Korg Kronos: Mastering KARMA level 1 - Tutorial 2

Note: this independently contributed article has not yet been reviewed for accuracy by Karma-Lab.

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Tutorial 2 - Mastering playback and real-time control of a multi-module performance in Combi Mode

Note: This tutorial assumes that you have worked through the preceding Tutorial 1. Many concepts and terms explained in that tutorial will be needed to understand this one.

The previous tutorial explained the important aspects of playing a single-module KARMA performance (in other words, KARMA in programs). This tutorial focuses on the important aspects of playing a multi-module KARMA performance (in other words, KARMA in combis and songs). The details of each module are the same as for a single-module performance, so we won't rehash those details in this tutorial. Instead, we'll focus on how the four modules are assigned to the timbres in a combi (or tracks in a song) and how the control surface can be used to affect any one of the modules or all four of them at the same time.

Part 1 - Figuring out the GEs and RTC models, and how to solo GEs

  1. Load up combi I-D004 Always Watching You… but don't play any keys just yet. Enable and latch the KARMA combi.
  2. On the P0:Play page, go to the KARMA GE tab. This shows us the GEs assigned to each of the four KARMA modules in this KARMA performance.
  3. If you look at the GE category buttons next to the red A, B, C, and D in the middle of the page, you can see at a glance that module A plays a drum line, modules B and C play arpeggio lines with a downward movement, and module D plays a melodic riff line of some sort.
  4. You'll see that the text in each module displays the full descriptive name of each GE and more importantly, the RTC Model used by each GE, which you can use to look up the corresponding article on the wiki to help you understand what the switches and sliders for that module will do to the sound of that module.
  5. Finally, the Solo checkboxes on this tab enable you to solo the sound of a particular module, which can be very helpful in the busy mix of some combis.

Part 2 - Figuring out the trigger zones and why some modules don't seem to recognize chords

  1. Now go to the KARMA GE Setup / Key Zones tab. This looks familiar but instead of one row, there are now the four KARMA modules beneath the keyboard image. The blue lines above the keyboard image show the trigger zone for each module.
  2. Module C is the only one with a trigger zone on the right half of the keyboard, so let's check it out first. Play some single notes, and then some chords, above C4. Tip: release after each note/chord so you can hear module C by itself. The riff sounds different when you play a single note versus a 2-note interval versus a 3-note chord versus a 4-note chord, versus inversions of the same chord, etc. This is because the note series for the module's GE is being constructed differently in each case.
  3. Now that we've sussed out the behaviour of module C, let's turn it off so we can focus on the remaining modules. Go to the COMBINATION P0: Play Control Surface tab. Look at the first four buttons shown on the ‘Karma Switch’ row. See how they're labelled ModRunA, ModRunB, and so on? Touch button 3 (ModRunC), which represents "Switch 3" in the KARMA control surface, to turn off module C. (This is a common convention in pretty much all multi-module performances.) You can also do this on the KRONOS Keyboard Control Surface by turning off the first four lit buttons on the bottom row of switches.
  4. Go back to the P0:Play KARMA GE tab. Play a single C2 note. You hear drums and what sounds like a bass line happening now. Look at the keyboard image and you see red notes being played by modules A and D. But why isn't module B playing too? After all, C2 is inside the trigger zone for module B as well as for modules A and D? We'll answer this question in a moment.
  5. Turn off module A to silence the drums, so we can focus on what's going on with the bass line played by module D. (Remember how? Press the button representing switch 1 on the screen).
  6. Now that you're hearing only the bass line played by module D, play a single C3 note, then a C3, E3, G3 chord (C major), then a C3, Eb3, G3 chord (C minor). Note how the bass riff never changes at all? That's because this GE is set up to build a riff-oriented note series based only on the lowest note played.
  7. Now turn off module D now that we've figured out its behaviour, and lets see why module B isn't making any sound. This is a complex enough subject to merit a part all on its own to explain something called Smart Scan.
  8. Before we turn our attention to how Smart Scan works, go to page P7: KARMA GE Setup / Key Zones for a moment, and then to the GE Setup field. See the red Zone area? The Btm and Top fields here set the exact keyboard range for the trigger zone for each module.

