Korg KARMA

Music Workstation

Published in SOS May 2001
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Reviews : Keyboard

Korg's new music workstation combines the synthesis, multi-effects and sequencing capabilities of the Triton with a new performance-based interactive music generation system — one that goes way beyond traditional arpeggiators and auto-accompaniment sections for sophistication and versatility. Simon Trask is SOS's KARMA policeman...

With the release of their M1 in 1988, Korg established the workstation format as a fixture of the hi-tech music keyboard landscape. Over a decade later, when you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the music workstation had nothing truly new to offer, along come Korg again to drive the format forward with the KARMA. While in many respects the company's latest workstation is a Triton with a different name and a redesigned case, it also offers something that you won't find on the Triton — or any other instrument, for that matter. The clue is in the name. For while KARMA fits nicely into the recent vogue for synths with evocative names, the word is also an acronym for Kay Algorithmic Real-time Music Architecture — named after the inventor of the KARMA technology, Stephen Kay, who you may already have heard of through his demos for many Korg keyboards. If you break out in a cold sweat at the mere mention of the word 'algorithmic', don't be too concerned, for while the KARMA technology may not be a snap to grapple with, neither does it require you to don a white coat and head for the computer lab.

The simplest way to think of the KARMA technology is that it's a cross between a supercharged arpeggiator and a dynamically morphing auto-accompaniment section. Like both these note generators, KARMA works from trigger notes on the keyboard. But don't let your imagination be constrained by your understanding of what an arpeggiator or an auto-acompaniment keyboard does, because the KARMA is far more versatile and offers so much more flexibility and functionality.

What It Is...

Although you wouldn't think so to look at it, the KARMA is the latest incarnation of Korg's Triton technology. Inside its black and maroon metallic casing are the very same synthesis, multi-effects and sequencing capabilities and parameters that you'll find in the Triton. To give you an idea of the nuts-and-bolts spec, it's a 62-note polyphonic, 16-part multitimbral digital synth workstation with an onboard 16-track sequencer and built-in dynamically controllable multi-effects, with an effects architecture consisting of five Insert and two Master effects, and a Master EQ. Like the Triton, Korg's new workstation uses HI (Hyper Integrated) synthesis, the company's most sophisticated and powerful sample-based subtractive synthesis engine and architecture. You can also add physical modelling synthesis to KARMA's sound palette by fitting the EXB MOSS expansion board.

KORG KARMA £1599
pros
Has Triton's synthesis, sequencing and effects, but at a lower price.
Sonically expandable.
Unique KARMA GE functionality.
The ability to 'play' GEs live — a truly interactive experience.
You can get great results with GEs without having to understand exactly how they work.
cons
Lacks the Triton's sampler, ribbon controller, touchscreen, and two of its audio outs.
You can't reset KRTCs and play on the keyboard at the same time.
Understanding GEs is demanding (though ultimately rewarding).
summary
KARMA has all the Triton's synthesis power and quality, but adds creative layers of real-time generative music functionality that give it unique and impressively versatile textural and rhythmic capabilities.

Fully programmable, and with sophisticated modulation routing, the HI synthesis architecture used by each KARMA Program consists of two oscillators, a resonant filter section (which can be set to one 24dB/octave low-pass filter or to one 12dB/octave low-pass and one 12dB/octave high-pass filter in series), and an amplifier section, together with five-stage Pitch, Filter and Amplifier EGs and two freely assignable LFOs. The oscillators are assigned PCM samples from the onboard waveform ROM or the EXB PCM expansion board ROMs. You can select Single or Double oscillator modes, and assign Low and High samples to each oscillator for velocity switching, or select Drum mode, in which case a selected global Drum Kit can be assigned to the Program.

Each Program can also be assigned one KARMA Generated Effect, which has up to 16 parameters that can be assigned values for that individual Program to uniquely shape the effect. It's the Generated Effects that enable the real-time generation of grooves, phrases and patterns that are infinitely variable and randomised (but, to borrow a phrase from Korg's Steve McNally, not "stupid random"!). More on GEs later in this review, as they play a central role in KARMA.

As on the Triton and many earlier Korg workstation synths, the KARMA also has a Combination mode which allows multiple (up to eight) Programs to be assigned to the keyboard in note and velocity split/layer configurations. Each Combination can have up to four Generated Effects running simultaneously.

