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Recent 2000-2001 1987-1999

Running on Unledded—John Paul Jones: Making Zooma

Sound on Sound Magazine November 1999 --Paul White

Bassist John Paul Jones hasn't let the grass grow under his feet since the '80s. Constantly in demand for his arranging and compositional skills, he's now produced his first solo album, "Zooma."

PW: This album features mainly drums and bass guitar, with additional reprocessing and textures generated by Symbolic Sound's Kyma sound design and synthesis system (see the 'More on Kyma' box on page 126). The result is quite eclectic, and I'm curious to know how you conceived it. You could almost legitimately call it drum & bass, though of a rather different kind than most people imagine when they hear that term used?

JPJ: Well, yes, except that there are no programmed drums at all on this album. That's the way I like to play rock and roll; in fact the only programmed sounds are the sound effects. As you say, those came from Kyma, which can do any kind of synthesis you can imagine, FM, additive, granular, phase vocoding...

….In about 1990 I was looking for a high-end DSP machine of some sort and came across an advert for Symbolic Sound. I read one of the papers that [company founder] Carla Scaletti had written, then called her.

PW: How many aspects of Kyma have you explored? For example, have you found anything useful to do with granular synthesis?

JPJ: The end of the first track on Zooma features granular synthesis. Basically, it's about being able to specify the parameters of a lot of envelopes controlling a lot of oscillators at the same time, something you can't achieve on analogue, because you generally only have a limited number of oscillators. With Kyma, you can have as many oscillators as the processor will run -- literally hundreds."

More on Kyma: As John Paul Jones explains elsewhere in this article, the system is very flexible, allowing for real-time synthesis in the computer in a number of styles from analogue-style subtractive, through FM and right up to modern day resynthesis and granular techniques. Real-time sampling, hard disk recording, and audio processing are also possible, which explains why the system has a lots of fans amongst sound designers and music-for-picture composers in the States (for example, the system was used to create some sound effects for the new Star Wars film "The Phantom Menace" earlier this year).

A World in a Grain of Sound

Electronic Musician Magazine November 1999

One final cross-platform option is the Kyma System from Symbolic Sound. This hardware-accelerated synthesis workstation has so many built-in tools for granular synthesis that it definitely deserves a look. You'll find numerous presets ready to splice and dice any sound you throw at them, plus built-in granular sound generators that can employ any basic waveform you want. Kyma can do granular synthesis in real time, with all the parameters live and tweakable.

John Paul Jones Zooms Ahead

Bass Player Magazine September 1999 -- Adrian Ashton and Karl Coryat

"You'll need the volume about there," says an obviously happy John Paul Jones from the control room of his London home studio. After more than a decade with a highly innovative and successful rock band, and after a decade of producing, arranging, and guesting with numerous other successful acts, the former Led Zeppelin bassist is ready to press PLAY on his first-ever solo project...

JPJ: The other sounds all come from the Kyma system, which I'll be taking on tour. The Kyma is a software program that can manipulate any sound––it can listen to the bass audio and either react to it or process it. For example, you can hit a note and it will trigger some other sound. It's a very flexible design, so I can make it do what I want. On "Goose," a ghost bass appears the second time around and seems to be playing harmony––it's not! that's actually the Kyma system listening to the bass, doing a frequency analysis, and then re-synthesizing it and playing it back within certain restricted parameters. And it's doing it all live. I can use the program to create sounds I hear in my head, but sometimes you end up with happy accidents––if you're there to pick out the good stuff.

Symbolic Sound: Good effects, good story

University of Illinois Alumni Magazine Summer 1999 -- Jamie Hutchinson

An interview with Symbolic Sound founders by the University of Illinois Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering alumni magazine.

Newstalk:Phantom Sounds

Audio Media Magazine July/August 1999

AM: What kind of system was constructed for the sound design?

Matt Wood, Supervising Editor: Initially Ben (Burtt) wanted to start using his Synclavier again and, on top of that, he used a full Pro Tools/24 system as opposed to tape. He recorded all his design from the Synclavier using the KYMA processor from Symbolic Sound on the way, which is a huge DSP engine that outputs to SD11 files straight into Pro Tools.