Part 3 - The confusing and yet powerful "Smart Scan"

  1. Down in the trigger zone for module B, play some single notes, then some 2-note intervals, and finally some 3- and 4-note chords. Notice how module B only starts playing when you play 3 or more notes at the same time? And how it will won't retrigger to something new until you play another 3-note (or larger) chord? If you just play single notes or intervals, the module just keeps playing an arpeggio of the previous chord until you trigger a new arpeggio with a different chord.
  2. But wait! There's more! Stop KARMA for a moment and then turn it on again. Now this time play and hold a chord with in the right hand area, outside of the trigger zone for module B. While holding the RH chord, play a single note down in the trigger zone for module B. See how module B starts playing? What's going on here? In the previous step you had to play a chord in the trigger zone to get the module to start playing, but in this step it started when you played only a single note in the trigger zone!
  3. It gets even better! Play and hold a Cm chord in the RH zone. While holding the chord, play a single C2 note and let go. You'll hear a simple module B pattern along with the module C pattern.
  4. Now change the Cm chord in your RH to a C major. Hear how the tonality of the module B pattern changes accordingly? What's this? You didn't even touch anything down in the trigger zone for module B!
  5. Stop playing all keys and stop KARMA and turn it back on. This time, start with a Cm chord in the trigger zone for module B (try C2, Eb2, G2) and let go. Listen to module B's pattern for a moment, then play and release several different chords on the RH side of the keyboard. Hear how the chords you play on the RH side, which are out of module B's trigger zone, still change the tonality of the pattern that module B is playing? Spend some time experimenting with various combinations of chords and single notes in both hands and notice how both modules B and C "hold" every chord while you play single notes and intervals to riff on top of the chord tonality.
    • The key to this interesting and deep behaviour is that module B uses a Dynamic MIDI Destination parameter called Smart Scan. An appendix in the KRONOS Parameter Guide can explain more about Dynamic MIDI Sources and Destinations, but the point to learn here is that some KARMA performances (single- or multi-module) use a Smart Scan destination to tell KARMA when and how to trigger one or more modules.
    • And depending on the keyboard range assigned to the Smart Scan destination, you might be able to retrigger a Smart Scan-controlled module by playing chords outside of the module's trigger zone.
    • So if you ever wonder why a certain KARMA module isn't playing, just play a 3-note chord (or larger) in various places on the Keyboard at the same time you play at least one note in the module's trigger zone, and if the module starts playing, you know that it is being controlled by Smart Scan.
  6. Go to page P7 KARMA and then to the Dynamic MIDI tab. See how the Destination for Dynamic MIDI slot 1 is Smart Scan? And how to the right of that, the B checkbox is selected and the A, C, and D checkboxes are cleared? This means that only module B is triggered by Smart Scan.

What Smart Scan essentially does is to replace the normal chord recognition for a the modules assigned to use Smart Scan.

The normal chord recognition feature (called Chord Scan) will interpret even single notes or 2-note intervals as a chord. Smart Scan, by contrast, requires 3 or more notes (a chord) to be played relatively close to each other (typically within the span of a single hand) to trigger chord recognition. Therefore, KARMA GEs that require chord recognition to set up the note series for the GE (like the GE used for module B) won't start until 3 notes are played somewhere close together in the keyboard range for the Smart Scan AND at least one note is played somewhere in the trigger zone for the module.

This behavior enables you to use one hand to set the chord tonality played by the KARMA modules that are using Smart Scan, and the other hand can play single- and double-note lines without changing the chord tonality.

