Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol – Komplete Game Changer?

’17 years ago I was getting excited about music hardware becoming software. Now it’s the other way around…’ MusicTech Editor Andy Jones explains the importance of the new Komplete Kontrol..

When I was invited to see the first glimpse of Komplete Kontrol, I was struck by the looks, yes (I am a sucker for how something looks) and the fact that it integrates so well with all of NI’s software, effectively making it marry the software for the perfect hardware/software relationship. That FM8 synth I’ve always loved, now becomes alive in hardware with all of its most popular controls mapped to Komplete Kontrol. Yes, other controllers can control that software but none as slickly as this…

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All of your Kontakt instruments are now replicated in hardware with all of their keyboard colour mapping illuminated with LEDs on the hardware keyboard. If these had simply been flashing lights I’d have been impressed but the fact they not only follow the software but help you play chords, learn to play the keyboard and a whole lot more makes this one hell of a Kontroller.

But I think there’s more to it than that, and this keyboard is yet another big step in music technology to get producers looking like artists rather than programmers. I reviewed Arturia’s Keylab (MT137) which attempts a similar thing by marrying the French company’s vintage back catalogue with a hardware controller. Then there’s Roland’s System-1 in the current issue of MusicTech (on sale now) which also blurs the hardware and software lines, but Komplete Kontrol seeminly takes things one step further. Five steps in fact, and I think it’s possibly a game changer. Let me explain why…

In 1997 I launched a magazine about making music on a computer. Back then the dream was to make the computer the most powerful instrument in the world. My own personal dream was to do everything on a laptop, to make music, somewhat bizarrely, at an airport. In 2003 I finally did it, albeit on a huge Sony Vaio laptop the size of a typical supermarket. But, looking back, why did I and we want that? Why did we want to make music within the confines of a virtual box with a mouse and a click. Yes there’s convenience of a one box approach, and yes we don’t need so much hardware, but that latter point is haunting me. I ^now realise that I do need tacticity (is that is even a word). I need feedback, I need knobs and sliders and shiny things and lights. I’M SICK OF MAKING MUSIC WITH A MOUSE.

Ableton’s Push was one of my first experiences of hardware ‘drawing out’ the software into the outside world. The other day I made a tune (I’m no Push expert, we’re talking a SIMPLE tune) on Push without looking at my laptop. Much. It replicates everything you do in the software – and more – like I say, drawing your attention away from your bloody computer screen.

Native Instrument’s Maschine has done the same for drums and now Komplete Kontrol does it for just about every instrument NI makes (and others it has to be said – anything that runs in Kontakt can be controlled, or Kontrolled, by it). Komplete Kontrol, like Push, almost seems to suck the software out of Kontakt and makes you feel like it it inserting it firmly into a slick controller so that as you instantly switch between instruments it’s almost like you are switching between pieces of hardware. And that feels great. And, yes, that is an admission that my 1997 self wanting a laptop to do everything was wrong. You live and learn I guess, but hardware is back…

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And I’m not alone in believeing this. Last week we put a couple of messages on our facebook page asking the audience there (now well over 100,000) to show off their studios and we were shocked by the response. We had so many photos and replies we could launch a monthly magazine and website just to publish them but the main thing to come out of it is that it seems that the vast majority of you are enjoying or re-enjoying the wonders of hardware to make music.

So, yes, the power of today’s studio is still firmly held by the computer but, with the likes of Maschine, Push and now Komplete Kontrol, it’s almost like we’ve now wrestled control of our instruments back from the computer. We want to be seen as musicians, composers, performers, and artists in our studios, not experts in email and Excel so hardware like this is vital.

A strange state of affairs when you think about it. Back in 1997 I was getting excited about my hardware becoming software and now I’m getting excited about my software coming alive in hardware. I guess there’s no pleasing some people…

Andy Jones – Editor

 

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