Generating Good KARMA

Korg Karma owners are well aware of the risks of possessing a keyboard that mates the Korg Triton's sound engine with an advanced algorithmic music-generation

Korg Karma owners are well aware of the risks of possessing a keyboard that mates the Korg Triton's sound engine with an advanced algorithmic music-generation system. Press a Chord Trigger button one last time on your way to bed, and you could end up in an unexpected all-night jam session inspired by cascades of interactively generated notes and grooves.

The Karma's onboard Variable Performance Modeler will modulate, arpeggiate, interpolate, improvise, randomize, repeat, echo, transpose, strum, pick, slice, dice, and nearly make you coffee from the notes you play. Getting a handle on all of that power and complexity, though, can be daunting.

Because the Karma has the same sound engine and sequencer as the Korg Triton, you can apply most of the tips and tricks discussed in EM's “Master Class: Taming the Triton” (June 2001; text available online at So rather than discuss sequencer basics and program editing, I'll concentrate on using (and perhaps abusing) the Kay Algorithmic Real-time Music Architecture (KARMA) function (see Fig. 1).


Manual Advance is a powerful KARMA feature that wasn't used much in the factory voicing, though it received prominent exposure in some online demos and marketing materials. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, try Program E004 Spanish Gtr C6->, Scene 1. Play a chord with one hand near middle C (an Input Chord) and advance the guitar picking pattern by striking Trigger Notes in the top or bottom octave with the other hand. You can control the rhythm, Velocity, and number of simultaneous notes (strums) that are generated by the way you play the Trigger Notes. However, the chord you play and the internal processing of the algorithms will determine the actual pitches you hear. You can use your note-triggering technique in Combination mode to control multiple KARMA Modules at the same time, as demonstrated by Factory Combis B007 and A039.

Manual Advance is an additive feature that's fun to play, but except in those three examples, it remains relatively hidden. Nonetheless, you can apply Manual Advance to nearly any Generated Effect (GE) in the Karma; it just requires several steps to set it up correctly.

Try setting up Manual Advance with another guitar program, B069 Strato-Chime. When you first select the program and press one of the Chord Trigger buttons, you hear a clean guitar with a picking pattern. To turn Strato-Chime into a Manual Advance — controlled program, it is necessary that you provide a zone (or zones) on the keyboard for the Trigger Notes. Assign the keyboard's bottom and top octaves to serve as Trigger Notes so that you can control the Manual Advance comfortably with either hand.

Go to Edit Page 6.1-2a [KARM] KeyZ/T and set Key Zone Bottom to C3 and Key Zone Top to B5 (see Fig. 2, top). If you use the cursor buttons to highlight the field, hold down the Enter key, and play the note on the keyboard, you can quickly assign the note to the field. That technique also works in a lot of other places on the various edit screens — anywhere you want to enter a note number or Velocity value. With KARMA turned on, play some notes in the top and bottom octaves and notice that nothing happens. Play a chord in the middle, though, and the picking pattern begins.

Disconnect the internal clock and set it to respond to Trigger Notes. On Page 6.2-2b [KMdl] Parm2, set Clock Advance mode to Dynamic MIDI (Dyn; see Fig. 2, middle). That disconnects the internal clock; you can check it by playing a chord in the center area, and the picking pattern will no longer play.

Use Dynamic MIDI to route the top and bottom octaves to the Trigger Notes. On Page 6.4-3 [K RT] DynMIDI, use row 4, which is set to Off; the other rows are already being used. Set Dyn4 Source to Notes Outside of Zone (Notes Out Z), meaning all of the notes that are not in the zone you set up previously — the bottom and top octaves. Set Dyn4 Destination to Clock Advance (see Fig. 2, bottom), play a chord in the middle of the keyboard, and then try the notes in the top and bottom octaves.

The basic Manual Advance effect should now be working, but experiment with a few other adjustments. Notice that when you play the Input Chord, no notes sound until you play some Trigger Notes in the top or bottom octaves. (The situation is similar to a guitarist changing the position of the fretting hand to prepare a chord for the picking action of the strumming hand.) Wouldn't it be more useful, though, if the chord were strummed when you played it?

