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Taming Native Instruments Kontakt Tone Machine (Part 1)
Written by David Das - 2006, Cengage Learning. Reprinted with Permission.
This article is an excerpt from the following book: Kontakt 2 Power.

Tone Machine is what's known as a granular synthesizer. Granular comes from the word "grain," and what this means as far as we are concerned is that the samples are going to be analyzed by Kontakt 2's processing engine and reinterpreted in grains instead of samples. In laymen's terms, a grain is a tiny segment of a sample. It resembles the full sample because it inherits some of its characteristics. So what you are going to get as an end result is not a perfect reproduction of the original sample, but something resembling the original.

Why would you want to do this? You'll see shortly. Granular synthesis, such as the type used by the Tone and Time Machines, can have some very interesting and musically useful applications.

By the way, don't worry: When you switch Kontakt 2 into one of the granular modes, your samples themselves are left unchanged. You won't lose any information or any original files by using any of the special modes, and you can always go back to the original sample. Kontakt 2 will need to create small analysis files from time to time for use in the Tone and Time Machines; these files will be named identically to your raw samples, except they'll have the extension .nov. The NOV files are very small, usually just a few kilobytes in size. If you accidentally delete them, Kontakt 2 will re-create them when an instrument that needs them is reloaded. From a user's perspective, they can be ignored.

The goal of Tone Machine mode is to impress a sense of pitch upon sample material. Even if the sample material doesn't have a distinct sense of pitch (as is the case with many drum loops, for example), Tone Machine will analyze the source material and give it tonal characteristics. The usual end result of Tone Machine is a sound that somewhat resembles a vocoder. The best way to learn about it is to actually try using it, as we'll do here.

Navigate to your DVD and find the file Speech Sample.wav in the Tutorials folder. Open Kontakt 2, load a new blank instrument, and open the Mapping Editor. Drag the WAV file into the Mapping Editor, set it so that it covers the entire keyboard (i.e., its key range is C-2 to G8), and set its root key to C3.

Before you go any further, play a few keys on your keyboard so you can hear the raw sample. If you play middle C (C3), you'll hear the real sample of a woman talking. If you hit keys above and below C3, you'll hear the sample scaled up or down. You'll hear that you can get some very bizarre effects as you get further from C3, including a deep, slow, somewhat drunk male voice at the lower end, and a quick cartoon high-pitched voice at the high end.

Let's make a very basic observation: Notice how, at the low end, the pitch and speed are lower and slower, respectively. At the high end, the pitch and speed are higher and faster. This is the same way a tape machine might work: Play the tape fast, and the whole thing pitches up and goes fast. Or, if you're old school, remember what it's like to play a 45rpm single at 33rpm or 78rpm. If you want your samples to behave this way, you can use Sampler or DFD modes to do that.

But the Tone and Time Machines are special modes that allow you to independently control pitch and speed. You'll see this in action shortly. As you're about to see, Tone Machine is going to let you manipulate the pitch of the sample, while leaving the speed constant.

Before you start, notice that the sample doesn't loop. If you hold it down past its end, it just stops. For this example, you might like to make it loop in the Loop Editor so you can play with it a bit more without having to constantly trigger it. As a shortcut, you can double-click on the zone in the Mapping Editor, which will automatically bring up the sample in the Loop Editor. In the Loop Editor, change the Loop mode to Until End.

Now, go to the Source module and change the mode from DFD to Tone Machine. As you do this, you may see a dialog box appear briefly; this dialog box lets you know that Kontakt 2 needs to analyze the samples before you can work in Tone Machine mode. Because you only have one very short sample, it should analyze very quickly.

Once inside Tone Machine, go to your MIDI controller and hold down only middle C (C3). You'll hear that the sample is now being played back devoid of its original pitch content. The same words are being spoken, but in a monotone, pitched at middle C. Now try and play a very low or a very high note. Notice how the pitch is changing according to the note you play, but the speed of the words spoken is staying exactly the same. This is one of the miracles of Kontakt 2's granular synthesis algorithms: Pitch and speed can be manipulated separately.

The effect you're getting is somewhat like a vocoder, like a robot voice. You can actually use this to some musical effect. Try playing chords, and you'll hear an instant pseudo-background vocal part being built!

But the Sample Keeps Starting Over Every Time I Hit a Key! For this particular application, you might find a cacophony of voices speaking or singing at you, depending on when you hit the keys. If you hit one key then wait a second to hit a second key, the second key will trigger the sample from the start. Do this a few times, and the original text will be almost unrecognizable. If you don't want the sample to retrigger every time you hit a key, just enable Legato mode (in the Source module, toward the lower-right corner). Once Legato is enabled, hitting a second key will trigger an additional pitch, but the location in the sample will match the location of the first key. For more information, see Kontakt 2 Power.

This article is continued in Taming Native Instruments Kontakt Tone Machine (Part 2).

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