How To's

Kyma Arrives

It’s been a remarkable few days. My new Kyma system (pronounced KEE-muh, not k-EYE-muh, as I had always thought) arrived on Monday. Unfortunately, my studio wasn’t quite ready for its new resident; as an audio supercomputer in its own right, the Pacarana hardware engine that Kyma uses for its actual computation requires a dedicated audio interface all its own. It can’t just share the existing interface, which has been tasked with serving Digital Performer and feeding the result to my surround monitoring system.

So in order to get started with Kyma, I had to wait until Tuesday for its new MOTU 828mk3 interface to arrive. But because I’ll be using Kyma for surround production – and my old Mackie interface doesn’t support ADAT, which I need to port eight channels of digital surround information from the Kyma to Digital Performer – I’ll need to replace the old Mackie with a second MOTU 828mk3! Ouch – it’s amazing how quickly the investment snowballs.

But this works out very well, as the MOTU interfaces can multiplex their 16 ADAT channels to deliver eight 96K S/MUX channels. Perfect for sharing the Pacarana’s surround output with the outside world. But one step at a time… first, I needed to get Kyma up and running with its own interface; headphones would suffice until I ordered the second interface.

Anyone who has worked with digital audio knows that getting computers, interfaces, and assorted processors and other devices to all shake hands and play happily together can be a challenge. It gets more challenging as the signal chain grows more complex. Getting Kyma up and running was no exception; I read and paid close attention to all the documentation that Symbolic Sound provided for Kyma. Still, it took me 5 hours – and many, many cycles of rebooting and restarting the interfaces and Pacarana – to finally get everything up and running properly. It took forever to keep it from crashing on launch.

But what a reward! From the first robotic voice example to far more complex networks of organic trippiness, I was blown away by the clarity, complexity and unique attributes of the sounds I was hearing. I wasn’t doing anything but playing back Sounds (as they’re called in Kyma syntax) that other people had created, but I was dazzled and inspired to invest the time it’s going to take to learn this system inside out. It’s a worldbeater, and everything I’d heard about it all these years was true.

Finally, satisfied at last that I had all my Kyma ducks in a row, I powered down and went out for breakfast at 7:30pm – yes, I had been very focused all day. Taking my iPad with me, I saw that my registration for the Kyma Tweaky website (a pun on “wiki”) had been approved. It’s a very substantial repository of the collective experience and knowledge of Kyma users worldwide, and I’m looking forward to downloading and auditioning resources. I started off by visiting the “News” section to see what was up in KymaLand.

Guess what. There had been a new software release – along with new firmware for the Pacarana – posted on October 26, while my Kyma was in a box somewhere in the FedEx system on its way to me. Among the features of this new release was a bug fix for a change in Apple’s new Mavericks OS that was causing crashes when Kyma was trying to start up. Sound familiar?

I stared at my iPad, gin and tonic in hand. While I would have been happy to avoid the struggle I had experienced getting up and running, I have to admit that my many years of debugging systems have served me well – I had managed to find a workaround despite a fairly serious software bug, and I’m proud of that. Still, it’s nice to know that the Kyma system is actually more robust than I was wondering at first. And while I didn’t want to be the typical newb that couldn’t figure out how to get his new instrument up and running, next time – if there is a next time – perhaps a quick email to Symbolic Sound could spare me from repeating the wasted effort I hope I’ve put behind me.

So that’s Day One! Believe me, it was worth the struggle. Today I’m waiting for more Firewire cables and a hub to arrive so I can put the Pacarana in the rack where it belongs, instead on on a table in the middle of the studio. I’m writing this long-overdue blog post while I wait.

And it is overdue; I had promised to write more about ROLI’s visit to New York, which is now fading into the rear-view mirror of memory. I had a great time, and hope the videos I posted did a good job of documenting the experience. I never got around to cranking out a 3D version of the second video; frankly, while at first I thought it would be interesting, the awful anaglyph encoding (the red/cyan glasses) I’m forced to use for web delivery takes all the fun out of it. It looks soooo much better with polarized shutter glasses. While I’m not saying I’ll never use it here again, I can do a much better job with other cameras I have available, and that will likely be the route I take with my studio videos in the future.

And with all the talk about Kyma, I didn’t even mention the Seaboard! Naturally, I’m looking forward to using the two together – or “mating” them, as I’ve said elsewhere. I believe the Seaboard will work profoundly well with Kyma – both as a source of audio, and particularly as a control device – as the Seaboard is all about delivering uniquely hands-on control information. I consider myself lucky to have this time before the Seaboard arrives to develop a certain level of expertise with Kyma, so I’ll be in better shape to use it well when it gets here.

Just one more thing… there’s another reason it’s taken me a while to get this blog post out; I’ve been experiencing some fairly major changes recently. Just a little over a week ago, I did something that many people only get to dream of doing; I quit my day job. I’d been doing consulting work for a local agency for over 14 years; sometimes the nature of the work was great, and sometimes it wasn’t. There were people there I considered to be friends, but at least one whose actions… well, remember Biff from Back to the Future? With the exception of the good friends I’m staying in contact with, all that’s behind me now.

I’ve taken the leap into doing the creative work that I should be doing full time; be it music or animation, photography or cinematography, art or commerce… I’m going to make this happen. As Thoreau said: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

Sorry about all those male pronouns; this aspiration applies to everyone – but you know what I mean. The Seaboard will play a major role in what I hope to accomplish, and I hope I can keep you interested enough to follow the process here. Thanks for reading!

Little Key Wave 7

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