Go back to 6.2-2b, set Clock Advance Chord mode (ChdMode) to 1st, and the whole chord will be strummed when you first play it. (Choosing 1st indicates that you want the first event of the Cluster Pattern to play, and in this case, a full chord is the first event. Other GEs might play only the first note, which is why other options are available for playing full chords.)

Play some Trigger Notes at different Velocities, hard and soft. You will hear no difference in the output volume of the notes. That's because Clock Advance Velocity Sensitivity Bottom (VelSensBtm) is set to 127. By varying that parameter, you can set the Velocity response to whatever value you like. Setting it to 001 results in maximum Velocity Sensitivity (1 to 127), and setting it to 064 results in half Velocity Sensitivity (64 to 127).

After that step, experiment with the KARMA Real-Time Controls (K.RTC). Twisting knob 5 all the way to the right greatly expands the picking pattern's octave range. Knob 7 controls the tightness of the initial strum you hear when you play the Input Chords, and switch 1 adds an interesting Melodic Repeat effect. Knob 3 can take the pattern from long sustained notes to short plucky muted notes, and knob 6 makes it possible to occasionally hear full strums with each single Trigger Note.

For further experimentation, set Clock Advance mode to Auto + Dyn1, which provides automatic advancement at the same time as Trigger Note advancement. Auto + Dyn2 lets you trigger automatic advancement with the Input Chord; the first Trigger Note stops it, and you continue advancing manually.


You can also use Manual Advance to do some interesting things with filter and effects control. Program E057 Power Saw uses GE 0919 Dr. Chopper 3/E57, which is a Generated-Gated GE type, meaning that rather than generating repeated notes, it generates Control Change (CC) values to “chop up” a sustained sound. When you turn KARMA on and press one of the Chord Trigger buttons, you'll hear a slice-and-dice gated effect on a sustained sawtooth pad. Notice the sample-and-hold-style filter modulation that's also generated by the GE — specifically, by CC-B, which is assigned to CC 16 (ribbon), which in turn is assigned internally in the Program to control filter cutoff frequency.

To control the filter stepping with Trigger Notes, apply the same steps as in the previous example. Set the KARMA Module's Key Zone to provide a trigger area, but this time use only the bottom octave by setting the Key Zone Bottom to C3 and leaving the top unchanged. Set Clock Advance mode to Dyn and Chord mode to 1st, and then configure Dynamic MIDI to route Notes Outside of Zone to Clock Advance. Leave the VelSensBtm at 127 so that you can concentrate on just the filter stepping.

Now you can play a chord with your right hand and control the filter stepping and chopping by playing the Trigger Notes with your left hand. Use KARMA knob 3 to dial in a length for each slice, and use knob 8 to change the sequence of steps that's applied to the filter (it's actually changing the CC 16 Pattern).

At this point, the GE is still chopping the sound each time you trigger it. To make it a sustaining pad and control only the filter stepping, go to Page 6.3-4 [K GE] GE P..16 and set GE Parameter 16 (Gate CC Number) to the value 12 instead of 11 (see Fig. 3, top). Controller 11 (Expression) has been doing the chopping, but because CC 12 is not attached to anything in the Program, changing the parameter value effectively disables it.

The pad will now sustain when you advance the filter, which also uncovers a cool Pitch-Bend effect that wasn't noticeable before. I like it, but if you want to get rid of it, go to Page 6.1-4 [KARM] TxFltr, where you can filter out various data that KARMA is generating. If you uncheck GE Bend, you have a straight pad with manually advanced filter stepping (see Fig. 3, bottom).


Program E113 Fusion Guitar produces convincing lead-guitar hammer-on bending techniques with the KARMA function. The Program uses GE 0250 RT Bender/E113, a real-time GE type, which means that the actual notes played on the keyboard are the starting point for various musical effects — in this case, an automatic Pitch-Bend effect in Scene 1 and a repeated-note effect in Scene 2. Because that Program is the only one in the factory voicing that uses GE 0250, you might think that's all there is to it. However, the GE was written to be a general-purpose automatic bender that's useful for a number of effects that aren't immediately obvious.

