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February 2011

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Ben Burtt used Kyma to develop and control the voice of WALL-E for the Disney/Pixar film of the same name. One of Kyma’s most noteworthy fea- tures is the ease with which it can be controlled by external controllers. “I know that Ben Burtt really likes to use the Wacom pen and tablet,” says Scaletti.“Any parameter of the sound can be mapped to the pen, including measuring the tilt of the pen, the pressure and rotation just like a joystick. It can be really expressive, especially for something like the voice of WALL-E.” The types of controllers that can be used with Kyma are reshaping how many audio professionals are thinking about sound. “We have made it really easy to connect Kyma to ex- ternal controllers,” says Scaletti.“Any device that has standard MIDI can be used to control the sounds in Kyma.That can be a keyboard, fader boxes, software or anything that can generate MIDI.” However, the possibilities for controlling Kyma go beyond the standard MIDI keyboard or the Wacom tablet.“The application called OSCulator (www.oscula- turns all the Nintendo controllers into FireWire messages to control Kyma,” Scaletti says.“OS- Culator makes it possible for things such as the Wii Re- mote along with the nunchuk, the Guitar Hero con- troller, iPhone, or even a device called the SpaceNavi- gator, to control the sound.The SpaceNavigator con- trols the X,Y and Z axes, so it acts like a 3D mouse for controlling sound.” In early 2010, Symbolic introduced support for Open Sound Control (OSC), which opened Kyma up to even more external control sources. OSC is a pro- tocol for controlling sound devices over TCP/IP net- works, like Ethernet,Wi-Fi or the Internet. “We’ve just announced the ‘Kyma Control’ app for on a regular computer. “Kyma runs on a Mac or Windows computer and uses a second computer called the Pacarana or it’s smaller cousin, the Paca, to do all the sound computation,” she explains.“The Pacarana does all of the sound synthesis and processing.On your regular computer, Kyma provides a graphic interface for the sound design and does all the disk ac- cessing. It communicates by FireWire with the Pacarana, which does all of the actual sound generation.The Pacarana is a 20-layer board, designed by Symbolic Sound co-founder Kurt Hebel, with four processors, memory, Paul Neyrinck’s V-Control iPad app is a virtual control the Apple iPad, which makes use of the OSC protocol on a wireless network,” says Scaletti. “It has virtual faders, motion-sensitive accelerometers, a compass and a control similar to the Wacom tablet, but the iPad can track all of your fingers so you can control the sound with your hands. It can be really expressive, much more than a mouse or even faders. “In addition to all of those controllers, there is the Continuum Finger- board made by Haken Audio,” she continues. “The Continuum is like a piano keyboard, but it is a smooth surface so that you can play continuous pitches. It’s kind of a fretless piano, and it’s used by composer A.R. Rahman, who did the score for Slumdog Millionaire. He likes to use Indian scales. Using Kyma and the Continuum he’s able to slide in between the traditional half steps of the piano.” The full potential of these external controllers can only be imagined. Over time, innovative musicians and sound designers will no doubt incor- porate these unique ways of controlling sound in fascinating ways. But, as cutting edge as this technology is, Symbolic Sound is not a newcomer to audio. “It started when I was a student in electronic music,” says Scaletti. “I was using a combination of voltage controlled analog synths, computer gen- erated sound and recording, and editing on tape with razor blades.There were things about each of those that I loved, but I thought there was a need to bring it all together. “I didn’t see a difference between sound that had been recorded, sound that was synthesized and sound that was processed; to me they were all sound! I thought that tape editing was really revolutionary because, like a film editor, you can actually manipulate time.And of course I really liked the computer because having memory meant that I could create things that were repeatable and controllable. It was all of these experiences plus the al- most magical process of taking symbols and turning them into sound that became my motivation for making the first version of Kyma in 1986.” The computer power needed for such a device required Scaletti to look beyond a typical personal computer, even though the software runs surface for Avid’s Pro Tools. While it is built to be used that way, Neyrinck (pictured) believes it’s mostly going to be paired with existing console worksurfaces. USB and Ethernet.The advantage of the Pacarana is that it has a really lean operating system so all of the computing cycles are dedicated to audio. It doesn’t have to compute any graphics, or deal with the Internet or non-audio programs. As a result,we have a lot more processing power. That way, we are not forced to cut any corners with the audio quality of the algorithms.” With Pro Tools dominating the market, Kyma was never meant to re- place or duplicate what Pro Tools can do.“We never thought of it as being similar to Pro Tools in the sense that Pro Tools is a multi-track recorder, a recording studio in a box. Kyma was always about making new kinds of sound, sound synthesis, sound manipulation, and new ways to control sound.There is a certain kind of market pressure for programs to converge and become all the same.We consciously resisted that with Kyma.” Even now, Scaletti is true to her vision.“We do not make fixed plug-ins or software that emulates existing hardware.We invent our own algorithms that you cannot get anywhere else. For example, we have an algorithm for speech analysis/resynthesis that enables you to manipulate speech in a way that goes far beyond what you can do with just a sample. Also, when you use Kyma, you are actually creating your own algorithms by combining the icons in the graphical interface. Not everyone takes to this way of working, but for those who do, Kyma fills a void and satisfies a definite need.” Scaletti sums up by saying,“We really value our direct contact with our customers. It’s a constant feedback loop where people are contacting us and we are changing based on those needs.We are always learning by working with our customers, who range from sound designers, music people and even researchers who study speech disorders.They each bring a different perspective and knowledge, which is ultimately reflected in Kyma.” February 2011 • Post 31

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