Finally, completing this overview, the KARMA's multitrack sequencer section includes user-recordable patterns and a real-time pattern play/record feature which lets you trigger loops and phrases live from the keyboard; in addition, GM song files can be loaded, saved, and played back in both Sequencer and Song Play modes.

... And What It's Not

Not unreasonably, the KARMA isn't wholly a Triton with GE capabilities bolted on. Korg have made sacrifices from the Triton spec in order to bring KARMA in at a reasonable price point (which they have; in the UK, KARMA retails at about 80 percent of the price of the basic Triton). The most significant of these is probably the loss of the Triton's sampling functions and onboard sample RAM, but the associated rear-panel audio input sockets and SCSI expansion option have also gone. The Triton's large graphical touchscreen display has been replaced on the KARMA by a smaller, more traditional backlit LCD window, with a row of F1-F8 function buttons below the window for page selection and adjacent cursor up/down/left/right buttons for parameter selection within the pages. This difference contributes to the slightly smaller dimensions of the KARMA compared to the Triton; while its width and height are virtually the same, KARMA's casing is just under three centimetres less deep than the Triton's. A bigger difference (which will be appreciated by anyone who has to carry the KARMA around) is that it's a little over four kilos lighter than the Triton.

Also missing in action are the Triton's ribbon controller, its rear-panel To Host socket (which provides direct connection to a PC's serial port), and two of the Triton's four Individual audio output jacks. The To Host socket, more commonly found on budget GM/GS/XG desktop modules, has always seemed out of place on the Triton anyway. More of a loss is the ribbon controller, which could surely have been put to good use for live manipulation of KARMA's Generated Effects. And the loss of individual outs on a multitimbral synth is always a shame. The dual polyphonic arpeggiators of the Triton have been dropped as well, but then the Generated Effects functionality of the KARMA more than makes up for these.

There has also been some moderate rejigging of the front panel layout, basically to take account of the KARMA's added knob and button controllers and the aforementioned absence of the Triton's dual polyphonic arpeggiators. To make way for, and give pride of place to, the KARMA controllers, the four real-time (synth and effect parameter) Control knobs and associated A/B select button that are above the left-hand end of the Triton's keyboard have been moved to a position above the joystick controller on the KARMA.

Talking of the front panel, there's another difference between the two instruments; how you access the EXB PCM ROM expansion board slots. While both the KARMA and the Triton can be fitted with two EXB PCM boards, the KARMA has a lockable cover in the top left corner of its front panel (see right), whereas on the Triton you have to unscrew a plate on the underside of the instrument (mind you, you still have to install the MOSS board on KARMA via the underside). This means you can more easily swap EXB PCM boards on the KARMA than you can on the Triton (or the Triton Rack, for that matter). But this easy access brings with it inherent dangers, namely that you could be more inclined to try and remove a board without first switching off the machine, while the cover could accidentally open and be snapped off. Still, Korg have sought to lessen these dangers with the locking mechanism and by printing, in clearly visible large white lettering on the circuit board, the helpful words 'Caution! Turn the power off! No statics!'.

