KORE2’s new face reveals its second generation is already looking much closer to our original desire for the tool: give us a powerful, accessible environment for treating plug-ins like modular building blocks.

The first KORE may be hanging out in my closet at the moment. But the new KORE2 makes it look like someone got into my brain and imagined my wish list for the tool. I’ll know in June, when KORE: the sequel ships. Here’s a first look.

I’ll be honest: KORE was one of the bigger disappointments of 2006 for me and many of my colleagues. Being ambitious with a product means taking risks, and for my musical needs, at least, KORE didn’t initially pay off. Many features in the first release were missing or didn’t work right. While these functionality issues were largely addressed over the summer, they left a bad taste in the mouth of many users, and KORE still left many wondering what they would do with the thing. I know a few musicians who got really into KORE as the heart of their performance setup, as NI intended. I also know others who found it literally collecting dust, and many more who just skipped over it entirely. Of course, we’re spoilt for choice from NI alone: you could easily become a hermit and spend the rest of your life programming just Reaktor or Kontakt.

Some terrific ideas and design went into KORE. But KORE2 needs to be more. It may not be the “ultimate sound platform” for everyone — that’s a marketing concept; I’m not sure we’d ever actually want that. But the challenge for KORE2 is, for at least its “core” market of sound-sculpting software mavens, can it become a tool we want to use? Can it make us clear late evenings to play around with sound creation, not only for preset lovers, but sound designers and live performers, too?

A look at what NI is planning suggests KORE could well be reborn as a tool sound designers will love. In short:

  1. Integrated sound engines. One of NI’s challenges with KORE was that they had to compete with themselves, with the incredible sound engines of their flagship Reaktor, Absynth, Guitar Rig, Kontakt, and (more recently) FM8 and Massive. Now, those sound engines are integrated into KORE. What that means, exactly, I’m still working out, but it sounds like a major step in the right direction.
  2. Included sounds. KORE also inexplicably failed to include internal sounds. Now that it has internalized sound engines, it can run 500 presets off the internal engines. In other words, if you don’t own NI’s instrument/effect suite Komplete, you can make sound with KORE out of the box.
  3. Sonic variations. Build up to eight variations of each sound, then morph between them. This sounds to me like a great way to better organize presets and set up variations for performance.
  4. Custom categories. No more squeezing into arbitrary sound categories someone else made up. Want to find your favorite “meeblippiriffic” sounds? Now you can.
  5. Batch-transfer third-party presets. This could greatly ease one of KORE’s originally-promised tasks — helping you keep track of all those presets. Whether you’re a sound design addict or preset lover, that could be good news, indeed.
  6. Drag and drop MIDI/audio routing. One of the best things about NI’s new Massive instrument is its drag-and-drop, modular routing of signal. The new Sound Matrix channel grid in KORE takes a similar approach to KORE sounds, for routing audio and MIDI signal between instruments and effects and within channels. Now we’re talking: this is the kind of modularity I wanted in my sound creation platform.
  7. Step, arpeggiate, effect. A badly-needed, freely-assignable step sequencer and arpeggiator are now part of the package, as are 30 new effects algorithms. (As a big fan of NI’s effects, I’ll be interested to see what’s in there.)
  8. New hardware. More compact and lightweight, no audio interface (which was overkill to begin with, especially since it lacked XLR in), and better integrated with the on-screen interface (which was the point).

Now we’re talking. Real routing and modular power, step sequencers and arpeggiators, and variations could make KORE into a powerful sound platform. And the integration of NI’s sound engines promises to make a useful KORE-only setup a reality, as well as answering the question of what KORE does that other solutions don’t. If NI successfully streamlines the on-screen and hardware interfaces, KORE2 could provide the workflow that KORE just didn’t quite accomplish.

I once heard someone describe KORE as a “solution in search of a problem.” There, I have to adamantly disagree: as we observed in January 2006 when KORE was unveiled, the need for such a product is absolutely clear. In most software setups, categorizing presets is a pain, especially across plug-ins, and despite software’s theoretical flexibility, once you move outside an individual plug-in, you lose the ability to truly combine instruments and effects in modular fashion. It’s hard to navigate sounds from a keyboard or instrument once you’re away from the computer screen, and performance setups aren’t portable. KORE didn’t quite solve these problems without introducing some new ones, but KORE2 might. I look forward to testing it; you’ll be the first to hear how it goes.

Availability: June 2007
Pricing: US$499 (EUR449); upgrade pricing TBA