Korg continues to diversify its Volca series with the recent release of additions like the new digital sampler, as well as its new FM synthesizer, the "Volca FM". This time, the company introduces us to a tool that I personally find quite fascinating; even as the naysayers might complain of its odd simplicity and perhaps out-of-place approach. But let's talk about this, I can happily explain!
You see, the bass kick I dare say, is one of the absolute most critical components of a finely tuned EDM or Hip Hop song, even for Rock this is very true. So why would we not want a dedicated tool for it with parameters that extend beyond the typical tune and decay, maybe gate of most drum machines? Seems adding the ability to tone your kicks to actual notes for melodic and creative bass drops, and further functionality to let you edit and shape your kicks and rhythms in general to a degree that in hardware, we have not seen before, would be an absolute given and warmly welcomed addition, no?
The Korg Volca Kick is another small box like its predecessors, but this time obviously focusing exclusively on the very important Kick Drum. At its heart, the Volca Kick uses the Resonator circuit from the beloved MS-20 filter (Rev1), allowing you to manipulate Pitch, Octave, Bend, and Time in its own section at the center of the machine. To the left we find another section with Drive (distortion) and Tone parameter knobs to further shape your sound, while to the right Accent and Swing are available to you. I must say it is great that here you can set the actual strength of the accent, as opposed to it being either On or Off; good call Korg! Step Accent can still be done as well of course, but it is done in combination with the intensity of the knob, giving you further capabilities here. Next to these parameters you'll find your Tempo and Volume knobs also, but I don't need to explain those of course.
Up top, we find both the Amp section of the Volca Kick where we can control the decay, as well as the Pulse section, where we craft the actual attack of the kick; meaning how it will initially hit. To the right, sync connectivity is done as before, with a single MIDI in, as well as 3.5mm I/O for Korg's Volca sync feature with the provided cables, something I have personally not used before, but would find as a great way of exclusively daisy-chanining Volcas together and saving on MIDI cables.
The sequencer at first glance might disappoint in that it seems to only offer 16 steps like some of the earlier Volcas. However, using the pattern chain function later introduced, you can essentially tie up to 16 different sequences (from the available memory banks) and create more complex kick arrangements up to 256 steps in total. Not bad at all, in fact, for a kick 256 might even be much, but sometimes more truly is...more! Right? The touch pads on these Volcas are very sensitive also if you haven't played around with one before, offering a good response and overall intuitive interface that is very useful in studio to get sequences rolling rapidly or while performing live.
Let's begin to wrap things up by talking about the Volca Kick's "Touch FX", which on this little box are subtle, but powerful for edits that really make or break a track's percussive arrangements. By simply touching a step key, one can activate one of three functions, which allow you to perform rolls, sustains and note variations that raise the pitch by one or two octaves, giving your drums a more well rounded sound with added complexity. Nice to have added these features, which really makes the Volca Kick even more of a useful, sensible and an attractive choice to those who could argue their old drum machine can do much of what this instrument can do already, as often with hardware some of these more modern types of effect functions are not available. In today's musical technological progression, these type of edits and effects are viewed more and more as part of what makes an artist truly stand out, specifically in dealing with dance music like Techno Bass, or other fast-paced energy styles.
Overall I am super excited to see this released, and while it is true it generated some mixed response with very silly facebook memes even that ridiculed the idea of task specific boxes (Never Forget...the Volca Toaster!), the truth is that a simplified and sensible studio is the most powerful studio. What I mean by that, is that ensuring that you have every aspect of sound design at your fingertips without redundancy, means that you wisely choose each machine that you buy for each of all the important tasks like basslines, strings, arpeggios, and step sequences, helping to inspire creativity by way of limitations and the challenges they impose on us.
While it can be argued that software is far more flexible and powerful, and that its better to have it all conveniently in "one box", to most people this unlimited access to tools actually dampens the process by instigating a kind of anxiety and overhwelming feeling of "it could be anything". Knowing what is what and why, and where our limits end, seems to be a key component in knowing the way forward in every artistic process, and this applies to life in general very strongly even. So go on, add a little Kick to your life, and grab this fun and powerful little box that even runs on batteries and with its own speaker! Much more to come as well down the pipeline folks, so stay tuned!
Written by: Santino Fernandez