KYMA 7 and a Search for the Ultimate Sound Creation Instrument, continued


After performing the user friendly download procedure and following the step by step instructions, I was up and running.  This is not an upgrade as were the many routine upgrades during the past 10 years of Kyma X existence, but a brand new program with its own set of samples, prototypes, Sound library, in short, a full set of features completely independent of Kyma X, which can exist on the same computer as Kyma 7.  In fact, I find myself occasionally alternating between the two programs (but not opened simultaneously).  The caveat is that, once a Kyma X file is opened in Kyma 7, the software automatically upgrades it, rendering it inoperable in Kyma X if it is saved (otherwise it’s safe). Even if one opens just one Sound from a Kyma X Soundfile containing many Sounds, every Sound in that Soundfile will be thus rendered forever gone to Kyma X if it is saved. The good news is that, in my explorations, virtually every Kyma X Sound can be opened and continued in Kyma 7, including Sound files and timelines. Kyma 7 is completely forward (but not backward) compatible in all aspects.   Since Sound and timeline files take such little memory, it is a small matter to make a copy of all your files created in Kyma X and place this folder -- shall we call it “Kyma X Archive?” -- in the Kyma 7 folder, so that these files can be opened and used in Kyma 7 without compromising the original Kyma X files.  More good news --  the memory-hungry Kyma X samples do not need to be copied and pasted thus and can be left in the Kyma X folder where they can be accessed in turn by either program.  Just to be sure, in the Kyma 7 preferences folder, I have indicated this sample area as one that the program should be aware of. 


At first opening, the look is much more refined and visually interesting than Kyma X.  Virtually every part of the program has been significantly changed, both visually and functionally.  The Inspiration window (new) automatically opens with eight broad categories for the user to explore. As you move the mouse over these categories a different ethereal ghost-like Sound emanates from each category, providing one of many, many such delights as one progresses through the program, and signaling that this is going to be one hell of a ride.   Although there is no exact equivalent to the 420-page Kyma X tutorial magnum opus “Kyma X Revealed!” which guided novices and experts alike through the labyrinthian pathways of Kyma, there resides here what I think may be something even better.  First, there are elegant and informative video tutorials describing every facet of Kyma 7, with extremely high production values.  There is a concerted effort here to progress more logically from the simple to the complex (sometimes in Kyma X the help areas were more frustrating than helpful).  Many new areas of help have been added, such as the amazing Capytalk Reference area, where you click on a Capytalk message (such as “gateWhen”) and up comes a full and readable description ….


(!aGate gateWhen: !aBooleanExpression

    Range [0, 1]

Generates a gate (a value of 1) only when !aGate is on (> 1) and !aBooleanExpression is true (> 1).

You can use gateWhen: to generate a gate that will only take effect under certain circumstances, for example only when a key is down and the pitch is within a certain range or to gate only specific voices in a Replicator, channelizer, or MIDIVoice.


And then gives many examples such as “(!KeyDown gateWhen: ((!KeyNumber gt: 60) * (!KeyNumber lt: 72))”

But the most useful part of this is that it is followed by many example Sounds that contain the message in different usages, followed by similar examples from the Kyma Sound Library.  If you don’t completely understand the reasoning behind a message, no worries -- Kyma gives you enough information and examples that you can just copy the message with its complete expression and paste it in a Sound you are working with that has similar functions.  In other words, you really don’t need to understand every aspect of Capytalk in order to use it effectively.   You just need to have an intuitive sense of where the messages and expressions are and in what context to use them.  This comes from the exploration of the many Sound examples provided.  

The above describes the understanding from the message side.  But even more powerful in the new version is how it is possible to go from the side of the Sound itself and build out to the expression needed. For example, if you have a Sound needing an expression in a parameter field (such as “frequency”), just place your cursor in the frequency field and click on the yellow i circle at the lower right.  Up pops a parameter assistant window with a huge selection of possible expressions appropriate for the frequency field (such as default, !KeyPitch, 48 nn, default * (1 bpm: (2 * !BPM)) nextRandom sign).  Then it gives a parameter description of the frequency field including how it is used, and suggests a few possibilities for a particular effect.  Taken together these two help areas alone are akin to having a tutor at your elbow as you figure things out.  Kyma X did have an overall description of each Sound and parameter on mouseover, but these improvements are far more exhaustive. 

The point here is that, in every way possible, Kyma 7 has made the exploration of its vast resources more fun, logical, intuitive, and doable.  Now for some details:


The first 6 categories of the inspiration Window, open at startup, are the key to all the fundamentally new features.  The titles are:

Getting Started:   Some simple hints to immediately produce Sound and explore the Sound libraries. Includes an inspirational Vimeo video entitled “Sons de jour,” which describes a new feature that every day randomly selects a bunch of Sounds from the prototypes or library and invites you to play them by (a) pointing the mouse, (b) clicking to select the Sound, and (c) pressing the space bar to play.  A great exploration tool, and who knows, you might find a Sound you’d like to develop later, and if so, you can open and save it in your personal Sound file.  The accompanying User Guide is a simple, 9-page introduction to getting around with Kyma 7.  This guide is a model of clarity, a big improvement.  Already the user’s confidence is increasing. 

