Playing – using your musical tools and toys as an instrument – is what it’s all about for a lot of us. And for many computer musicians, making the computer more playable live, whether onstage or improvising in the “studio,” is a reason to choose Ableton Live as a host.
From the day I first saw Kore at a pre-launch press conference, the pitch was that Kore was portable: you can move it from host to host as a plug-in or use it as a host itself. Lately, I’ve been putting that to use myself, playing some sets in Kore 2 alone, and moving into hosts, particularly Ableton Live. Before talking about the how, it’s worth covering some of the why.
Naturally, if you’re not into the full version of Kore 2, you can easily inject some extra sounds into Live with the soundpacks. But here, I’ll cover the all-stops-pulled complete version of Kore.
Live + Kore: How They Can Work Together
The reasons to use Ableton Live are probably most evident, since it does many of the things that Kore itself does not. I’ll go through what I think is important – if you’re a beginning user, don’t worry about this too much as it’ll make sense when you see it.
Clip triggering: Live’s claim to fame is its bank of MIDI and audio clips (or, if you’d like, “loops”). Now, I’ve been experimenting with using NI’s drum sampler Battery in place of Live just to break myself of some bad Live habits; fundamentally, Live’s Session View is a big, specialized sampler. But naturally, having all those Live clips and scenes at your disposal to drive Kore instruments or run through Kore effects or use alongside Kore is hugely helpful. It’s very practical to have a set with a few channels of Kore instruments and a set of audio clips. It also makes it easier to segue between DJ-style improvisation and straight-out instrumental playing.
Easy arrangement: Kore can manage multiple channels, but when it’s time to track into a song, you’ll want some kind of host. Live makes a good choice because of that clip metaphor; it’s easy to sketch out ideas in Kore, then assemble them into a more polished arrangement. Other DAWs will work, too, but Live lets you transition more fluidly from improvised chunks to an arranged song.
Possibly less obvious is why you’d use Kore in Live. Recent versions of Live do include Device Racks, which have some features in common with Kore. There’s the ability to combine multiple effects and instruments into single presets, and even to map easily to eight macro parameter controls. But Kore brings some advantages of its own:
Metadata, preset browsing: As we’ve covered before, Kore has extensive features for organizing both the many presets in Native’s Kore-ready instruments and effects, and third-party plug-ins and presets of your own creation.
Hardware control: For me, a big appeal of Kore in the first place is the ability to browse through sounds and adjust timbres on the (now optional) Kore controller hardware. This isn’t a zero-sum-game, either – you can do both. You could, for instance, lock a Novation SL keyboard to a Live Device Rack and use the Kore controller to navigate three or four different Kore performances, all without hunching over your laptop. It takes some work (heck, I’m still practicing), but it’s really satisfying.
Smart parameter management: Unfold a Live device using the disclosure triangle, and you’re met with tons and tons of parameters. These are exposed by plug-ins’ automation features, which happens to be how Kore works a lot of its magic. The problem is, there are an insane number of parameters for each instrument and effect, particularly more-complex ones. Picking out the ones you need can be time-consuming, particularly when you get into Reaktor. Kore’s ability to learn parameters just by dragging them with your mouse is a huge, huge time-saver. I’ll often use Kore just to make my Reaktor creations more mangeable in Live.
Above, you can see what happens when you try to look at raw presets, even for a relatively simple ensemble like our Grain Delay.
Assigned to Kore parameters, though – which is easy enough to do by dragging the knobs in the ensemble itself – this is much more manageable. Here’s a User Control Page I created for a similar Reaktor ensemble:
Portable presets: Unlike a Device Rack, you can create a setup in Kore inside Live, then use it in standalone mode, or move it to another tool (like SONAR, Reaper, Logic, or whatever you happen to prefer).
Internal modules: Okay, let me be upfront. I’m addicted to tools, so to me avoiding some sameness of sound by mixing in some Kore grain effects is very appealing.
Let’s take a closer look at how all of this fits together.