  Workstation Specification & Features  
 
• Keyboard: 61 keys, sensitive to attack velocity and channel aftertouch.
• Polyphony: 62 voices (in single mode, 31 in double mode), 68 notes maximum with EXB MOSS board installed.
• Multitimbrality: eight parts in Combi mode, 16 parts in Sequencer mode.
• Built-in waveform ROM: 32Mb (425 multisamples, 413 drum samples), at 48kHz sample rate.
• Waveform ROM expansion: two slots, each allowing a 16Mb to be fitted (a total of five different expansion boards are now available).
• Synthesis system: HI (Hyper Integrated) sample-based subtractive synthesis.
• Programs: 640 user-programmable memories (384 pre-loaded), 128 more (Bank F) when EXB MOSS is installed, 256 GM2 soundbank-compatible General MIDI sounds (Bank G).
• Combinations: 768 user-programmable memories (384 pre-loaded).
• Drum Kits: 64 user kits (16 pre-loaded), nine GM2 soundbank-compatible General MIDI ROM kits.
• Effects: five Insert effects (stereo in/out), two Master effects (mono in/stereo out) and one Master EQ (three-band stereo) usable simultaneously. 102 insert effects and 89 Master effects are available, with dynamic modulation of selected effects parameters.
• Sequencer: 16 timbres and 16 tracks, plus one master track, with a maximum storage capacity of 200,000 events, a maximum resolution of 192ppqn, 200 songs, a RPPR (real-time Pattern Play/Record) function. KARMA, Triton and SMF formats are supported.
• Song Play mode: 16 timbres, with 16 tracks. SMF formats 0/1 supported.
• KARMA functions: see separate box.
• Disk drive: 3.5-inch floppy, with System Exclusive load/save capability.
• Real-time Controls (non-KARMA): joystick, switches 1 & 2, Real-time Control knobs with A/B select switch.
• Display: 240 x 64 pixel backlit LCD window.
• Rear-panel connectors: power switch, power socket to internal PSU, Main Left and Right audio outs, two aux outs, footswitch and footpedal ins, sustain pedal in, MIDI In, Out, Thru.
• Front-panel connector: Headphone out.
• Dimensions: 1100mm (W) x 320mm (D) x 119mm (H).
• Weight: 10kg.
 

Generation K

Having covered the differences between the Triton and KARMA, I'm not going to rehash a review of the majority aspects that the two workstations have in common, but will focus instead on the new, KARMA-specific features. The 'Workstation Specification', and 'KARMA Generated Effect Specification' boxes elsewhere in this article give you a good overview of what KARMA has to offer. You can also read the detailed reviews of the Triton, Triton Rack and all five EXB PCM expansion boards from previous issues of SOS, either in back issues or on the SOS web site (see the links in the 'Previously in SOS...' box at the end of this article).

At the heart of the KARMA is the Generated Effect, which is what generates all its interactive phrases, patterns and effects. It's this aspect of the KARMA which has generated all the buzz around it, and of course given it both its name and its reason to exist. As Steve McNally puts it in his interview elsewhere in this article, Korg could have brought out a 'Triton Junior' without any of the Generated Effect functionality. But along with needing a different name, it probably wouldn't have made much impact, despite the cheaper price tag. The algorithmic technology that puts the first A in KARMA enables Korg's new workstation to move out of the Triton's shadow by giving it its own identity and focus, not to mention uniqueness.

You can think of the GE as 'sitting on top of' a Program, which is itself complete in the Triton sense of being a sample-based subtractive synthesis patch or a global Drum Kit of drum and percussion sounds spread across the keyboard. What the GE aspect of the KARMA does is add movement to the sound or kit, whether that be a purely textural kind of 'inner movement', a rhythmic gated effect imposed on a sustained note or chord, or a drum and percussion rhythm with built-in random spontaneity. In Combi mode, the effect of the multiple GEs can be more like a traditional multi-instrument auto-accompaniment section that responds to chord changes, or gives you guitar chording with a realistic strumming effect, or arpeggiated guitar chords with live and spontaneous tempo fluctuations. Hopefully, you get the idea: the GE functionality of the KARMA is versatile! There are more examples of what GEs can do later in this article.

GE-generated data is based on note data from the keyboard or from an external MIDI device. For each Program you get to select one of 1190 preset GEs. These are grouped into 16 categories which reflect the type of instrumental sound or type of effect that they've been designed for (see the 'KARMA GE Specification' box-out). A really neat idea here is that the name of each GE is suffixed with, as appropriate, the factory pre-load Program (Bank and Number), the arpeggio direction(s), or the factory pre-load Drum Kit with which it was originally created. So, as long as you don't change the factory pre-load assignments, you can easily listen to a GE in its original context.

