Korg Kaos Machines: Mini-KP and Kaossilator

"Ze power of the kaoss machines is virtually limitless, Mr President."

"Ze one who would harness zeh power of the kaos machines would be ze one to rule ze WORLD!"

Being a series of observations on the Mini-KP, which is the effects processiong unit, and its sibling, the Kaossilator synthesizer.  Both these machines feature the same touchpad interface, and both feature high end professional level quality sound.  Despite size and appearance, these are definitely not toys.

Both these machines are mounted in the same case,  have  the same digital readout, the same touchpad, and the same infinatly rotating control knob front and center.  There are three buttons on the upper right of the face plate, and one on the bottom edge, opposite the input/outputs.  The buttons perform different functions as per the different roles of the two machines, but otherwise the standardization is extreme.   The synthesizer is usually found in yellow and polished aluminum as below left, and the effects processor is in a snazzy black and red case.  I find the later particularly satisfying because red and black are the colours of my alma mater, the University of New Brunswick.
Korg Kaossilator Realtime Dynamic Phrase Synthesizer

Korg mini-KP Effects Processor

Just the right size to handle and manipulate, and a good solid feel to it:

Korg minikp mini kp kaoass pad review

Some personal observations:

Undocumented:  The touch pad is pressure sensitive!

I have not seen this mentioned anywhere, and it is not implemented as such in current versions.  But it is true and can be easily demonstrated.  Apply pressure with your thumbs on each side of the touch pad, as far apart as you can, like at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock.  Vary the squeeze pressure back and forth between these points.  You will see that the effective pressure point, as indicated in the readout and as heard, moves back and forth in a range of motion BETWEEN your thimbs, indicating that the touchpad can sense PRESSURE DIFFERENCE as well as movement. 

This has tremendous implications for future development.   Most obviously, a third sound (or other)parameter can be added to the two now available on the X and Y axes of the touchpad.

The Missing Backlight and USB socket.

Many marketing descriptions and spec lists of both machines which can be found on the net mention a backlight feature, as well as footswitch and USB support.  From the Amazon.com Kaossilator description:  "Power supply - Two AA alkaline batteries for up to 7 hours of continuous use (backlight OFF), 5 hours of continuous use (backlight ON), and USB bus-powered (when using the USB connector) " . The same is often repeated for the Mini-KP.

This is all incorrect.  If there is a backight feature on these machines, it is undocumented and I have found no reliable mention of it.  There is no USB capability whatsoever, nor a footswitch jack.  This false information is repeated over and over again and circulates around the net like a virus.  It"s a vestigial tail!
Bad cut-and-paste artist, bad!! 

Brian Eno:

"Korg have their Kaoss Pads, which are a way of taking sounds into the domain of muscular control. If you have a few Kaoss Pads in line, like I do, you can really start playing with sound itself, with the physical character of the sound. The pads are very intuitive, anyone can learn to use them in a second. It's immediately obvious what you do, and it immediately takes you into a completely different place, because when working with computers you normally don't use your muscles in that way. You're focused on your head, and the three million years of evolution that resulted in incredible muscular skill doesn't get a look in."
But doesn't intuitive, muscular skill bring in more personality, something he's not too keen on? Eno shakes his head. "I would say that, funnily enough, the muscular part is more likely to bring out our collective, shared part, while the brain part is more likely to be the individual, separate part. I feel that when I'm in the muscle world, I'm getting out of this little thing I call Brian Eno, and I feel more connected to a bigger community."
Another Day On Earth was mixed in Logic, with the aid of the Kaoss Pads and other outboard. "When I was playing parts live into the computer I would do processing through external boxes. I'd also sometimes feed stuff out of my computer through the Kaoss Pads. There's a lot of plugin processing going on. I'd usually print the processed track inside of the computer, and then push it back in time, because when there's a lot of processing you get latency problems. I like working like that, because I can do different things with the already-processed track."

reference: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/oct05/articles/brianeno.htm

That's Eno's opinion.  On the other hand, Ronniecat (see http://hearingloss.blogspot.com/) says "That thing is the bagpipes of synthesizers."   So there you go.

Hey look, a pink Kaossilator.  Limited Edition, obviously.

The coolest spaceships EVER!! Kids, build your own!!

There are not many things cooler than a 1950's Wernher von Braun spaceship design.

In the 1950's, the ex-German (to put it politely) rocket scientist, in the post-war era spearheading Americas thrust into space exploration, produce stacks of fantastic speculative spacecraft designs that just looked so thrilling that who could possibly not vote in favour?

Von Braun teamed up with some of the most inspiring illustators and imaginative publishers to create a fully functional, far ranging, engaging and exciting space program.  It didn't exist, but you could almost touch it. 

Here's one of the classic spacecraft from the Great Imaginary Space Program:

WOW!!  This is the well known and often illustrated Ferry Rocket design.

Would it ever be neat to build a model of this wonderful speculative design!  Like this:

And you can, by buying the kit from Frontier models,at this link:

But gosh kids, the kit costs $264.86 in US dollars. 