The exact span for Smart Scan chord recognition is 16 semitones or less. The keyboard range for the Smart Scan detection can be set differently than the keyboard range for the trigger zone of the KARMA modules that are using Smart Scan, which can produce some confusing results until you understand the interaction between the two ranges:

The keyboard range for Smart Scan is set by the Bottom and Top values. A value of 000 equals C-1, 012 equals C0, 024 equals C1, 060 equals C4, and so on. If the Smart Scan range is exactly the same as the trigger zone for the KARMA module, then all 3 notes played must be within the trigger zone of the KARMA module.

However, if the Smart Scan range is wider than the trigger zone of the KARMA module, then you might have only one note actually within the trigger zone of the KARMA module, but as long as any three notes in the Smart Scan range are played within 16 semitones from the highest to lowest in the three, then the module controlled by Smart Scan will start playing and will build it's note series only from the note played in the module's trigger zone. (But will use the chord from the Smart Scan range to define the chord tonality for the note series).

If the Smart Scan range is narrower than the trigger zone of the KARMA module, then KARMA will only start playing that module if you play three or more notes inside of the Smart Scan range.
Yes, this seems confusing at first, but if you actually play with setting the top note of the Smart Scan range for the combi in this tutorial with only Module B enabled (or soloed), you'll get the hang of it pretty quick.

  1. The top note of the trigger zone for module B is G#2. The default Smart Scan range in this combi is set to the width of the entire keyboard (000-127), so you can play G#2, B#2 (C3), and D#3 while watching the KARMA GE tab, and you'll see KARMA recognize the chord as G#. module B starts playing because the G#2 is the top note of the trigger zone for the module.
  2. Now play G#2, B2, and D#3. KARMA recognizes the new chord as G#m, but the riff that module B is playing does not change to a minor tonality, or change in any way at all. This is because the note series for the GE is currently based on only one note, G#2, because that's the only note inside the trigger zone for module B.
  3. Now play the same two chords down one octave. Since all three notes are now inside the trigger zone for the module, you hear more complex riffs with two very different tonalities.
  4. Now stop KARMA and go to page P7:KARMA Dynamic MIDI and set the Top value for the Smart Scan slot to 44, which equates to G#2 on the Keyboard, the same top note as the trigger zone for module B.
  5. Enable KARMA again and play G#2, B2, D#3 again. See how module B won't start playing? This is because two of your notes (B2 and D#3) are outside the Smart Scan range.
  6. Stop KARMA and set the Smart Scan Top value back to 127

Part 4 - Drum Track linking, scene management, and control surface layers

  1. You've made a lot of changes to the control surface of this KARMA performance so let's reset everything back to its default state before we continue. To the left of the physical control surface, press and hold RESET CONTROLS and press KARMA.
  2. Go to page P7:KARMA and the Trigger tab.
  3. At the top of each module is a Link to DT checkbox. These enable you to link any of the KARMA modules to the Drum track as described in Tutorial 1.
  4. Go to the P0: Play Control Surface tab and make sure that the RT/KARMA button on the physical control surface is lit, so that you're looking at the KARMA control surface on the screen.
  5. The SCENE section looks the same and works the same as described in Tutorial 1, with one important difference. To the right of the SCENE section is a Module field, and the current value of that field is M. This means you're currently looking at the Master layer scenes.
  6. Touch the A button in the list. Notice how the position of the sliders changed, and the labels of some of the sliders and switches changed? This Module field controls which of the five control surface layers you are looking at.
    • There is one layer for each module in the performance. Each module has its own unique set of 8 scenes defined, its own RTC model, and as you recall from Tutorial 1, each scene is just a different "snapshot" of switch and slider settings.
    • You can also change the control surface layer by pressing the MODULE CONTROL button in the physical control surface of your keyboard.
    • The Master layer (designated by the M in the Module field) is a special layer that can simultaneously control any of the 32 GE parameters in any of the four modules at the same time. The Master layer also has its own set of 8 scenes, each of which independently chooses one of the 8 scenes for each KARMA module.