To use GE 0250 to create realistic ethnic bending effects, first select Program B095 Koto and copy the KARMA Function from E113. Go to Page 6.1-1 [KARM] Setup, press Utility, and select Copy KARMA Module. In the dialog that pops up, set the Program to E113; to save time, use the cursor buttons to get to the selection field and use the E bank key on the far right of the keyboard, followed by 1-1-3 and Enter on the ten-key pad. Then, use the cursor buttons to checkmark the KARMA RT&Panel Setting checkbox to ensure that you copy all related settings such as Dynamic MIDI and the actual configuration of the real-time knobs and switches (see Fig. 4). Press OK.

Now adjust the GE to produce something other than a hammer-on, which doesn't really sound appropriate on the Koto. Press Exit F5 to jump to Page 1.4 [K.RTC], where you can see what the KARMA Controls are assigned to. Knob 2 is Bend Shape; turn it all the way to the left to select a Ramp shape for the bend rather than a Hammer. Now when you play the keyboard, instead of bending from the current pitch to the previous pitch and back again, it simply bends from the current pitch to the previous pitch and stays there. When you play a simple pentatonic scale, the bend will definitely sound more ethnic.

With the current settings, the GE bends from the note you play to the previous note. Switch 1 lets you change the Bend Direction; turn it off to bend from the previous note to the one that you're playing, which sounds a little more natural. The effect is almost like portamento, but more controllable. Use knob 1 to shorten or lengthen the Bend Length; about nine o'clock works well. You can use knob 5 (Bend Start%) to change the point at which the bend starts. If it's turned far left, the bend starts immediately; turning the knob to the right delays the bend so that you hear more of the original pitch before the bend starts. You can use knob 3, Bend Alternation, so that each note you play alternates between bending to or from the previous pitch.

This autobending technique works well on A123 Sitar, B083 Indian Stars, B099 Santur, and other programs. For sounds that have a long release (such as B083 Indian Stars), it will sound more realistic if you shorten the release using real-time knob 4A above the joystick, so that the release doesn't overlap the bending. That type of bending effect sounds most realistic when the intervals between the notes are a fifth or less.


Another powerful feature of KARMA that received relatively little use in the factory programming is the ability to “chain” KARMA Modules so that one module triggers the start of another. You can set up cyclic triggering of different riffs on different timbres, drum grooves that alternate, instrumental phrases that trade off — you get the picture. Some Combis that employ this chaining feature in the factory presets include A022 4 Arp Cycle-Tsig, A107 4 Gate Cycle SW1, B012 4 Arp Cycle-Note, and E007 TheHarpist LH/RH.

In the first three examples, a single GE is used four times on four timbres, resulting in a cyclic tone-color change. In the case of TheHarpist, the same riff in a separate inversion allows some overlapping of the previous one, simulating overlapping hands moving up and down the harp.

You can use any of these four Combis as a study tool to determine ways to set up and use the ability to chain KARMA modules, a technique that I call trigger by percentage. It can be tricky to set up correctly, because it involves parameter changes on several screens, including the triggering options. You want to trigger only the first GE from the keyboard; the others are then triggered by various percentages of completion of the other GEs. To set up four GEs that trigger each other in succession and loop continuously, you need to make the settings listed in the table, “Trigger by Percentage.”

Using that setup, the keyboard triggers Module A's notes and envelopes. In Modules B, C, and D, the note and envelope triggers are set to Dyn and nothing is assigned in Dynamic MIDI, essentially disconnecting the keyboard. Module B's Trigger by Module (Trig By Mod) is set to A, with a Module percentage of 50. When Module A has completed half of its riff or pattern (as determined by the GE's time signature and Phase Pattern), it will trigger the start of Module B.

The Cutoff parameter determines whether the newly starting Module will cut off any other Modules that are playing at the time. If you want Modules to overlap, leave the Cutoff parameter turned off. In the preceding example, when Module B starts, you want it to shut off Module A so that the two Modules perform a handoff. Likewise, Module B triggers Module C and cuts off B, and Module C triggers Module D and cuts off C. To loop all four Modules repeatedly, Module A is triggered by Module D in addition to the keyboard and cuts off B, C, and D when it starts (the keyboard can trigger it at any time).

