It’s hard for me to describe, but there’s something really inspiring about pulling up Kore and using it to design some different instrumental sounds.
I do a lot of music for modern dance. What’s nice about it is that dancers tend to be up for anything. I finished a new score for a long-time collaborator here in New York named Kathy Westwater. Kathy wanted some evocative soundscapes for a new piece. And then, "oh, yeah, I’m suddenly thinking electric guitar."
Fortunately, this leads to a couple of tricks I like to use. And I really like the ability to design for an instrument and not just do some sound effect. That way, I can actually just play live, like composing with sound in real-time. These techniques could certainly be applied to other projects, so here’s a look. This isn’t really a tutorial so much as some hands-on experience that happened to work for me.
Guitar Rig as Synth Effect
If you’ve got Komplete, you’ve already got Guitar Rig. But if you’re not an instrumentalist, it may have fallen into the category of "stuff in the bundle you’ve never gotten around to using." Likewise, the Guitar Rig engine is used in Kore 2 modules; you can find the meat in the Browser under FX > Amp Simulator.
I’ll assume "guitar" is self-explanatory, but I’ve used the Guitar Rig models on (real) sitars, violins, and Theremin. Here, I’ll talk synths.
Guitar Rig is an interesting pairing with Kore, as it’s essentially a modular multi-effects unit in itself. But Guitar Rig (and its sound engine, as integrated with Kore) can provide a really organic quality to effects for instruments other than guitars. Aside from the fact that musicians traditionally have run instruments like electric keyboards through amps just as you would guitars, you can use Guitar Rig’s simulated models to create special effects with digital synths. And then you can do what you can’t with a real amp — run through additional digital manipulations.
FM8: You Know, For Oscillation
In this case, I decided to start out by pairing Guitar Rig with FM8 as an oscillator source. I actually wanted a fairly vanilla sound from FM8 — but with some features I knew would get picked up nicely by effects. I personally find it’s best when designing a sound to ignore the more complex presets and work from scratch. That means jumping straight to the Expert section of FM8 and focusing on the basic waveform. Add one operator at a time, and make gradual adjustments.
I decided in this case to throw in a couple of FM8′s internal effects, as well, to get what I was going for.
If I were using FM8 as a self-contained instrument, this is where I might get fancy and add lots of shiny effects. But in this case, I’m keeping it simple — the talkwah and flanger are perfect for making an oscillator "module" for the larger sound. The advantage of working with Kore in this case was, I saved that sound as a reusable sound source — and I could do it directly from within Kore while it was running in my host (Ableton Live for this project). Just right-click the sound in the routing matrix and you can save it from there, like so:
Of course, on its own this particular sound doesn’t sound like much.
By contrast, here’s what it will sound like (this is the same MIDI snippet):
Adding Some Kore Effects
The fun of the Matrix view for me is two-fold: first, it provides uncommonly easy access in a semi-modular way to all my effects, from NI and elsewhere. Second, it’s got some handy built-in effects of its own. So, in this case, I could have just used my regular host and thrown in Guitar Rig. But by loading these effects into Kore, I got some additional free sound crunchers, and was able to adjust the sounds using the Kore controller quickly — essential as deadlines for dance tend to get real short real fast.
The effects I used in this case: the prerequisite metal guitar simulation (starting with the Aggressive preset from Guitar Rig but making some other modifications), but also Kore’s own Lo-Fi to add some digital crunch, and Kore’s Space Reverb to finish it all out. By putting the digital crunch in front of the guitar simulator, I was able to distort the FM8 instrument even further. Contrary to the usual advice for using synths and guitar effects together, I left the gain too hot — all the more distortion.
Here’s the effects chain for the FX side only:
If you don’t have Guitar Rig, you can get similar effects just using those presets I mentioned. (It’s more of a "pure Kore" way of working.) But you can also pull up Guitar Rig inside Kore and page through its presets as normal, as if working with a set of different rigs of effects pedals and virtual amps.
With all of this in place, I was free to explore by playing a keyboard and adjusting the encoders on the Kore control panel. And that’s where this starts to get fun: the FM8 setup in Kore by default gives you one of your eight encoders assigned to the Harmonics control, so I was able to provide an effect like fingering harmonics on a string, all from my MIDI keyboard. (It’s basically impossible to play in the real world, but that’s why I say these are imaginary instruments — imaginary instruments with some plausible possibilities.)
For part two, I’ll look at another experimental Kore sound, talk about how you might organize your work, give you a sound to experiment with, and let you hear some of the results.
And there’s quite a lot more to be said about Guitar Rig — for one thing, it gives you a metronome, tape recorder, and looper "for free", meaning it can be a boon for those of you using Kore in standalone rather than in another host.
More on Guitar Effects for Synths
Craig Anderton has an extensive survey of guitar effects packages, including Guitar Rig, plus some tips on how to use them for just this kind of application (namely, keyboards and synths).
I’m absolutely with Craig on this one: all the things that make guitar effects ideal for, you know, guitarists, make them terrific for other synthesists, producers, vocalists, sitar players — anyone wanting to experiment with sound live.