  KARMA Generated Effect Specification  
  • In Program mode, one GE is available.
• In Combination, Sequencer and Song Play modes, up to four GEs can be used simultaneously.
• Generated Effects: 1190 preset (one assignable per Program and up to four per Combination).
• GE parameters: over 400.
• Editable parameters per GE: 16 maximum.
• 16 Generated Effect categories: Basic Arpeggio (33 GEs), Keyboard (140), Bell/Mallet (60), Acoustic Mono (22), Acoustic Poly (146), Ethnic (31), Guitar (73), Bass (83), Synth Bass (44), Synth Mono (42), Synth Poly (126), Pad Motion (77), Sound Effects (33), Gated (27), Drum Pattern (231), Percussion Pattern (22).
• GE types: Generated Riff, Generated Drum, Generated Gated, Real-time.
• 14 GE Parameter Groups: GE, Note Series, Phase, Rhythm, Duration, Index, Cluster, Velocity, CCs, Envelope, Repeat (Melodic Repeat), Bend, Drum, Direct Index.
• Real-time Controls: KARMA On/Off and Latch buttons, KARMA Real-time Control (KRTC) knobs (x8) and buttons (x2), KARMA Chord Trigger buttons (x4) with Assign button, KARMA Tempo knob.
 
The many parameters that underlie each GE have been pre-programmed by Korg to shape the particular generative choices of that GE. However, for each GE you are given access to up to 16 of those parameters — though the choice of which 16 is preset by Korg. However, you do get to assign up to all 16 of those parameters to the eight knobs and two buttons of KARMA's front-panel Real-time Controls section (or KRTC, as Korg call it). You can also assign the parameters to four Dynamic MIDI controllers, which include the joystick, velocity, aftertouch, the sustain pedal and the assignable footswitch and footpedal. You can control more than one parameter at a time from a controller, and set the polarity of each parameter.

This controller assignability enables you to store edited values for the 16 parameters as part of a Program, or manipulate the parameters on the fly to create real-time changes in the way that note and CC (Continuous Controller) data is generated from the keyboard or MIDI source notes, and hence create changes in the results of those generative processes.

There are four types of Generated Effect: Real-Time, Drum, Gated, and Riff, and they merit closer inspection.

• Real-Time GEs take the notes played and apply time-based effects to them such as Melodic Repeat (a sophisticated 'MIDI delay') and Auto-Bending.

• Drum GEs use patterns of preset pitches as the basis of their processing. These patterns can be used to trigger drum and percussion sounds to generate rhythms, or to create pitched instrumental textures. Up to three Drum or Melodic Patterns can be looped together or played and looped consecutively, and each Drum Pattern can consist of up to seven Drum sounds or notes. The Patterns can be of different lengths, can loop independently, and various parameters can be applied to shape them. Perhaps most significantly, you can introduce and give various weightings to randomness factors which affect durations and choice of drum sounds or notes. The effect of this is to generate rhythm tracks which have something of the rhythmic flexibility and spontaneity of a real musician playing.

• Gated GEs apply rhythmic gated effects to the actual notes played, using MIDI CCs to create the effects. So, for instance, expression or volume CCs with values alternating between 0 and 127 can be used to 'chop up' a sustained sound; another option would be to use a CC to control filter cutoff frequency. This particular technique can be very effective when applied to rhythm patterns.

• Generated Riff GEs are perhaps the most powerful and flexible of the four GE types. Basically, a processed Note Series is generated from the notes that you play on the keyboard (or via the MIDI In) in accordance with various parameters which 'twist' the notes and the note order, shift chords, or filter notes. The GE then works on various attributes of the resulting note series, such as rhythm, duration and velocity, applying parameters to them which shape how these attributes affect the Note Series.

A Generated Effect also has two Phases, which are basically two different collections of values for the parameters belonging to some of the Parameter Groups (eg. Rhythm, Duration, Velocity), and these Phases are in turn organised into Phase Patterns of up to 16 steps, with one or other Phase assigned to each step. This Phase Pattern can loop, and there are various options for determining when a Phase Change (ie. movement from one step to the next) will occur, including Time Signature, which can be assigned independently to each Phase (as can a Transpose value).

Finally, you can of course record a KARMA performance, complete with all the generated note and CC data into the onboard sequencer, or into an external MIDI sequencer, playing Programs or Combinations. The latter option, allowing you to have up to four GEs running at once, opens up all sorts of textural and multi-instrument possibilities which go beyond using single Programs.

  Korg's Steve McNally On KARMA  
 
Canadian Steve McNally (pictured right) is a veteran member of Korg's sound and style programming team, and also travels the world as a demonstrator for the company. He was involved in programming the KARMA-generated effects for the workstation's factory Programs and Combinations. SOS caught up with him while he was on a flying visit to the UK.