In the case of the Harp Combi, I didn't want it to loop continuously, so Trig by Mod for Module A is set to Off. Also, in the Harp Combi, only the first three GEs trigger each other. The fourth GE in Module D is a Melodic Repeat effect in the right hand, set to cut off Modules A, B, and C so that playing with the right hand silences what was started by the left.


You have a bit of the theory behind how Trigger by Percentage works, so now I'll show you how to create your own real-world application. I want you to set up two drum kits (played by two KARMA GEs) that alternate with each other, with the alternation time controlled in real time by one of the KARMA knobs.

Begin by copying a Drum Program and all of its associated effects into the Sequencer. Karma OS version 2.0 (which should be available soon) allows you to do the following in a single step, using a new Copy from Program utility, but for now do it the old-fashioned way. Go to Sequencer mode and start with a new Song. Press F2 Prog..8 under the LCD and then set the Program for Track 1 to A052 Psycho Kit.

You need to copy the Insert and Master Effects settings, so go to Page 7.2-1 [IFX] Setup. Use the Utility menu to select Copy Insert Effects, and in the resulting dialog, select Program A052, checkmark All, and press OK.

Check the setting for the Program's Bus Select so that you can manually set it the same way. Switch to Program mode and Program A052, and go to Page 7.1-1 Bus. You can see that Bus Select is set to IFX1, so go back to Seq mode 7.1-1 [BUS] BUS8 and set Bus Select for Track 1 to IFX1 (see Fig. 5). Most Drum Programs use Use Drum Kit Setting (DKit), and most other programs use IFX1, but it doesn't hurt to check, as the example illustrates — I almost missed it.

Next, go to Page 7.3-1 [MFX] Setup. Use Utility to select Copy Master Effects and then select Program A052 again, checkmark All, and press OK.

You need to copy in the KARMA settings, so go to Page 6.1-1 [KARM] Setup. Use the Utility menu to select Copy KARMA Module, and in the resulting dialog, select Program A052 Psycho Kit. Make sure that KARMA RT&Panel Setting is checked as in the earlier example. Press OK. Set the Tempo to 134 (the same as the original Program) using the Tempo knob or the Tempo field on any of the upper-level Sequencer Pages. Turn KARMA on and give it a test.

Now add a second drum program and KARMA GE. You don't want to copy all of the IFX and MFX settings again; that would overwrite the current settings. The second drum kit should use the same FX settings as the first one.

Return to 1.1-2 Prog. 8 and set the Program for track 2 to B068 Drum'n'Bass Kit. Move to 7.1-1 BUS. 8 and set Bus Select for track 2 to IFX1. Go to 6.1-1 [KARM] Setup and use the Utility menu to select Copy KARMA Module. This time set it to Program B068 Drum'n'Bass Kit and turn off KARMA RT&Panel Setting (you don't want to overwrite the settings you already copied for the first Module). Then, set the Destination to Module B and hit OK.

The result is that you now have a different drum GE on track 2, which you can play by setting Track Select 1.1-1a to track 2. If you turn KARMA on, you will hear a chopped, gated drumbeat. Then switch back to track 1 to hear the other drum groove. If you want to make them alternate with each other, both need to be triggered by the same track.

You can find KARMA's MIDI I/O Routing matrix on page 6.1-2 [KARM] MIDI I/O. There you can see that Module A's Input Channel is 1 and Module B's is 2 (see Fig. 6, top). Change Module B to channel 1 (see Fig. 6, bottom) and set your Track Select back to Track 01 (if it isn't already). When you play the keyboard, you trigger both drum GEs at the same time, on top of each other. It sounds pretty cool, but file away that idea for another time; the goal is to make the drum grooves alternate.

Head for Page 6.2-2 [K.Mdl] Parm2 and set Module A Trig by Mod to B. For now set Module percentage to 50. Because you want Module B to stop when Module A is triggered, checkmark B for Cutoff (see Fig. 7, top).