We're not going to cover the GE parameter assignment details here, because this is a subject for a Level 2 ("KARMA Tweaker") user. For now, it's sufficient to know that, for example, one slider or switch could be be connected to 3 parameters from module A, 5 parameters from module B, and one parameter from module D.

Let's examine how to tell what the Master layer is doing with KARMA scenes.

  1. Go to page P7: KARMA1 GE RTP Scenes tab
  2. At the top you find the Quantize Window for scenes, which works exactly the same way as described in Tutorial 1. If you want smooth transitions between KARMA scenes in a multi-module performance, you typically want to set this to a value of 1 Bar.
  3. Touch any of the grey bars in the M row. See how this changes the red bars in the A, B, C, and D rows too?
  4. Now touch any of the grey bars in the A row. See how only the A row changes? Try this in the B row too. What's happening here is that for any selected scene number in the M row (the Master layer), you can specify any combination of scenes from modules A through D. If you make changes here and then save the combi, you now have new, custom scene assignments for the Master layer.
    • The DT Run checkboxes decide whether each Master layer scene will temporarily mute the Drum Track if it's running. If the checkbox is cleared for a particular Master layer scene, the Drum Track is muted while you're on that scene.
    • The Link Scenes checkboxes, when cleared, decouple a particular KARMA module from the Master layer scene changes.
    • The Enable RTC checkboxes, when cleared, decouple a particular KARMA module's GE parameters from the switch and slider assignments in the Master layer. Remember how just a while ago we said that one slider in the Master layer could affect a bunch of different GE parameters from each KARMA module? Clearing this checkbox for a module stops that behaviour for just that module.

Part 5 - Figuring out which timbres (tracks) are used by KARMA

  1. Go to page P0:Play ProgSelect / Mixer tab and then look at the Bank/Program 1-16 Timbres. You can tell that only timbres 1-10 are actually used by this combi, because timbres 11-16 are all set to program A-000 KRONOS German Grand, which is the default program assigned to timbres in a new, initialized combi. But there's nothing here that tells you which of these 10 timbres are being used by KARMA.
  2. Go to page P7:KARMA in the GE Setup / Key Zones tab and look at the module setup in the MIDI I/O section that shows you how each KARMA module is hooked up to the timbres in the combi.
    • The In column tells you that all four modules are watching the MIDI notes on the keyboard's defined Global Channel for their triggering and chord recognition information.
    • The Out column shows that the MIDI output generated from module A is being sent to channel 2. The output from module B is being sent to channel 3. The output from module C is being sent to channel 4. And the output from module D is being sent to channel 5. Almost all Korg-produced combis use channels 2-5 for modules A-D like this.
    • The bars to the right are a convenient visual indicator of which timbres in the combi are assigned to each of these channels. Timbres 5 and 6 are both listening to channel 2, so module A (the drums) is playing both of those.
    • Likewise, module B is playing timbre 7, module C is playing timbre 8, and module D is playing timbre 9.
    • Sometimes a module will play two or more timbres to produce a fat, layered sound, but when a drum-oriented module is playing more than one timbre, it's generally because the sound designer wanted use different timbres for certain note groupings (by assigning each timbre to a narrow keyboard range) to make a very rich, well-mixed drum sound.
    • You can use a different drum program for each timbre, so you're not stuck with the flavor of a single drum kit.
    • You can use the same drum program for each timbre, but you can use the mixer section of the combi to specify different pan and volume settings for each timbre, thereby spreading out the drums in the mix. Or you could have different EQ settings for each timbre, etc.