When did you first get involved with the KARMA?

"About a year and a half ago. Members of the voicing team from around the world met at Korg USA, and we basically sat in a room for three days and started learning about it."

Was it much of a challenge?

"Very much. It was like looking inside a synth and going 'I'm sorry, the filter cutoff does what?'. It was that kind of a learning experience. So my number one phone quick-dial setting for the last year and a half has been [KARMA technology developer] Stephen Kay. As sound programmers, we'd make suggestions for things we'd like to have, and there'd be an email next morning saying 'Go to the usual site and download the new version, it now does that.' And he would then come back with as many ideas, or usually many more, about what he thought it should do.

"Stephen's a musician first, then a software engineer. Sometimes when you talk to an engineer, he's thinking more about the code that's involved than the musician part of it. But Stephen was very receptive. He's done a lot of demo sequences for people, including Korg. He did a lot of demos for the 01/W, and in fact the seed of KARMA was that he wanted a nice harp glissando. After a day or so manipulating notes in a sequencer to make it sound realistic, he thought 'Isn't there something I could make that would do this?' And from that beginning, he's spent the past seven years working on the KARMA technology."

So when did Korg get involved with the KARMA technology, and why?

"Korg got involved about two years ago. We wanted to make a new keyboard but didn't want it to be just a 'Triton Junior'. Also, we didn't want to be saying 'Here's another keyboard with more sounds.' Everything, from every manufacturer, sounds good now. When we saw the KARMA technology we thought it would be wonderful to have inside a keyboard. KARMA gives new tools to musicians. I think that's why Korg got behind it."

How would you advise people to get to grips with KARMA's Generated Effects?

"I would go through Program mode and go to the KRTC [KARMA Real-time Controls] page, look at what the knobs are doing, and start turning them to see what happens. Probably a good starting point would be something like a synth bass sound, so you're not dealing with chords and arpeggios, you've just got a basic rhythm. You can then see how the rhythm can be changed, how the durations can be changed, all these different things.

"In Combination mode, you might have eight sounds and four KARMA GEs working at once, and it's almost too much at first. Once you understand the individual things that are going on, you can start putting them together. Then again, you can literally go to any Program or Combination, start playing the chord buttons and turning the knobs. It's not like KARMA does a certain thing and we just did that for 500 sounds. We were able to shape it to suit each particular Program or Combination.

"If you start playing a Combination with KARMA on and you go 'Argh! How do I shut it off?', start with Program mode. If you find that you love Combi mode, keep going. It's a personal thing."

What would you say is KARMA's particular strength?

"Quite simply, inspiration. When I turn on KARMA, many times it's going to take me in a musical direction that I normally wouldn't go in. It has all these musical ideas for you to use, but instead of being static ideas that you either like or don't, you can make them how you want them to be. And because of this flexibility, KARMA becomes something you can use a lot in your music."

SOS ran an interview with Steve McNally in August 1998 (also available at www.soundonsound.com/sos/aug98/articles/steve.html).

 

Live Control

The KARMA offers a wealth of ways to manipulate a Generated Effect from its front panel. First of all, the On/Off button in the KARMA Variable Performance Modeller section of the panel lets you smoothly drop the KARMA GE in and out. So one moment you can be playing a Program or Combination 'straight', the next moment you can have all the GE-generated stuff happening — or vice versa. The On/Off facility is also more than a merely utilitarian feature. By allowing you to switch in this way between 'straight' and 'GE'd' versions of a Program or Combination, it becomes a performance feature. In effect, it allows you to drop GE-generated parts in and out in real time; for hands-free switching, you can assign the On/Off function to the KARMA's assignable footswitch. While switching the KARMA/GE mode off drops out the GE-generated parts and leaves any sustained keyboard notes playing, to 'drop in' GE parts you need to (re)play the trigger notes on the keyboard — after switching the mode On in advance, of course.

A feature that will be very familiar to arpeggiator and auto-accompaniment users alike is Latch on/off, which is also accessible from its own front-panel button and assignable to the footswitch (in place of GE mode on/off). Simply, with Latching on, the GE parts will continue to play when you lift your fingers off the keyboard, while with Latching off they will stop playing (along with the keyboard trigger notes, of course).

