Discover how to tackle Reason's over‑sized gorilla of a drum instrument.
As its name suggests, Reason 5's new drum instrument, the Kong Drum Designer, is an absolute beast. Here's a practical guide to get you going, and some more advanced tips that'll really let you tame its power.
When you create a Kong device in your song, Reason loads a default patch for it — Kong Kit — so it's ready to go immediately. Using a keyboard controller the notes C1 to D#2 trigger the 16 pads chromatically. But you can play Kong higher up the MIDI note range too — there, each pad can be triggered by three adjacent keys, making it easier to knock out fast hi‑hat parts, rolls and flams. For example, pad one is also triggered by C3, C#3 and D3, and pad two by D#3, E3, F3... The pads light up when they're triggered, so with a bit of experimentation it's easy to zone in on individual groups of keys.
If you're lucky enough to own a dedicated drum pad‑type controller, or have one built into your keyboard controller, all you'll have to do is make sure that each of your hardware pads is programmed to generate the correct MIDI note number to suit Kong. Pad one should be set to MIDI note number 36, Pad two to 37, and so on... right the way up to Pad 16, which should be set to MIDI note number 51.
So that's how you trigger the pads live. But what about the sounds? As you'd expect, Reason allows you to load (and save) entire kits at a time. Just click on the folder button next to the kit name, at top left of Kong, to open a file browser.
If you're anything like me, though, you'll want to start assembling your own kits, loading specific drums on individual pads. The super‑quick way is to right‑click a pad and choose Browse Drum Patches. You can also left‑click a pad to select it (it assumes a blue surround) and use the folder button in the Drum Control Panel section. Kong can load samples in a number of different formats: raw WAV and AIFF files, SoundFonts, and REX loops or slices, all in a range of sample rates and resolutions. But amongst the factory sound bank sounds you'll also see .drum files, and these are patches for Kong's non‑sample‑based drum-sound generators. These load up the same way as sample‑based hits, so feel free to experiment.
By the way, to go the whole hog and build up a kit from scratch, just right‑click on an empty area of Kong after you first create it and choose Initialize Patch. That clears out any assigned drum sounds and resets everything to the default.
You've got your sounds loaded — but what about tweaking them, setting levels and pan positions, and making tonal changes? Put another way, where's Kong's mixer? Short answer: it doesn't have one. And while the parameters we're looking for can be adjusted in the Control Panel section, one pad at a time, that's clearly not a very practical or fast way of getting to grips with an entire kit. Kong's solution is somewhat different, and very cool!
Check out the very bottom of the Control Panel: there are four 'Q' buttons corresponding with the Pitch/Decay, Send, Pan/Tone and Level sections. Try clicking the one at far right, beneath the Level knob. Suddenly all 16 pads are overlaid with their own X/Y‑style display, and dragging one of the 'handles' up and down adjusts that pad's level, while dragging it left and right adjusts its Tone. These 'Quick Edit' buttons really are the business — the other three in the Control panel work in a similar way, with the Send Quick Edit one giving you three faders per pad to adjust the levels.
Kong is an instrument you can really play if you so wish, but many Reason users will primarily want to sequence it, building up drum patterns in multiple record passes or programming them visually. Both are really easy to achieve, and work in conjunction with the transport section's Loop playback mode. Try this:
1. In the sequencer, select your Kong device in the track list and switch to Edit Mode by engaging the Edit Mode button or (if you're in Arrange Mode) using the Shift‑Tab keystroke.
2. Scroll and zoom to the sequence region you want to work on, and turn on Snap with a setting of 'Bar'. Then select the pencil tool and draw an empty clip corresponding to the length of pattern you want to work on in the Clip Overview area at the top of the track lane, above the individual drum lanes.
3. Right‑click the clip and choose 'Set Loop to Selection' and Start Playback. Instantly, Reason will begin playing the clip over and over.
Now you've got a choice. If you want to record live, hit the record button, turn on the transport section Click, if you need a time reference, and start playing MIDI notes to record the drum hits. The Quantise During Record feature can be a boon here; turn it on via the transport section 'Q Rec' button and, if necessary, change the current Quantise Notes value in the Sequencer Tools section of the Tools window.
If you prefer to build up your pattern graphically, there's no need to hit record. Instead, adjust the Snap setting to something suitable, like 1/16 (for 16th notes, or semiquavers) and, with the pencil tool still selected, start clicking in the drum lanes to build up the pattern.
Incidentally, the drum names shown in the Kong track in Edit Mode accurately reflect the name of Kong's pads. If you want to change them, just switch back to your Kong device and double‑click one of the pad names to rename it.
There is one more, slightly bonkers option for building up Kong patterns. Clearly, what Kong doesn't have is anything like the old‑school hardware drum machine‑inspired step sequencing offered by Redrum. But such is Reason's back‑of‑the‑rack flexibility that it can easily be set up.
Create a Redrum next to Kong in your rack. Viewing the rear of the Reason rack, disconnect Redrum's audio outputs: this thing's going to be a sequencer only. Now drag cables from Redrum's Gate Out sockets to Kong's Gate In sockets for the first 10 pads. It's a shame a single Redrum can only control 10 of Kong's pads, but there are always limitations like this with vintage gear (cough). Switching back to the front of the rack again, you can use Redrum's step sequencer in the usual way, but now its 10 drum channels will trigger Kong's first 10 pads.
Did I mention that Kong's a beast? You only have to expand its interface, by clicking the Show Drum & FX button at the bottom left, to be in no doubt about that. There's just far too much to cover in a single Reason technique column, but because we've looked at basic operation this month, we're all set for an investigation into sound, effects and fine control possibilities next month. Stay tuned!
Opening up a whole new range of creative options, Kong is one of the Reason 5 instruments that can make use of the new Live Sampling feature. Recording a sample directly into a Kong pad is quick and painless.
You do, however, need to have set up your sampling input in the Hardware Interface at the top of the rack. When viewing the back of the Hardware Interface, the Audio Input section of sockets correspond to physical hardware inputs on your audio interface. Creating an audio input into Reason is then as easy as dragging a cable from those input sockets to the Sampling Input section. You can see how this looks for my setup in the screen above: my mono mic is plugged into input 3 of my MOTU interface, so I drag a cable from audio input 3 to sampling input L. Obviously, if I wanted a stereo sampling input I'd drag two cables, perhaps from audio inputs 3 and 4, to sampling inputs L and R. Gain settings on your audio interface will be crucial to ensure a good healthy input level, and the Hardware Device's front‑panel meters will help you with that. You can also turn input monitoring on and off there.
Now the easy bit! Select a pad in Kong, and click the Live Sampling (squiggle) button in the Control Panel section. Reason immediately starts recording, so go ahead and record your drum hit. If you want to restart the sampling click the Restart Sampling button at far left of the little box that's popped up.
Now, in the unlikely event that you've created the perfect sample in one fell swoop, you can click the little stop button, the sampling pop‑up goes away, and your sample is loaded into the pad (in an NN‑Nano drum device, in case you're interested). But almost always some editing is going to be needed to trim the sample start and end, and possibly apply some sort of fade-out. So click Edit, and Reason presents you with a very businesslike Edit Sample window (as in the screen below) which is a doddle to use. Drag the S(tart) and E(nd) flags to trim the sample (an option to restrict their positions to transients in the sampled audio can make finding the start of a hit very easy). Click Play to audition it (there's a Solo option in case your song is playing in the background and drowning it out). You can click and drag in the waveform display to make a selection, and then use the command buttons at the top to apply a crop, reverse, fade-out and more. You can name your sample descriptively, too (at the bottom right), before clicking Save to load the finished product into the Kong pad.