Words & Photography by Adam Rudegeair
In this issue I decided to explore the Korg Volca range — four nifty little polyphonic units measuring only 193 x 115 x 46 mm and each dedicated to one function: Beats, Bass, Keys, and the Sample (more on that later). At Store DJ they were all chained together via a web of 3.5mm leads, allowing me to start with a drum pattern on the Beats, then add in the other layers and manipulate each element separately, all in perfect sync. It’s not necessary to have all four, as each one can provide a plethora of groove and rhythm possibilities as a standalone. They’ve all got a lot going for them in their own right, so this is just a broad overview of the product line.
In a nutshell (well, almost) these units are a great entry point for anyone wanting to understand more about analog synthesis and/or wanting to start creating multilayered electronic music in a very hands-on way.
Korg’s obsession with all things miniature is on full display in these battery-operated devices (they can also be powered form the wall socket). A row of black and gold (no dress jokes please) ribbon-style keys allows lightning-fast note input. Each ‘key’ has an LED which is illuminated when selected and by simply running a finger across the keybed you can invert the current selection. Learning to program and manipulate riffs, loops and lines takes about five minutes and with the option of creating beats and riffs step-by-step or with the record function, you can be pumping the jams in a home studio or rocking out on the tram in no time.
The Volca units have MIDI input, so they’re ready to be commanded by your external sequencer or DAW. For best results pump it though an awesome sound system, as their minute internal speakers don’t convey the full sonic picture of those shimmering filter sweeps and gut-wobbling 808 kicks.
The Beats allows you up to eight layers of drums and you can adjust the swing of each, but unfortunately the swing isn’t sent to the output clock so any unit being slaved to the Beats will receive only straight grooves.
The Keys unit is a great step sequencer and has a pretty versatile array of sounds you can produce by manipulating the envelopes and filters, but it isn’t really suited to solos or advanced melodic improvisation.
Part of the charm of the Volca range is – ironically – its limitations. Like most pieces of vintage or vintage-styled gear, it forces you to focus on a pretty focussed range of parameters to get the maximum effect. Given the relatively low cost I was impressed at the scope for morphing the tones using only the parameters at hand, without a gargantuan menu of onboard effects.
The fourth addition to the family – the Korg Volca Sample – is a little different from the rest. Where the Beats, Keys and Bass are 90% analog (with only a few envelope characteristics being processed digitally), the Volca Sample is a 90% digital unit, with an array of PCM drum and pitched synth samples already loaded into it. By tweaking the pitch, length, panning, delay and frequencies, some terrific supersonic effects can be achieved.
Choose your weapon (ha!), or catch em’ all!
Store DJ can be found at 394 Victoria street, Richmond.
Check out their website via www.storedj.com.au