Searching:  Another video and user guide showing how to search for Sounds.  The Sound Browser, a time-tested Kyma X feature, has  a new face and new more powerful search features.  The user guide is a bit confusing and unfocused, but the basic functionality of the browser is so well designed that one should not have much trouble figuring it out.  This feature is essential to survival as you accumulate more and more Sounds, samples, multigrids, and timelines.  This can be set up so as to browse through both your Kyma 7 and Kyma X folders (as you may want to do for samples), if one configures it to mimic the main hard drive’s folders and files. 

File Editors and Galleries: 

Wave Editor: The Wave Editor in Kyma X was pretty good.  One could copy/paste samples, trim,  configure simple fade in and fade out, normalize, as well as generate waveforms (this later feature was rather primitive).  The Wave Editor in Kyma 7 alone, in my opinion, would be worth the cost of the upgrade.  The sample edit area improvements are many, and include a full featured selection of selection, modifications, looping, and playback areas, all elegantly depicted in a visually attractive shell.  Particularly notable is a feature that automatically selects points where the sample could be cut without any clicks or glitches.  And it works. And the waveform generators in Kyma X have been drastically upgraded so that they can be made quite musical (such as fourier, polynomial, impulse response) But this is just the beginning.  One can take any sample and (1) produce a Gallery of many distinct Sounds from it using criteria set up beforehand, each Sound being accessible and playable and saveable.  Using random algorithms, virtually hundreds of potential Sounds show up in your browser to be played and explored.  And some of them are pretty good.  (2) utilize the Grid (a special instance of the Multigrid, to be explained below) where each newly-created Sound is randomly sent to a processor and then to a reverb, providing a complete   gestalt.  All this is automatic, depending on criteria set up beforehand.  No Capytalk knowledge necessary (unless one wishes to modify the Sound).  The video for this area is truly stunning and inspirational -- no -- magical is the word I would use. 

Tau Editor:  I have not personally done much with the very elegant Tau concept, and so don’t feel qualified to comment on it, except that it again does have a fine user guide and video tutprial. 

Spectrum Editor:  Again with video tutorial and user guide.  I personally have found the first part of the spectrum editor invaluable, where one can take a sample and easily change it into a file which has information in it for converting an Oscillator bank or Sum of Sines or other spectrum file into 128 or 256 sine waves, thus rendering it accessible for modifying , say, pitch independent of rhythm or modifying certain harmonics from a sample.  As such, I have used this considerably.  However, as with the Tau concept, when the Spectrum Editor goes a step further and works with single pitch-specific Sounds, I find this to be too tedious, particularly since most of my Sound material is not pitch-specific and/or has too high a content of inharmonic partials.  So, again, not in any way a criticism, but I will have to pass on this. 

Sound Editor:  This area deals with the heart of Kyma -- developing a new Sound or modifying an existing one.  Everything you do in Kyma involves a Sound in some way or other, and all Sounds follow the same basic protocols ( a Sound in Kyma is a combination of source (sample or waveform), basic controls (frequency, trigger/gate, loop, start/end index, envelope), processing (filter, vocoder, spectrum modifiers, resonaters, delays, reverb, pitch shifting, etc.), mixing, output controls (panning, level), and may contain myriad other entities. Initially, there is a vast library of Sounds to begin with.  Unlike Kyma X, here the library is much better organized.  Each category is defined by function, rather than haphazardly as to the date of its release.  Every Sound has been redone and optimized.  New categories, such as “Teaching Demonstrations” have been added.  In addition to the Sound library, there is another vast resource of Sound prototypes to draw from.  These are fixed and cannot be altered, but can be copied and the copy edited.  What I like about the prototypes especially is that most of them are associated with a complete Sound path, so then when one opens a prototype, one can immediately hear its existence in an actual real situation. 

Although the basic functionality of the Sounds are the same as Kyma X (a reason why Sounds from Kyma X are compatible), a big improvement resides in the peripherals.  The parameter sidebar shows the various parameter fields more efficiently and the fields are more easily opened to show the complete expression, and then closed afterwards.  The parameter assistant mimics the services of a tutor at your elbow, in that when clicking on a parameter field and then the “i” button, up pops a huge collection of expressions that can be used in that particular field.  All you need to do is drag the expression into the field.  There is also a mammoth capytalk message reference that can be pulled down, with many examples, directions for each message.  In terms of the Sound’s virtual control surface, which pops up every time the Sound is activated, there is a completely new, smooth look. Speaking of popping up, now it is possible to, at any time during play, activate an oscilloscope or spectrum analyzer to take a peek at what’s happening with the Sound. What is missing is the tutorial approach of the massive “Kyma X Revealed” manual, but with all of these guides, plus a 200 page user guide that serves as another reference, I don’t think I’ll miss it that much.  The jury is still out.

