The idea behind Koala was to make a sampling workstation with no brake-pedal, no way to stumble down a rabbit-hole of micro-editing, tweaking parameters, undoing, redoing, etc etc – I want to get people to be less precious about their creations and just get on creating. It’s like drawing with a permanent marker instead of a pencil.
The music tech world seems to have reached a bit of a zeitgeist with this idea of staying in the flow of music – loopers and modular synthesizers never stop until you turn them off – it’s even in the name of Tim Exile’s “Flow Machine”. With Koala, you make something and there’s no way back, you just keep going.
I wanted to create was something as stripped back as it could be, yet have the flexibility to really create sounds no conventional sampler can create with just playback and effects. The easiest and most poetic way to do that was to add the feature of resampling – i.e. plugging the output of the sample back into the input. Another nice quirk is you can turn on headphone monitoring without headphones plugged in, and it’ll acoustically self-oscillate – feedback into itself, through effects if you choose.
Some time in 2015-2016 I learnt that the notorious (late) hip-hop producer J Dilla had been the hugely influential driving musical force behind many of the hip-hop tunes I grew up with. I’d always marvelled at the way these tracks were so simple in their construction – but the art was in the expert discovery and curation of a handful of samples that sound like they were born to be together, even if they were from different ends of the musical universe. And it seems J Dilla was the king of that.
Sadly, in 2006, he died after a lengthy battle with a particularly nasty blood disease. During all the time he had to spend in hospital, he would make tracks, which eventually turned into his last album – Donuts. Most of the tracks (29 of 31), he purportedly made with a BOSS SP-303, and a bunch of records. It turns out this myth might not totally true, but it inspired me!
When I heard this rumour he’d made Donuts on an SP-303, my jaw dropped. I’d never used one, but if you look at the front panel, you can see how straight-forward it is – no undo, no sample libraries, no piano roll input, or all the other functionality we’re used to these days. Yet it was enough of a vehicle for him to make such a stellar album.
What the SP-303 does have, though, is a workflow that forces you to just get on with it and make some music. This is the essence I wanted to capture in Koala. It has the ability to sample itself, “resampling” – which I love, and have incorporated. Also, you can put effects directly onto the input, so you can really turn sounds from your mic into anything. And of course, once you’ve recorded with those effects, they’re baked in, there’s no going back!!
I’ve made a bunch of samplers over the years, mostly with the angle of sampling immediately and making music as quickly as possible.
Sampletoy is an app I made in 2010, that focused on the joy of messing with a single audio sample. Literally encouraging you to play with an audio sample, to the point of taking it beyond recognition, on the threshold of granular synthesis.
I made this in 2009, and called it “the democratic sampler” – the blurb was
Sampled sounds have become increasingly sterylized. This sampler intends to create rough and ready sample presets that are incredibly easy to make without being too precious about the recording process. It’s very similar to a mellotron.
Here are some screenshots of my design process. I’m not really a graphic designer, so it took me quite a while to get everything right. All the graphics were made in Sketch, which is extremely useful for designing UIs compared to something like Adobe Illustrator. An added bonus that I used very heavily is that you can right-click on anything to export it to an SVG file.
I rounded up a bunch of people to by my guinea-pigs, probably should have involved them a bit earlier in the process, but here they all are (in alphabetical order), I’m very grateful for your help!
- Andrew Beaton
- Annette Jezierska
- Arthur Carabott
- Chris Cairns
- Chris Curtis
- David Abravanel
- Felix Faire
- Jordan Rudess
- Karl Sadler
- Lukas Girling
- Marcos Alonso
- MJ Cole
- Pete Fraser
Every time I ran koala in development, it would make a screenshot of itself, so I could make this short video of the interface being constructed
I’ve long been a fan of a bit of a programming library called openFrameworks, but for this app, I decided to build my own C++ framework that runs on Mac and iOS, and allows for a concept called “live-coding” where I can type a few lines of code and see their effect without having to compile the whole project again – this is very helpful for developing DSP routines, where you need to be constantly listening whilst coding to get the sound right. One day I might release the library but it really is a rats nest at the moment.