Finishing the Phantom Menace

The Complete Story of Post-Production for Star Wars: Episode I
MIX magazine May 1999 -- Larry Blake

On Ben Burtt, Supervising Sound Editor: His sound design work outside of the Synclavier includes speed manipulation with 1/4-inch tape, along with the Kyma workstation. "There are marvelous processing programs in it for pitch and speed changes," he says.

Keyboard Reports–Symbolic Sound Kyma

Keyboard Magazine July 1998 -- Joel Chadabe

The Kyma (pronounced "kee-ma") system is the most powerful and flexible sound design and performance environment on the market today. If you're a professional who needs a distinctive sound palette, then read on––because Kyma may have just what you need. In the course of writing this review, I spoke with several professional sound designers to learn how they used Kyma. As Pete Johnston, at the Tape Gallery in London, said, "We tend to use it for things that we can't get other equipment to do, like sound morphing. It's a brilliant piece of equipment. I think this is going to be for the 21st Century what the Moog synthesizer was to the 20th."

Listen Closely

The Wall Street Journal Thursday, March 19, 1998 pg R8 -- Eben Shapiro

The hot new technique sound-effects designers are toying with is morphing, a concept analogous to the one that changed the face of visual effects in the early 1990s in movies like "Terminator2:Judgment Day," "Death Becomes Her" and "Jurassic park."

The technique is made possible by Kyma, a hardware and software system developed by Symbolic Sound Corp. in Champaign, Ill., a college town far from the Hollywood-Silicon Valley network. Symbolic Sound was founded in 1989 by graduates of the University of Illinois, the same campus that spawned Marc Andreesen and other student programmers who developed the Netscape software for navigating the Internet.


For now, most of the applications of sound morphing are in radio and television commercials, which have a far shorter lead time than feature films. The Tape Gallery in London has produced a series of radio advertisements for liquor companies and potato-chip marketers that demonstrate the potential of the new technology.

"We've been searching for something like Kyma for a long time," says the Tape Gallery's Mr. Billing.

In a radio ad for Smirnoff, the Tape Gallery uses Kyma technology to demonstrate how a splash of vodka makes any situation more interesting, a theme also used in Smirnoff's visual ads. In the radio spot, a waiter carries a bottle of Smirnoff on a tray to a customer, transforming the voices of the people he passes. As the waiter passes a table of women gossiping, the chatter gradually turns into the sounds of a cat fight.

In another spot for a liqueur, as a bored office secretary works at her typewriter, each keystroke morphs into the sound of a musical instrument. Her own yawn becomes a trumpet sound and eventually a funky calypso song in praise of the liqueur. A similar spot in the same campaign shows a car stuck in traffic, when suddenly the swish of the windshield wipers, the click of the turn signals and the honk of the car horn all blend into a song.

Still a Bargain

So, will new sound technology like this drive up the cost of elaborate action films the same way advanced visual-effects technology have? Probably not. Sound effects are still a bargain in the world of high-tech movie making, accounting for typically only 1% of a movie's total budget. Consider that Kyma, a cutting-edge sound-effects system, costs $4,400, [ed., current price has dropped to $3750] whereas just the software for a visual-effects system can cost three times as much.

1998 Editors' Choice Awards: The 26 Coolest Products of the Year

Electronic Musician January 1998

When it comes to sound design products, the Symbolic Sound Kyma system towers over all others. Whether you're doing music production; sound for games, the Internet, films, or TV; or working in a live or interactive setting, you'll find much to like in this amazing system.

Symbolic Sound Kyma 4.5—The world's finest sound-design tool

Electronic Musician January 1998 -- Dennis Miller,

It's not often that a single product totally dominates its class, but in the case of the Kyma sound-design workstation form Symbolic Sound Corporation, nothing else even comes close.

Kyma: The Ultimate Processor

Radio World August 1997

Kyma is one of the most powerful systems with which I have worked, and continues to amaze me as I discover new features and options. Also, the rate of upgrades and enhancements is impressive. The system now includes modules for nearly every major type of synthesis and processing available.

Future Perfect: Run DSP

URB:Future Music Culture V7 N55 -- Dan Sicko.

I'm not going to pretend that I know a lot about synthesis, but I do know a powerful interface when I see one. The techno producer bent on not being imprisoned by cliched sounds might want to consider Kyma's range of possibilities and ease of use.