(Yes, the decimal is in the right place.  That's Two Hundred and Sixty Four etc. dollars Yankee American.)

And its a resin kit too.  These things are tough to build and unless you are very experienced and dedicated, your model is not going to look like the above.  You have to trust me on this.

Now what would you say if I told you you could build a great looking model of Warner von Brauns Ferry Rocket for free?  And that you can build it in a few hours with household tools and no special skills? Would you like that? You would?

You can, and here's where to get your complete kit for free, complete with detailed instructions and construction hints:


Here's a few shots of the completed model.  It was easy to build accurately, its nice and solid, and only took a couple of hours from start to finish.


There are many great resources to follow up on if you are interested in the Great Imaginary Space program of the 1950s.   A few internet searches using keywords such as Chesley Bonestell, Willy Ley, Fred Freeman, Rolf Klep, and Cornelius Ryan will get you a long way.

Often overlooked, however, is the fabulous DVD collection, still available, of Walt Disneys Man in Space series.  If you have never seen these thrilling films, or haven't since you were a kid, you are in for a treat.  Try Amazon.com or any other comprehensive DVD source and get the popcorn poppin!

So me, Che Guevera, and a bunch of Argentinians walk into a bar in Cuba...

I've just read a charming memoir/travel/history book .  It's called "Chasing Che, a Motorcyle Journey in Search of the Guevera Legend'.  The writer is Patrick Symmes, an American who who has indulged his interests in the Cuban Revolution, Cuba today and Latin America in general by travelling extensively in the area, sometimes unobserved, as he is a fluent Spanish speaker.
Chasing Che

There are many interesting aspects of this book and his next one as well and I'll probably get to that later.  But for now, I refer to of the Che Guevera backback.

I was amused when Symmes described a meeting with a street vendor in Buenos Aires, Argentina, just before setting out on his epic journey.  Che Guevera was Argentinia by birth and upbringing, so no surprise that his legend and image are everywhere, for local consumption and for tourism.  Symmes inquires of the vendor if he can get a Che t-shirt in a certain size, but it seems not today, but the vendor has locally-made Che backpacks it needed.

Aha, I said.  i happen to own a Che Guevera backpack

Coming into possession of my Che backpack was a random but well timed event.  My Travelling Companion and I were doing a bit of last minute shopping for a vacation trip to Isla del Secreto, Cuba.  We have travelled to different parts of Cuba several times in the last few years, so we pretty much have all the items we need as far as clothing, lotions, gadgets and accesories go, but there is always something to be replaced or upgraded, or added.

This time I was in search of a beach backpack.  I hoped I would be taking a long long walk on miles of undeveloped totally wild, totally uninhabited beaches.  That was one of the reasons Isla del Secreto had been chosen for this trip.  I needed a light backpack  just big enough for my water bottle, camera, water shoes, and my clothing.  (You have to read between the lines here.)

And this is what I stumbled on at Value Village. 

A cosmic intervention, and a good omen!

It gets better.  On arrival, we found our resort occupied by a few Anglo Canadians, and quite a few more French Canadians (our flight to Secreto International Airport was out of Montreal).  The majority of our comrades were Latinos, however, who we took at first to be Spaniards, knowing that the resort was managed by a chain based in Spain.  Then we noticed the national flags ouside the entryway.

Cuba, Canada, and...ARGENTINA.  Aha again, I was actually in Cuba, amongst a bunch of Argentinians, compadres of Che himself!  

One of the Argentine woman approached me on the beach (not the naturist beach) and asked me in English where I had found the fabulous bag.  She was visibly disappointed when I told her I had no idea where it came from originally, but that I had found it in Canada, not in Cuba.

Later in our wonderful stay, we rented motor scooters to explore the tiny island.  Riding beneath the palm trees on my powerful steed, just like Che, I was really feeling the revolutionary fervour!!  We drove every mile of passable road and several miles that were almost impassable. 

Rounding a bend in one of the half-a-roads,  i was staring straight at a giant wall mural of...wait for it...CHE!

Here's the proof.  A photo of me, Che Guevera, my motorcycle, and Che Guevera, in Cuba.

Pop quiz:  How many radical socialists are in this picture?

This is how I remember things...

I lucked into this great sounding re-issue on a recent trip to The Big City:


Actually I tripped across it in a used CD store, and I almost mean that literally.  (Future topic reminder:  "literally" used to mean "figurativlly",and vice versa.)  It was in a box of slow moving stock on the floor, languishing with dozens of others marked down even from the usual bargain prices here. 

Now I had always enjoyed the tunes of the Lovin' Spoonful, in fact still have most of the original vinyl.  I never ran out to buy a new Spoonful release, but I always picked them up as cut-outs in bargain bins.  So glancing at the cheerful cover and flipping it over, I was surprised to find that this was not the collection of top forty hits  I was expecting, but a compendium of two complete original albums.

