Butchering Sound With Korg’s Mini-KP Kaoss Pad

January 1, 2009

At first glance, these devices would appear to be ill-suited for use by guitarists. They come with stereo RCA inputs and outputs as a nod to the DJ mixer, rather than the 1/4" ins and outs preferred by guitarists, and they require removing a hand from the business of guitar playing in order to exploit the possibilities of the pad. Still, guitarists such as Gerry Leonard (David Bowie), Vernon Reid, Nguyên Lê, and some lesser-known pickers on YouTube have found that—with some workarounds—this device makes an interesting addition to their sound-mangling arsenal.

Korg has also released a mini-KP Kaoss Pad ($250 retail/$149 street), which is ideal for mounting on your guitar. The miniature size means that just placing a finger on the pad and rocking it in various directions results in audible parameter changes. It operates on four AA batteries, eliminating the need for a power cable running to the floor. (If you hate batteries, it will take an optional 4.5-volt negative tip DC adapter.) In addition to the aforementioned filters and delays, the mini-KP flanges, slices, isolates, and decimates—100 effects in all. With the proper demented attitude, you are likely to find a use for nearly all of them. Many of these effects are BPM (beats per minute) related, so the mini-KP provides a TAP/BPM button to synchronize sounds to your song’s tempo.

As to the workarounds, unlike its big brothers— the KP2 and KP3—the mini-KP does not have the 1/4" mic input and headphone output that guitarists find useful. This necessitates the purchase of two (or four if you want to go in stereo) RCA to 1/4" adapters. Also, despite the 48kHz sampling rate, the mini-KP is bit of a tone sucker, so take a hint from Gerry Leonard: “I try to run it in a bypass loop, and put it at the end of the chain. That way, I do not always have to pass signal thru it. For the jacks, I just made up some 1/4" to RCA cables.”

While some of the mini-KP’s effects—such as flange and phase—can be exploited without taking your hand off your guitar to manipulate the X/Y pad, if you do want to control parameters with the pad, the device itself offers a solution to the extra-hand problem: programs 77 through 89 contain looping capability. You can play an abbreviated lick into the device, push the Hold button, and it is captured in a loop. Now, you can take your hand off the guitar to play with the pad. The maximum length of the loop is determined by the BPM setting—the slower the BPM, the longer the loop. At best, all you get is a few seconds, so combining the mini-KP with another dedicated looping device is an even better idea. Vernon Reid runs his KP3 Kaoss Pad in the auxiliary loop of his Boomerang Phrase Sampler. Because it is a parallel insert, he can hear the effected and the uneffected loop at the same time. “I am thinking about sending the Kaoss effected signal from the Boomerang directly to a mixer, and putting the Boomerang output on a volume pedal so I can cut out the signal,” he says.

I tried the mini-KP in different configurations. Plugging straight into the KP and then into my pedalboard let me generate mini-loops with the device, manipulate the sounds with the pad, and then do some further layering of these wild effects with the loop function of my Line 6 DL-4. Another chain was running my pedalboard effects— including the DL-4—into the mini-KP. In this configuration, I could set up longer loops with my DL-4, and twist them with the mini- KP. If I wanted to get really crazy, I could layer those longer mangled loops into a Boss RC-20XL Phrase Recorder, and/or send them into my computer for still more processing. Changing the type of effect for each layer and carefully manipulating the parameters with the pad resulted in dense, moving textures that sounded highly electronic, while still retaining the warmth of my guitar and the analog pedals in my rig.

Normally, the effect is present only when you touch the pad, but once I had chosen an effect, I preferred hitting the Hold button. This would leave the effect on (looping or not), even when I removed my hand from the pad, and retain the last parameter modification I made. This allowed me to find, say, Grain Shift, Cycle Speed, and Length parameters that worked for the song, and then leave the settings there while playing the guitar with both hands. If you find a particular parameter arrangement that you really like and want to be able to recall it at will, the Memory A and B buttons allow you to store two such settings.

The more you play and experiment with the mini-KP, the more uses you will find for it. The mini might prove to be all that you need (or want to deal with) Kaoss-wise, but if it merely whets your appetite, you may want to move up to the KP2 (eight memory slots, the ability to record your pad movements) or the KP3 (adds an LED grid to the touchpad showing the held location after you remove your hand, a separate FX Depth knob, MIDI capability, and much more). There is a long tradition of guitarists “misusing” equipment. Amplifiers weren’t supposed to distort, and the wah pedal was originally going to be marketed to horn players. The Korg mini-KP continues this practice. DJs, move over!

This Wacky Thing?

The Kaoss Pad is essentially an effects controller—not basically any different than an expression pedal. However, with the Kaoss, you manage effects parameters in real time by moving your finger across a touchpad. The pad assigns different parameters to its X and Y axes, meaning that you can simultaneously control two parameters at once with a single digit. Once you develop a facility with the device, you can use hand/finger gestures to “play” it as you would any other musical instrument. The Korg mini-KP Kaoss Pad is powered by four alkaline AA batteries for a run time of about five hours. Inputs and outputs are RCA phono jacks, so adapters are necessary for incorporating the mini-KP into a conventional guitar rig. For tech heads, the device samples at 24-bit/48kHz. Best of all, the mini-KP is loaded with 100 effects. Here’s an abridged list: Low Pass Filter, High Pass Filter, Morphing Filter, Manual Phaser, Pitch Shifter/Delay, Fuzz Distortion, Decimator, Flanger, Phaser, Auto Pan, Delay, Reverse Delay Mix, Gate Reverb/Delay, Tape Echo, Dub Echo, Feedback Echo, Spring Reverb, Vinyl Looper, Unison Saw Synth, Metalic Synth, Siren, and Noise.

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