Let's examine the drum timbres in more detail:

  1. Go back to page P0:Play, press any note to get module A playing, and then solo timbre 5 and then solo timbre 6. Notice how timbre 6 is being used only for the kick drum, and all other drum notes are coming from timbre 5? Also note that the two timbres are using different programs, so different drum kits are being used for each timbre.
  2. Go to page P3 MIDI Filter / Zones and then to the Key Keyboard Zones tab. Look at the Top Key and Bottom Key for timbres 5 and 6. See how they're set up to each use different keyboard ranges? The range for timbre 6 was chosen because only the kick drum notes from the GE's drum patterns are in this range. The range for timbre 7 was chosen because all other notes from the GE's drum patterns are in this range.
  3. Let's look at a different combi altogether to see a different way that drum timbres are used for the KARMA module that plays the drum groove. Go to I-A000 The Era of Kronos and look at page P7: KARMA GE Setup/Key Zones, on the MIDI I/O Setup tab for module A. This combi uses module A for a drum GE, so you can see that timbres 3-6 are used for the drums.
  4. Now go to page P0: Play ProgSelect/Mixer tab, and you'll see that two of those five timbres all use the same drum kit.
  5. You'll also see that the two drum timbres have different pan and volume settings.
  6. Go to page P3 MIDI Filter / Zones and then to the Key Keyboard Zones tab, and you'll see that each of the drum timbres for modules 3-6 have specific ranges of the total keyboard.
  7. Go back to page P0:Play and hit a note to start KARMA playing, then solo tracks 3-6 and listen closely to how nicely the drum sounds are spread across the stereo field and have some front-to-back depth. This isn't possible if you use only a single timbre for the drum program in a combi.

Part 6 - Switches and sliders in the Master RTC layer versus the module RTC layers

  1. Make sure you're back at combi I-D004 Always Watching You…, on the Control Surface tab, and you've pressed the KARMA button to the left of the physical control surface so that the screen shows the KARMA control surface.
  2. Make sure that KARMA is active and latched. Play a chord on the LH side and also on the RH side to get all four modules going.
  3. As you learned in Part 4 of this tutorial, you're currently looking at the Master RTC layer, as denoted by the M in the Module field.
  4. In the Module Control field, touch A. You're now looking at the RTC layer for module A. Everything that you learned in Tutorial 1 about understanding the switches and sliders for a module applies here. Same for the RTC layers for modules B, C, and D.
  5. What's new and different in a multi-module KARMA performance are the switches and sliders in the Master RTC layer, so let's go back there by pressing M.
  6. Switches 1-4 and Sliders 1-4 are generally the same in every Korg-produced combi and every Karma-Lab-produced combi, so once you figure out what these do in one combi, you'll know what they do to pretty much every combi.
  7. Experiment with switches 1-4. As their labels imply, these simply turn each KARMA module on and off. Return them to their original settings (remember, you can do this easily from the PLAY: KARMA GE tab by looking at the text beneath each switch or slider).
  8. Experiment with slider 1 then return it to its original position. As the label implies, this creates a swing feel for all four modules.
  9. Experiment with slider 2 then return it to its original position. As the label implies, this slider makes the patterns from at least some of the modules more complex (at a value of 127) or less complex (at a value of 000). This slider usually doesn't affect a drum module.
  10. Experiment with slider 3 then return it to its original position. Nothing happens at all. This is unfortunate, because it turns out that this slider should be doing something to the sound. The sound designer of this combi either overlooked a couple of GE parameter settings that would make this slider have a useful effect (and never caught the mistake), or for some reason I cannot fathom, they consciously decided to disable this particular slider in the Master RTC layer.

Regardless, we're going to venture into Level 2 ("KARMA Tweaker") territory for a moment and fix this combi so that slider 3 in the master layer does something noticeable and useful. I'm not going to explain what we're doing—that's a subject for the Level 2 section of the Beginner's guide to KARMA.

