So What The Heck Does it Do?
When I first saw the Korg Kaossilator, I thought, “damn that looks like fun!” followed by bafflement of what the device actually does. It’s just a gadget to make sounds, right?
The Kaossilator can be described as an electric musical instrument, capable of producing a large variety of sounds simply by touching its spacious touchpad. As you move your finger (or stylus) across its touch sensitive surface, a range of notes can be played similar to how one would hit keys on a piano.
But the Kaossilator is a lot more powerful than just a toy that makes crazy noise — this gadget can make music.
The Kaossilator records what you play and loops it. It then allows you to record over the loop with other instruments, eventually building complex musical phrases that sound wickedly awesome. This device lets you build music on the fly, with the least amount of resistance and the most amount of creative fun.
Although the device is not overly complicated – even a child can use one – in the hands of a skilled musician, complex musical arrangements can be created and performed in realtime.
Since its release, the Kaossilator has become a legendary device among electronic musicians. It is now sold at almost half its original price (click here to see retailers) and remains a very popular tool among serious musicians and others who just want to join in on the music making fun.
Tons of Built-in Sounds
A feature that I like about the Kaossilator is that Korg didn’t skimp on its sound library.
With 100 unique sounds onboard — including many famous Korg samples that fans of the brand are sure to recognize — there are plenty of instruments to choose from. Whatever style of music you’re interested in composing, the Kaossilator can probably make it happen.
Turing the main knob on the Kaossilator will flick through its sound bank. Starting with drums, there are 10 drum patterns. But these patterns aren’t set in stone: By moving your finger around the touchpad, the drumbeat can be modified in realtime, often adding or subtracting complexity to the rhythm. This lets you create customized drumbeats to perfectly accompany your melodies and riffs. Or perhaps you just want create drum patterns on their own – the Kaossilator is perfect for laying drum patterns and creating the ultimate beatbox.
Adding to the drums drums, you can add all sorts of instruments from the Koassilator’s generous sound library: plucky bass lines, fat synthesizers and acoustic instruments like guitars, sitars and trumpets — it’s all in there – 100 sounds at the turn of a dial.
What Can I Do With The 50 Arpeggiators?
An arpeggiator takes a single note and adds complexity to it. Often, it does this by rapidly repeating a note in a recognizable pattern. Of course, you can do this manually, but it’s kind of tricky.
The Kaossilator comes with 50 gated arpeggiators, which allows you to instantly deepen the complexity of your music in a way that’s easy and guaranteed to keep in-beat with the rest of your musical arrangement.
The arpeggiator is one of my favorite features; it makes even a mediocre musician, such as myself, sound like I know what I’m doing. Thanks Korg!
Recording Loops and Layering Tracks
The Kaossilator is far more than just an instrument; it has the ability to record and layer patterns of sounds and play them back as a musical performance.
Although the device is advertised as only being able to record two-bars of music – suitable for a simple jingle – the Kaossilator can actually record twice that amount, giving you a full 16-beats to work with. (Much of the popular music you hear today relies on 16-beat phrases.)
Using the Touchpad To Playback Notes
One of the most inviting features of the Kaossilator – and certainly the feature that drew me to the device the most – is its large touchpad. Touching its surface will playback notes or groovy patterns. But how does one actually “play it?”
For most instruments, placing your finger on the touchpad’s horizontal axis will determine its tone. Running from left-to-right, the device will typically playback two-octave’s worth of notes for a chosen instrument.
With the touchpad’s vertical axis, things here get a little more ambiguous. By moving your finger up and down the touchpad, an instrument’s sound will become modified in some interesting manner. This feature changes with each instrument, and is a large part of the Kaossilator’s experimental appeal.
Notes On A Scale
Playing notes by running your finger left and right on the touchpad is convenient and easy, but if you’ve ever heard a novice hit notes on a piano, you’ll know that good sounding music doesn’t just manifest from banging away at random keys. This is why the Kaossilator pre-arranges notes into musical scales.
Notes on a scale always sound good together, even when played out of order, and this is how the Kaossilator always produces great sounding music, even when you are just randomly experimenting. But don’t let this fool you into thinking the device somehow takes over the music making process for you; it simply aids your composing by removing notes that you would unlikely play.
For instance, if you listen to any kind of popular music today, you’ll notice that most melodies consist of notes belonging to a particular scale. The Kaossilator keeps you within certain guidelines, but it’s still up to you to decide what scale, and ultimately what notes, you actually want to play.
Composing At Home Or On the Go
With its diminutive size, the Kaossilator was obviously designed for mobility. Indeed, the device can be powered by 4 AA batteries (included) and has a standard headphone jack. If you like the idea of composing music while you ride the bus, or have a moment to yourself during a coffee break, the Kaossilator is the perfect tool for sporadic music creation on the go.
At home, the device can be used with a plug-in wall adapter and be hooked up via dual RCA outputs to standard audio equipment. In my experience, the device really needs to be heard over a pair of decent sized speakers. Some of its sounds are incredibly fat! — but what would you expect coming from the house of Korg?
There really aren’t many things that I can find wrong with the Kaossilator; it’s pretty obvious that Korg put a lot of thought into the device and how it would be used by musicians.
But one thing a few people have asked me about is whether the device can accept inputted sounds – it simply can’t. The Kaossilator is not a sampler, it is an all-in-one music composition device, and its 100 sound patterns cannot be expanded upon. For most people this is fine, but some will always want more. For these people, the Kaossilator’s big brother – the Kaossilator Pro – may be a better fit.
Another concern is that the Kaossilator’s touchpad style of input has been emulated by various music creation apps available for smartphones and tablets. I’ve tried most of these apps, and from what I’ve seen, nothing comes close to what the Kaossilator actually offers.
First of all, no app is going to replicate the physical controls on the Kaossilator. There’s a reason why not everything is handled by touch on the device; musicians still want tactile feedback for tasks that require precision and timing.
Secondly, the physical form of the Kaossilator and the layout of its controls have been very thoughtfully designed. No smartphone or tablet is specifically made as a music composition device. This is why Korg continues to release hardware products that sell very well among high-tech musicians, the kinds of people that probably already own smartphones and tablets.
Finally, the Kaossilator has a proprietary sound engine and its internal hardware is designed for producing super thick synth leads and gut-punching bass beats. I implore you to hear the Kaossilator over a pair of decent sized speakers — you’ll be blown away by its sound!
Music gadgets have always drawn my interest, but I often find myself let down by such devices when I actually get my hands on them. This is usually because device manufacturers limit or remove certain features to keep costs down or to make their devices more portable.
In the case of the Kaossilator, I think Korg has found an ideal balanced between features, performance and functionality. It just seems like it was made for musicians by musicians.
When you consider the Kaossilator’s cost, which is now priced at an impulse-worthy $120, I think it offers amazing value for a device with its capabilities. I can’t help but think that Korg has had to reduce its price to remain competitive in the market. But if you understand what this device actually does, you’ll ask, “what competition?”
Although each of these products are excellent in their own way, the Kaossilator stands on its own when it comes to portable music composition. Here, you’re getting a Korg machine that produces 100 sounds and can layer them into 16-beat arrangements – what musician wouldn’t want this?
Where To Buy
The Kaossilator can be found from a number of retailers. I recommend checking out Amazon for available stock, more reviews and the cheapest prices online.