Using F7, switch the display to Module B and enter the same settings in a complementary fashion. Set Module B Trig by Mod to A and Module percentage to 50, and checkmark A for Cutoff. Unlike Module B, set note and envelope triggers to Dyn, because you don't want the keyboard to trigger Module A (see Fig. 7, bottom).

Now turn KARMA On and hit a Chord Trigger button. Groove A will play Psycho Kit for two bars, switch to Groove B playing Drum'n'Bass Kit for two bars, and then loop back to Psycho Kit — cool!


Now that you have the grooves looping and alternating, set up a KARMA knob to control the alternation time. Because you previously copied in the KARMA RT&Panel settings, though, all of the knobs are already assigned to do something; you need to free up knob 8.

Go to Page 6.3-1 [K GE] GE P..4 and make sure you see Module A (use F6/F7). Nothing is assigned to knob 8 there, so go to the next tab, GE P..8. GE Parameter 7 is assigned to knob 8, so set it to Off (see Fig. 8, top). Check the other two tabs to ensure that nothing else is set to knob 8. Use F7 to switch the display to Module B and perform the same steps; locate anything assigned to knob 8 and turn it off (GE Parameter 11).

You now have a free knob, so next go to Page 6.4-1 [K RT] RT P..4. In row 1, set Group (Grp) to Trigger (Trig) and set Parameter to Module percentage; Min will automatically set to 0, and Max will set to 100. Checkmark Modules A and B so that you can vary the loop time for both at the same time. Value will automatically set itself to 50, the setting that you entered for Module percentage a few steps earlier (see Fig. 8, bottom). It's important that you understand that setting, because it represents the center of the knob. Whatever you enter will be the setting at the center position, and the rest of the range between Min and Max will be scaled accordingly. You can set up nonlinear scaling if you desire, but for now leave it at 50 to produce an even, linear scaling.

The last step is to set Assign (Asgn) to knob 8. Put knob 8 in the center position, and as before, the groove should trade off every two bars. Twist it all the way to the right, and the two grooves will alternate every four bars. Twist it all the way to the left, and they'll alternate in a machine-gun fashion every 16th note, with all sorts of weird time signatures between those settings.

If the knob is slightly off center in its calibration (as mine was), you might need to adjust the value; a setting of 56 works fine. Also, try setting Min to 0, Max to 50, and Value to 12. Now center is a two-beat alternation and right is an eight-beat (two-bar) alternation, providing an example of a nonlinear scaling of the knob.


For a handy and fun effect, assign the joystick to retrigger the drum groove. Go to Page 6.4-3 [K RT] DynMIDI and set Dyn1 Source to JS+Y #01. The destination should be Trigger Notes and Envelopes (Trig Nt&Env). Checkmark Module A and set Action (Act) to Momentary (M; see Fig. 9).

Now you can push the joystick forward as the drumbeat plays for stuttering, samplelike retriggerings of the whole groove, but playing on the keyboard does not retrigger the groove. Such a setup is especially useful if the keyboard is controlling another sound, such as other KARMA melodic GEs or a pad. Combi A000 = Voice Of KARMA = is a perfect example (though it uses the joystick in the downward direction, accomplished by setting Dyn Source to JS-Y #02).

I've only scratched the surface in this article, but hopefully you've grown more comfortable with configuring the KARMA function, copying modules and effects, and exploring some of the Korg Karma's more esoteric features. Just be careful with those Chord Trigger buttons around bedtime.

Stephen Kayis the inventor of KARMA (Kay Algorithmic Real-time Music Architecture). He spends his free time dreaming up acronyms and the technology to go with them.


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Trigger by Percentage

Set percentage to whatever works; you can assign the percentages to a real-time control knob and vary them in real time. Try knob 8 in the first three Combi examples or knob 2 in TheHarpist.

Page 6.2-2a 6.2-2c 6.2-2c 6.2-2c

Parameternote and envelope triggersTrig by ModModule percentagecutoff moduleModule AAny, AKR, 1stD80B, C, DModule BDynA50AModule CDynB40BModule DDynC75C