Making Waves: Sound Synthesis on a Computer

Sound on Sound May 1997

Part 2 of a short series on computer-based synthesizers, focusing on hybrid software/hardware systems and including Kyma.

No matter how fast and powerful our desktop computers become, there will always be a strong case for using dedicated sound hardware. Not only will musicians continue to have an insatiable appetite for power...but the non-musical demands for CPU cycles will continue to increase as well. By combining the signal processing chips found in most synths with a highly flexible, graphic front-end, some developers have taken a hybrid approach to desktop synthesis, combining the best of both worlds.

Modularer Cyberspace: Portrat Symbolic Sound Kyma 4.1

KEYS January 1997 -- Thomas Alker

Feature article on software synthesis, including a portrait of Kyma and interviews with producer Oliver Lieb and Symbolic Sound President Carla Scaletti.

The 1996 Anderton Awards"––Extended Dance Remix Version

Pro Sound News December 1996 -- Craig Anderton

The "Order of the Tesla Coil/Mad Scientist" award goes to the KYMA synthesis system from Symbolic Sound. Imagine Digidesign's Turbosynth falling into the hands of a race of super-intelligent alien beings, and you'll get some idea of what this system is all about.

Kyma Sound Design Workstation

Audio Media June 1996 -- Mike Steer

A synthesizer, sampler, digital sound processor, digital recorder/controller, sound analysis tool, and a re-synthesizer all in one box? Kyma, from Symbolic Sound, can be any or all of these.

Sound FX

When Hollywood Needed to Create the Perfect-Sounding Movie Villain, It Turned to Kurt and Carla

The News Gazette August 3 1995 -- Paul Wood

Feature story describing how Frank Serafine and Francois Blaignan used Kyma to process the voice of Sid 6.7, the cyber-villain in Paramount Picture's Virtuosity (released on August 4, 1995). It quotes Serafine on Kyma:

It is a kind of an intelligent, interesting computer that shapes sounds and routes and synthesizes and morphs. We're definitely into using it; it's cool. Pre-digital, we used to be able to do some real cool things. The real-time aspects of [Kyma] sort of bring you back to the good old days.

Symbolic Sound Kyma System 4.0: A synthesis workstation with unlimited sound potential.

Electronic Musician July 1995 -- Dennis Miller

A few minutes with a Kyma system, and you'll be certain that the future has arrived.

1994 ICMC in Aarhus, Denmark

Keyboards January 1995

Auch der Kyma Workshop hinterliess einen nachhaltigen Eindruck. Dies lag nicht nur an der professionellen und ironischen Prasentation durch Carla Scaletti, eine der wenigen Frauen, die als Komponistin wie als Programmiererin erfolgereich ist. Es lag vor allem an den Qualitaten des Kyma Musikcomputersystems selbst.

1994 AES Show Report newsgroup -- Mike Rivers

One kind of interesting music tool on display was the Kyma (pronounced kee-ma) system which consists of a Smalltalk-based graphical programming language with tools like oscillators, samplers, noise and signal generators, envelope controllers, filters, and processing algorithms, as well as MIDI controller inputs and outputs. The program allows you to build a synthesizer design on screen, kind of like an analog synth, and then control their Capybara processor unit (a card cage with up to nine 56001 DSP cards), to digitally synthesize any processing of whatever input source you select (including an A/D converter).

1994 AES Show

Keyboard February 1995

Symbolic Sound's Kyma demo at the 1994 AES got a mention on page 24 by Michael Marans who got a kick out of Kyma's ContextFreeGrammar Sound.


Keyboards October 1994

Color screen shot of Kyma in the News section, describing it as a systeme de synthese virtuelle.

International Computer Music Conference

Platypus, Granules, Kyma, Daton, & the DSP56001 in Your Future

Keyboard Magazine December 1987 -- Bob Moog

One new language that acknowledges no distinction between sound synthesis and composition is Kyma, a music composition language for the Macintosh that views all elements in a piece of music, from the structure of a single sound to the structure of the entire composition, as objects to be composed.

Using these chips, the University of Illinois [ed. actually it was the CERL Sound Group] has already built a couple of prototypes of digital synthesizers. Their design, which they call the Platypus, was demoed in the conference's exhibit area.