what a fun and inspirational instrument! More than simply a controller the RK-100s has the same synth engine as the MicroKorg XL (including the vocoder). Like the MicroKorg XL you can edit presets via a computer editor. All this in a great form factor with a wood body and two ribbons.
This being the case, how about a set series of articles exploring the creative and expressive possibilities of the RK-100s? Ok, sounds good.
For this first article, I experimented with using the RK-100s on battery, and as a sound source for the Elektron Octatrack.
Form Factor Inspires More Play
First off, I found that the combination of being able to run on battery, having a dedicating synth engine, and the form factor lead me to playing a lot more throughout my day. Because it has it's own synth engine you don't end up tangled in cables or having a dependency on a computer or external synth. Just turn it on and play.
I spent the weekend dragging this thing all over the house playing it on coffee tables, on keyboard stands, and across my lap (it's a little over 7 lbs so it's super comfortable to play on your lap). You can play also play it vertically while sitting as well becuase and the little wing that juts out the back keeps it from slipping off your lap - you know - Spock style ;^) Well Spock style with the RK-100S propped on your left leg, but you get the idea. This also begs the question that if you play an RK-100S on a starship full of hippies, would you end up jamming with someone on a bicycle wheel? I hope so. Moving on...
The funny thing is in the first 5 hours of use I probably only used it as an over-the-shoulder keytar maybe 5% of the time. Mostly I played on tables and on my lap.
One Output Jack to Rule Them All
In the photo at the top of the post, you can see I just plopped it down on a coffee table. The output jack function morphs depending on what you plug into it. Headphones, check. 1/4 instrument out, check. Stereo out to the Octatrack, check.
In Use - First Experiment
It didn't take long to get the hang of the workflow (I'll post more on this in future articles). To select presets you use the toggle top-left of the keybed. It can store 200 presets (which you can manage with the computer editor). If you find a preset you like, you can add it to a favorite location (see p. 9 in the manual).
The RK-100S is equipped with the favorites function, which allows you to assign your favorite programs to the eight favorites buttons. A total of 40 programs (5 banks × 8 buttons) can be stored.
you hold down one of the 8 bottons top right of the keybed for a few seconds and this prest is stored as one of 8 favorites. I found some fun presets in the factory library, stored them to favs, then did a jam where I performed live into an Electron Octatrack. I did some looping with various patches to create a core riff. I then performed over the top using the ribbons to manipulate this sound.
After my first round with the Korg RK-100S I found it fun, inspiring, and immediate. As I said, I ended up playing a lot more music because I had it around. I know there is a bit of a stigma around the word "keytar", but the RK-100S has me over this. It's loses that plastic toy feel of some other keytars I've used. It's gorgeous, expressive, and fun. I've not enjoyed a keytar as much since using my old Yamaha KX-5. I'm imagining using this in all sorts of contexts. As a keytar for fun jams, as a MIDI controller on a stand in the studio and at gigs, as a synth to build signature sounds on.
Last night I was doing some late night patching with Absynth and I came up with an original patch called “endless chime grains”. I then did an improv using only this patch and built-in Absynth FX and posted it to soundcloud here “Endless Chime Improv (Absynth)". The spectrum view overlaid on Absynth is from Image Line’s Wave Candy. I deconstruct the patch and performance below to show you how even a simple patch/preset in Absynth can be used to create a piece that covers a lot of sonic ground.
I use three oscillators with a master filter and the Pipe effect.
OSC A is in Granular mode using a huge sample that has a breathy quality when you slow down the movement of the playhead. I’ve transpose it up a bit and moved sample start to remove the attack. On the Mod page, you can see that I’ve slowed down the Time% (controls playback speed) turned up density, grain size, and added some randomization of frequency and time thereby smearing the sound.
OSC B is a basic sine wave with the OSC set to Double mode making OSC B have two oscillators who’s outputs are mixed together. This double mode offers a Uni (Unison) page where I bump up from 1 voice to 8 voices. I turn Trans up to 9 which controls the amount of detuning between the two voices. I turn up Rand which adds random detuning upwards and downwards in half-tones creating ring modulation. Note there are other ways to add ring modulation to a signal path not used in this patch such as the “Ring Mod” module, and you can even add ring modulation in the feedback of certain filter types.
OSC B is a pure sine wave.
Each vertical lane is a channel. Here I set the relative volumes of the channels for the default patch without performance tweaks.
In the Master Channel I’m using a –12db Low Pass Filter with the Pipe Effect.
Even though Absynth supports 64 breakpoints in its envelopes, I only use a few here. Note that I stretch out release times a bit on the Amps. I used the “+New” button to add an envelope for “Effect Master Time” which slows time down for the Pipe Effect after note release which helps to glitch things out in a subtle way.
The only effects used in this piece are from the Pipe Effect.
It’s such a cool effect and rather than try and explain, I’ll paste in P. 88 from the manual.
The effect type Pipe replicates the physical qualities of resonating bodies and resembles a simple waveguide application. Unlike waveguides based on physical modelling, ABSYNTH’s pipe algorithm does not attempt to realistically simulate existing instruments or other natural resonating bodies. It is helpful to imagine Pipe as a kind of string or pipe.