Setting up Kore in Live: Tips to Get Started
Adding Kore to your Live set: There are a number of ways to approach this. First, you have a choice of Kore2 2×16, Kore2, and Kore2FX. For driving instruments, you’ll want to add Kore2 to a MIDI Track. For effects on an audio track, use Kore2FX. If you want to route individual channels out of Kore to Live, you’ll choose the 2×16 option.
From there, it’s up to you to decide how much you want to consolidate. When I first started using Kore with Live, I tried to build a massive performance with everything in it and drop that on one track. I found quickly that was unwieldy; CPU and memory utilization aside, it just wound up being tough to navigate. Now I use sounds and performances on individual channels, which seems a lot easier to integrate with my Live workflow.
Load a sound or performance: Now that you’ve got Kore loaded, you need to load your sound preset to get your instrument, effect, or (in my case) somewhat unpredictable beat maker/mangler.
Presets you’ve stored as Sounds appear in the browser. For convenience, it’ll often be easiest to simply Save Performance As Sound when you’re in Kore so that you can easily call up sounds you’ve created.
Some of our own contributors were puzzled, though, to find they couldn’t load Performances directly in previous versions of Kore 2. Native Instruments has remedied that now with the Menu button on the toolbar, which lets you start a new Performance or open one you’ve created. The Menu also provides options for automatically compacting the window so it doesn’t take up too much space.
I’ll often use Live as a sort of meta-performance tool, creating Sounds and Performances in Kore standalone, then moving to Live and calling them up on different channels. I’ll bounce some channels, while leaving others for real-time control.
Keep the UI handy: Wondering how you’ll deal with multiple Kore instances, multiple UI windows, and the display for Live itself? Fortunately, Live shows plug-in interfaces only on the active channel, and it remembers for each channel whether the plug-in window was open and even where you positioned it on the screen. This is a huge boon to Kore, particularly if you have some sort of groovy animated interface in a Reaktor ensemble. Click the wrench icon on your Kore insert to display its standard plug-in window. Position it where you want it to go on the screen, then leave that window open. Switch to any other instances and repeat. Each time you navigate between channels, the appropriate Kore UI will appear (as well as any other UIs for plug-ins).
Sure, you want to control as much as possible from the hardware controller, but it’s still good to know you can bring up the graphical interface when you need to. And when you’re working on a track, this will mean you can spend less time mucking about with windows to keep everything visible.
Keep the interface out of the way: Once you do have hardware assignments working, either via Kore’s own controller or (as of Kore 2.0.4) your own MIDI controller, hide those knobs away. Click the icon of the knob on the toolbar, and you’ll hide that segment of the interface, which is especially handy when running Kore as a plug-in.
Make use of knobs for live performance: Here’s where I get excited: it’s really easy to create fun, performable setups with Reaktor, Kore modules, and other NI instruments and effects. You can map these to control pages for easy live use. I find this is much quicker than hunting through those parameters pages, and (while this is the subject of a separate tutorial) you can navigate through different Kore instances right from the controller hardware. And if you still want to use that Device Rack drum machine you built or a rack you assembled using Live’s synths, well, why choose? You can control both “virtual” devices as though they were two pieces of hardware, assuming you’ve got a MIDI controller (or Kore controller in the case of Kore) for each virtual device.
Don’t forget to hit play: Okay, maybe I’m alone, but ever had beat-synced devices not work, only to discover you forgot to hit the play button on the transport?
Yeah, I’m absent-minded like that.
Brush Up Your Kore
If you want some help creating different control pages, be sure to read my story on building those pages, which also explains how Kore handles controllers.
Note that, now, that is helpful not only for the Kore controller but a MIDI controller of your choice. (It can even be useful when using the mouse.)
And if you’re generally wondering why I’m so excited about combining Kore and Reaktor, read this
How’s it Working for You?
I know from reader feedback that quite a lot of you are using Ableton Live, in conjunction with Kore, Reaktor, and others. So this is an issue we can cover more over time. What’s working for you? What else do you want to know? Any problems? Is this a working method that interests you?
I’ll also revisit how you can work with Kore exclusively, for a change of pace. (And you can always work the opposite direction, prepping clips in Live and then using something like Battery to perform them in Kore standalone.)