  1. Go to page P7 KARMA GE RTP Scenes and select the Module B tab on the left hands side of the screen.
  2. On the GE RTP Module B tab, press the 17-32 button near the top of the screen.
  3. In the row, 24: Duration: Duration Value [2], touch the box in the ASSIGN column and turn the value control dial a few clicks until this box displays SL3.
  4. Now go to to the GE RTP Module C tab and in the row, 24: Duration: Duration Value [2], do the same thing so that the ASSIGN box for this row displays SL3.
  5. Now that you've completely hooked up modules B and C to slider 3 in the Master layer, let's hear what this slider usually does to most combis. Play chords in both hands to get all four KARMA modules running. Experiment with slider 3 now, and you'll hear that it affects the note duration of modules B and C. In general, this slider typically affects the duration of everything except drum modules (no point in increasing the duration of drum notes), but depending on the effect that the sound designer is trying to achieve, it might be more musical and interesting to affect the duration of only one particular module or two.

Now experiment with slider 4. Again you hear no effect, and again, I think this was oversight on the sound designer's part because I cannot think of any reason to effectively disable this slider in this combi, since the arpeggio sounds from modules B and C are perfect for this. So we're going to fix this like we did for slider 3.

  1. Go to page P7 KARMA GE RTP Scenes.
  2. On the GE RTP Module B tab, press the 17-32 button near the top of the screen.
  3. In the row, 25: Velocity: Scale [2], touch the box in the ASSIGN column and turn the value control dial a few clicks until this box displays SL4.
  4. Now go to to the GE RTP Module C tab and in the row, 25: Velocity: Scale [2], do the same thing so that the ASSIGN box for this row displays SL4.
  5. Now that we've "fixed" slider 4 in the Master layer by hooking it up fully to modules B and C, let's hear how this slider usually affects most combis. Experiment with the slider and you'll hear not only changes in the basic sound based on different velocities being applied to each note in the patterns put out by modules B and C, but you'll also hear some notes dropping out of the pattern in some cases, or the pattern feeling "reversed" in other cases. Note that the actual effects of this slider might sound very different from combi to combi depending on which types of velocity parameters from each module's GE are hooked up to the slider, but in general you'll at least hear the effect on the timbres of playing the notes with different velocities as you move the slider.
  6. Switches and sliders 5-8 are a different story. These can be used for pretty much anything the sound designer can dream up, so the point here is that they'll be very different from combi to combi, unlike switches and sliders 1-4, which are almost always the same in each combi.
  7. However, switch 5 and slider 5 are somewhat commonly done the same way in a lot of combis, so let's take a closer look because they're very useful.
  8. Switch 5 turns on something called an alternate drum map which enables some realtime transposition of drum notes played by the drum GE's three patterns to different notes. This transposition is controlled by slider 5. Since switch 5 is already on by default in this combi, experiment with slider 5 to see how this drum map transposition sounds.

The remaining switches and sliders aren't explained in this tutorial. The general rule of thumb is to just experiment with them and see what they do, and remember that sometimes, a given slider might require a related switch to be on for the slider to have any effect. If you ever want to really understand what one of these sliders and switches 5-8 in the Master layer are doing, and why, you need to get to Level 2 ("KARMA Tweaker") proficiency with KARMA.

Part 7 - Swapping out the GEs used in the four KARMA modules

There isn't much detail to this part because it's so similar to swapping out the GE in the single module performance as covered in Part 5 of Tutorial 1 above. The main points to make here for multi-module performances are:

* Since you can totally change the "feel" of four different modules in a combi, you can create an entirely different sound, much more so than just changing one module in a program.
* When you swap out any GE in a combi, you will essentially "break" the Master control layer's switch and slider assignments. There is no way to automatically import some other Master layer, because each Master layer is hand-built for every combi based on the specifics of the four GEs used in the combi. Therefore, you really need to become proficient at Level 2 ("KARMA Tweaker") KARMA usage to understand how to rebuild the Master layer effectively when you change any GEs in a combi.

Note: KARMA will still work fine when you swap out the GEs in a combi, and the real-time controls for each module will still work fine. It's only the switches and sliders in the Master layer that must be manually tweaked to have useful labels and produce useful, understandable results over all four modules at once.

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