Let’s take the image of a string. A loudspeaker (a contact loudspeaker) is connected to a string, which begins to vibrate as a result. You can determine the position of this virtual loudspeaker on the string via the parameter Input Position. Above the string are two pickups, similar to an E-Guitar. The pickups’ positions can be determined through the parameter Output Positions. Changing those two parameters can be compared with changing two microphones. You can modulate the string’s length and the pickups’ position through the LFOs or a MIDI Controller. This way, various flanging, pitch-shifting and rotary speaker effects can be achieved. These effects are particularly apparent when the modulation of the pickups are modulated in opposite directions.
Consider the following: When one of the Output Positions crosses the Input Position (when loudspeaker and pickup would directly be facing each other) a muffled side tone can be heard. By modulating the parameter called Length, which relates to the string’s length, the crossing values for Length and Input can produce a muffled click. However, it is not a problem to cross the Output Positions. The graphic representation of the effect Pipe shows the current settings of the parameters for Input Position, Output Position and Length, as well as for the adjacent modulations. It should help you to prevent undesired crossovers with the Input Position.
An easy way to get going with the Pipe Effect is to load an Effect Template then experiment with settings.
I loaded the “Echo Reverb” template which uses pipe. Note that there opportunities to load templates in many areas within Absynth – so click that “Edit” button where you see it and you’ll learn a lot about how Absynth Works :^).
I turn feedback way up, and “Lowpass Hz” way down. This makes the extremely long delay and reverb tale less bright and nearly endless.
I map Master Filter Frequency to performance parameter 1. A super fast way to do this is to right-click on the parameter you want to map to the performance controller then click on the performance param slot in the list to make the assignment.
I repeat this mapping Master Filter Res to Performance Parameter 2. 3 & 4 are not used in this patch. Perform Param #4 modulates OSC A Main Pitch so I can tune the breathy sound in real-time. You’ll see that I mapped the OSC volumes to params 9-11 so I can fade and balance the timbre in real-time.
Note that this convention of using OSC A for atonal elements and OSC B & C for tonal elements and dedicating performance params to OSC A pitch and OSC volume is something I just learned by studying the late Tim Conrardy’s sound design work on the absolutely wonderful Starscape Absynth Sound Library.I highly encourage you to get this sound set. It’s like a master class on its own.
I wanted to make special note of another way to add assignments in Absynth. If you click the “Assignment” tab in the “Performance” page , you can click “Add” then select from the list of params available from the patch elements that are active in the preset. I used this method to add “Effect Time”. You can also go back and revise depth and lag settings for any parameter mapped on this page as well as invert the control signal. I turn “Lag” up so that changes to the performance parameter will scale and be less jarring. If you leave lag alone with this template, you’ll get more of a tape delay effect.
Lastly, I mapped Effect Feedback and Effect Balance Wet/Dry to performance slots 7 & 8.
I recorded the improv in one take inside of Ableton Live. I played notes and modified params in real-time. One REALLY great thing about Absynth within Live is that all the performance parameters plus Master Envelope ADSR are automatically exposed without having to go through the device configure process. This is a HUGE time saver. This being the case you can quickly MIDI map to your controller or rack up and create macros.
I then rendered the piece and automatically uploaded it to Soundcloud using Live 9’s embedded soundcloud feature..
I wanted to show you a simple use of Absynth to inspire you to dig deeper. Once you get the hang of Absynth and take advantage of templates within modules you’ll find Absynth is fast and the workflow becomes second nature. To put it into perspective, it took me an hour and a half to write this post and less than 10 minutes to go from idea to performance enabled preset. Thanks to Ableton’s Soundcloud export I was able to record the piece and get it on Soundcloud in less than 10 minutes. ‘
Here is a fantastic video from the late Richard Lainhart recorded in 2009. Thanks to my synth friend Tony Gerber for posting this on Facebook yesterday as I always loved this performance so it was nice to be reminded of it. And so I pass it on to you – as either a reminder to watch again – or as a a musical introduction to the truly inspiring Richard Lainhart who left us too soon.
If you are an Ableton Live user your are most likely familiar with Puremagnetik. If not swing by http://puremagnetik.com/ to check out there interesting and affordable Live Packs. Anyway – Puremagnetik is really the work of Micah Frank…
Puremagnetik is the project of sound programmer Micah Frank. It is purposed since 2006 as a creative sound design outlet, releasing “packs” inspired by all types of ongoing recording work.
Micah Frank is an award winning music and sound programmer. He studied Jazz and Contemporary Music at The New School, afterwards spending many years as a professional composer and sound designer. His sound projects include programming for major synthesizer manufacturers, interactive sonification installations and more.
Residing in Berlin, Germany, Micah is the lead developer/owner at Puremagnetik and the Sound Packs Manager at Ableton AG.
In 2014, Micah started work on a cool new sound ecology project at acousticecologies.com which is a Tumblr Page allowing you to follow along on his adventures.
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