Each of the four Chord Trigger buttons on the front panel can store from one to eight notes which can be triggered by tapping or by pressing and holding the button. This has the same effect as if you'd played them; so if GE On/Off is set to Off, you'll just get the straight notes. If it's On then you'll get the GE-generated parts as well, providing that one or more of the stored notes is in the section of the keyboard that has been assigned as the GE trigger area. The result will also vary according to how the Program's GE parts are set to respond to new keyboard trigger notes, and according to whether Latch mode is on or off. You can quickly assign a new set of notes to a button by turning on the Assign button, playing the note(s) on the keyboard, then pressing the Chord Trigger button that you want the note(s) to be assigned to. You can enter a wide spread of notes by holding down the first note with one hand and then playing the other notes successively with the other hand; a single velocity is then assigned to all the notes, set by the velocity of the last note you play.

The Chord Trigger buttons can be useful simply as an easy way to play a chord sequence, but they're also a useful creative performance tool in their own right. Another real-time feature is the GE Tempo knob, which lets you adjust the overall tempo of the GE phrases, patterns and effects between 40 and 240bpm (handy if you spontaneously decide that you want to ramp up the tempo on the dancefloor). The stored tempo value is the one selected at the time you save the Program (the same applies to the GE and Latch on/off and Chord Trigger button settings).

But the centrepiece of the real-time control of Generated Effects is undoubtedly the eight KRTC knobs and two buttons, together with the Scene 1/2 button, which lets you switch live between two sets of parameter value assignments for the knobs and buttons. These knobs and buttons give you real-time control over various aspects of a Program's Generated Effect; the two buttons let you switch their assigned features on or off, while the knobs let you move through a continuum of parameter value ranges (though you can also set them individually to function as on/off switches). This is the KARMA GE equivalent of making real-time changes to synthesis parameters by twiddling knobs. In this case, you're making changes to parameters which affect the generated notes and effects rather than the timbre parameters of the sound(s) that they play, although the overall sound of what you're hearing can still be changed significantly.

Once you twiddle a knob or press a button, the relevant Scene LED starts blinking, and if you've selected the KRTC page in the LCD (which is a useful thing to do, as this lists the GE feature assigned to each knob and button) the graphical representation of each knob and button darkens. These visual indicators provide a quick way of seeing that one or more parameter values have been changed from their stored settings. You can restore the entire Program to its stored values by pressing the Compare button.

Alternatively, you can reset an individual Scene by holding down the Enter button and pressing the Scene button, or reset just an individual parameter by holding down Enter and pressing the relevant button or twiddling the relevant knob. These are more than just utilitarian 'recovery' features, however. Valuable as it is to be able to reset some or all values if you make a pig's ear of editing, resetting values is also a useful performance feature with many of the Programs and Combis. For example, with Program A004, 'Tricky Kit!', you can make all sorts of live edits to the KARMA GE drum pattern, altering rhythm complexity, rhythm swing, the choice of kick or snare sound, and the levels of kick/snare, hi-hat/cymbal and percussion sounds (see the GE examples below for more on this). The method used works OK if you're not actually playing any notes on the keyboard, because the physical separation of the Enter button from the KRTC knobs and controllers requires that you use both hands to reset values. However, I found myself wanting to be able to reset selected changes for performance reasons while playing chords or phrases with one hand, and the KARMA just doesn't allow you to do this. In all fairness, there isn't a button next to the real-time controllers that could be used. Perhaps this controller and Scene reset feature could have been better served by a dedicated latchable Reset on/off button adjacent to the controllers.

Some GE Examples

In describing the various forms of Generated Effect, I've hardly touched on the full range of parameters available, or all the types of manipulation options. The KARMA comes with a GE Guide book over just over 50 pages long which goes through all the GE parameters, and you'll likely have a headache if you try to absorb it all! More to the point, covering anything like the full breadth and variety of the practical application of KARMA's GEs here would require at least another SOS article. But if this is making you think that using KARMA and GEs is forbiddingly complex, think again. Bear in mind that all the GE types and parameters I've described are largely invisible to you as a KARMA user, and all the choices of settings have been made by Korg in the 1190 preset GEs that you can select from. You don't need to understand all the innards and complexities of the GEs in order to make use of the KARMA's GE functionality — which is fortunate, as this stuff can be deep! In fact, Korg have deliberately set out to shield users from all the brain-numbing algorithmic stuff. However, it does help to have some awareness of what's going on under the bonnet.