These types of collections are popular with completists and obsessives, so I immediately bought it.  And it's been more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

It's on BMG special projects and contains the complete albums"Do You Believe in Magic" and "Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful".  The strength of the line up is undeniable: 

  1. Do You Believe in Magic?
  2. Blues in the Bottle
  3. Sportin' Life
  4. My Gal
  5. You Baby
  6. Fishin' Blues
  7. Did You Ever Have to Make up You...
  8. Wild About My Lovin'
  9. Other Side of This Life
  10. Younger Girl
  11. On the Road Again
  12. Night Owl Blues
  1. Lovin' You
  2. Bes' Friend
  3. Voodoo in My Basement
  4. Darlin' Companion
  5. Henry Thomas
  6. Full Measure
  7. Rain on the Roof
  8. Coconut Grove
  9. Nashville Cats
  10. 4 Eyes
  11. Summer in the City

Now that's good stuff!

 A healthy helpin' of the catchy summer radio hits, plus a more than generous collection of forgotten or never noticed gems.  The essence of the Spoonful sound is righteously captured here without the weak spots I expected to hear after all these years. So what we get is a tightly professional folk band that has retained enough personality and innovation to sound fresh, and touches of rock sensibilty and edge carefully mixed into a smooth hour and a half of  good times and good music.  These albums, on current listening, are much better quality, all around,  than I rated them at the time.  This is a great collection of roots meets craft material.

John Sebastian was at the time recognized as a top-drawer songwriter of broad palette, and an engaging performer.   Some of you may remember that after the Spoonful disintegrated, Sebastian was invited to play the Woodstock festival as a solo artist, and he did.  More about that later.  This collection demonstrates his literacy and sensitivity in grand style...another reason to recommend this outstanding collection.

Thinking about the Spoonful and my experience as a young man of the Sixties, immersed in the world of popular music, I am reminded of two tales, one tragedy and one comedy.

The first is the tale of Zal Yanovsky.  As the present collection shows, he was a brilliant electric guitar player, a key component of the sound.  He was also the heartthrob of the group, recognizable for his big cowbay hat and equally big toothy grin.  Like several other "key players" in the west coast music scene of the mid sixties, Zal was from Canada (Hoooray!).  He had in fact played with Canadian Denny Dourghety, (Yay!!) soon to be of the Mamas and Papas,

The tragic part relates to the War on Drugs.  Broadly speaking, that's another topic but this, as I understand it, is what happened in this instance .  Zal got busted for pot in California.  This was 1967. He was told that if he did not reveal the neame of his supplier, he would be deported back to Canada, and that would be that for Mr. Rock Star.  So he did name a name, and was deported anyway.  Rightly, wrongly, or whatever, the ratting out was strickly against the hippy code that was more-or less the alternative law of the day.  That was it for Zal.  I remember many years later seeing him on a CBC television show, trying to explain, peppering his sentences with "man", but looking desperate and disappointed.  I seem to recall (I say that often) Rolling Stone magzine calling for a boycott of Zal at the time, but I might be wrong about that.  Anyway, the whole thing is pretty sad.  (Zal had a later career as a restaurant owner back home in Canada.)

The other vignette that comes to mind is the outrageously stoned appearance of John Sebastian in the Woodstock movie.  Now that's a pot-eating grin!  Later, John has recalled the incident as follows, which goes a long way toward explaining how a seasoned pro ends up on a stage in front of a huge crowd, with that oh-so-obvious air about him.
"You have to remember now, I was not being terribly successful at going solo. I was making a nice transition. At a crucial moment, I had to wait a year and a half while two record companies fought over my recording. MGM claiming because the Spoonful still owed a record, that this was something they intended to put out as a Lovin' Spoonful album and me saying this would be incredibly dishonest. There's only one of four members on this thing. Having to wait out that time, I certainly didn't get the feeling of setting the world on fire. But, what did happen is I went to Woodstock as a member of the audience. I did not show up there with a road manager and a couple of guitars. I showed up with a change of clothes and a toothbrush. It just so happened that because most of my friends were musicians I ended up backstage. There was a moment when the stage had filled up with water and it was impossible to put electric instruments onstage. At that time Chip Monck (Woodstock announcer, stage co-ordination) said to me "Look, we need somebody who can go out there with an acoustic guitar and hold 'em (the audience) while we go out and sweep the water off the stage and let it dry up and you're elected." So, I had to run and borrow a guitar from Timmy Hardin and go on. But, it was not anything I had planned for. It was just one of those nice accidents and it resulted in my career then taking another step forward. Now, I was the Summer Concert guy. I played every Summer concert there was. "

Ah, the Lovin Spoonful.  Takes me back.


Zal released a solo album in his post Spoonful days.  It was titled 'Alive and Well in Argentina (and Loving Every Minute of It)".  It is usually described as "crazy" or "zany".  Although it was released on vinyl twice, once by Buddah in 1968 and and again by Kama Sutra in 1971.  Its rare enough that I have never heard it, or even seen it, in either of the two versions.  Keep your eyes open, they look like this:

cover art