Timeline:  The Timeline is  the main vehicle for horizontal placement and control of Sounds over time in a graphic box, superficially resembling the traditional MIDI graphic sequencer with tracks, keyframe controls, routing, playback in a set timeframe, etc.  What’s different in Kyma is that the track boxes depicting the Sounds are not instructions for playing notes (as in a MIDI sequencer) or depictions of audio files (as in Pro Tools).  Rather, they are instructions for activating whatever Sound (s) are present vertically at the cursor point.  Although this requires getting used to, in the three years of Kyma composing, I have never once longed to be able to play a MIDI note, because the other options for richness of Sound control in Kyma are so powerful.  The Kyma 7 timeline is perhaps the area most resembling the old Kyma timeline.  But even here are many improvements as well.  Foremost is the improved layer menu where a Sound’s parameters can be made live and played or its parameters recorded.  In Kyma X when the timeline became long and complex the layer menu became loaded down with hundreds of Sounds and Sound layers from which one had to choose the one Sound being worked on.  Now, these layers have been thankfully stripped  and the relevant Sound is easily accessed.  Another new feature is called “embedding.”  When Sounds are combined (such as in a mixer) in a timeline or multigrid, the virtual control surface shows each Sound separately in its own neat box.  This embedding can be turned on and off at will, and one can seamlessly click between them.  Other improvements include the automation menu now having twice the number of options, and the timeline compiling much faster resulting in less wait time between loading and playing. Enhanced time editing is also new; You can cut time or insert time and the Sounds and control-functions automatically slide to the right or left of the cut or insertion.

Multigrid:  Perhaps the most innovative and startling brand new feature, the multigrid is the vertical equivalent of the horizontal timeline.  Both use the same Sounds, but whereas Sounds in the timeline progress predictably over time and whose parameters over time are set and editable, the Sounds in the multigrid exist together and are meant to be played simultaneously.  As the user guides states:

“ Imagine a Timeline with multiple tracks, submixes, and multiple Sounds in each track. In your mind’s eye, rotate the Timeline clock- wise by 90 degrees and imagine that, instead of proceeding from Sound to Sound linearly in time, you can jump to any Sound at any time (whether it is a source or an effect), with no interruption in the audio signal: that gives you the basic idea of the Multigrid.

A Multigrid can contain multiple Tracks that play simultaneously (through a Mixer). Each Track can contain multiple Sounds, that play one at a time, whenever you select one of them (with optional cross- fading from one to the next). Like the Timeline, each Track can be routed to one or more submixes, and each Track can take an audio input of any number channels (either a live input or a submix).”

As a composer who often uses texture and timbre as prime constituents, I have found the multigrid to be powerful enough that it is in effect changing the way I hear and think about music.  The ability to quickly introduce and change Sounds that interact with each other affords the possibility of creating a new kind of composition--a multigrid composition where there is no one correct path toward realization, but rather where all options are constantly open for exploration and control in a live situation (these can also be recorded as .aif files).  It is also a profound laboratory where I can experiment with which sounds work and which don’t work together.  Additionally, when one finds a particularly good Sound combination, there is a Sound extraction mode where in the blink of an eye this combination can be converted into a traditional Kyma Sound, with all of its parameters, routing controls intact, to be used in a timeline.  This capability is truly magical and unprecedented. 

But there is more -- much more.  Upon playing the multigrid, one has an elegant virtual control surface that displays all of the Sounds, plus a mixer and a grid control that allows selection of Sounds along with fadein and fadeout, as well as an algorithmic control that, if so chosen, can alternate between Sounds in a given track at time intervals specified by the user.  Speaking of the virtual control surface, at all times during playback, each track’s Sound displays its own preset, which can be opened/expanded and tweaked during playback.  At the top of the virtual control surface is a series of buttons that instantly select various display modes.  Like the timeline, each Sound in the multigrid, when the multigrid is saved, becomes property of the multigrid and not the original Sound file, and can be opened and edited apart from its original, just like any other Sound. 


This illustrates another, perhaps the most relevant feature of Kyma 7; total integration.  By this I mean in all aspects:  (1) The compatibility of Sounds between all platforms including Kyma X-Kyma 7 (forward compatibility only), timeline and original and multigrid, all having the same protocols for editing and realization of the Sound and interchangability. (2) Total integration of Sound editing and help areas where help and examples are available just around the corner in several areas (the inspiring new video tutorials, user guide, parameter field help, capytalk reference).  (3) Integration of Kyma X Sound library folders which were somewhat unfocused in their topics to a totally logical set of folders integrated as to specific function. 

I have heard it said that you have to be a little crazy to be a part of the Kyma world.  That may be true, but as for purchasing Kyma 7, you would have to be crazy not to. 

Barton McLean

Petersburgh, NY, 2/22/2015


McLean Mix Home Page

Barton & Priscilla McLean CDs, DVDs

Barton & Priscilla McLean writings, books, reviews