To help drive home all the theory, here are a couple of examples of GEs in action. Finding 'representative' examples isn't easy, precisely because GEs are capable of such a wide range of results. Nevertheless, I hope that the couple of Programs and the Combi I've detailed here will give you a flavour of what using KARMA can be like, and what the GE functionality can add to them.

• PROGRAM A004, 'TRICKY KIT!'

Factory pre-load Global Drum Kit 'Tricky Kit' is assigned to the keyboard. With the KARMA function Off, you can play the drum and percussion sounds on the keyboard. When you enable the KARMA function and play any key, GE1060 ('HipShuffle', a Generated Drum GE) is triggered. This is a drum and percussion rhythm — or, more accurately, it's one of 192 available Drum Pattern Templates which has been preassigned by Korg to this GE. Using the KRTCs, you can then alter the rhythm and some sounds by adjusting the complexity setting of the rhythm, the amount of swing timing (or set it to none), the levels of the kick/snare, hi-hats/cymbal and percussion parts, the choice of kick and snare sounds, and the number of note repetitions, and turn the percussion pattern and/or the pitch-bend shape on/off.

• PROGRAM A024, 'DIGI ICE PAD'

This is a smooth, glassy pad sound which applies subtle timbral changes from the synth section on sustained notes. The KARMA functionality adds a Generated Riff GE (GE0817, 'Digi Ice Pad' to be precise), which gives a beautiful, spacy, floating 'inner movement' to the sound — the sort of effect that was a characteristic and much-loved feature of Korg's classic Wavestation synth. The KARMA achieves this through the note sequences that the GE generates from the notes you play on the keyboard.

  Previously in SOS — Past Triton Reviews  
  • Korg Triton keyboard: June 1999 (also available at www.soundonsound.com/sos/jun99/articles/korgtriton.htm).

• Korg Triton Rack: November 2000 (also available at www.soundonsound.com/sos/nov00/articles/korg.asp).

• Korg EXB PCM ROM expansion boards: March 2001 (also available at www.soundonsound.com/sos/mar01/articles/korg.asp).

 
You can either play sustained chords and have the generated notes shimmer around the 'chorded' sound, or play short keyboard 'trigger' chords and let the generated note sequences run on their own; the sequences loop, but can be set to randomise note patterns. Using the KRTCs, you can make changes to such settings as rhythm complexity, swing amount, velocity accents, note duration amount, time signature, and note voicing.

• COMBINATION B039, '3 ZONE GROOVE'

This patch provides a good example of how Combination mode's ability to run up to four GEs at once enables the creation of 'backing bands'. Specifically, B039 'un-KARMA'd' is a three-way bass/organ/synth keyboard split. But with its four GEs running, it puts together bass, drums, rhythm guitar and marimba in a driving rock-funk groove, and provides the auto-accompaniment-style functionality of changing the notes played by the 'backing band' in accordance with the chords you play in the lower two octaves of the keyboard. The organ functions as a lead sound in the next two octaves, as well as triggering marimba chord changes if more than two notes are played at once, while the top octave has the synth lead. The KRTCs allow you to make changes to various aspects of the backing parts, such as drum complexity and improvisation, bass complexity and bell complexity, as well as overall changes, such as swing amount and velocity accent.

End Game

The KARMA is a very impressive instrument, and quite unique. You have all the sonic excellence, breadth and versatility of the Triton, of course, but the Generated Effects functionality takes the KARMA to a whole new level of sonic and rhythmic sophistication and power. The results that can be achieved with it are diverse enough that the workstation will appeal to a wide variety of musicians, from the straight pop and rock composer/arranger to the most 'out there' dance musician.

Inevitably, KARMA's generative algorithmic capabilities and complexities won't appeal to everyone. However, if you're prepared to grasp the GE nettle and learn how to use the KARMA as a creative tool, you'll be richly and uniquely rewarded.

 information
KARMA £1599; Triton £1999; Triton Rack £1799;
EXB MOSS board £399;
EXB PCM 01-05 £155 each. Prices include VAT.
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