The Process, Episode 1: Kimbra's Sampling and Synthesis Magic

Welcome to the first episode of our new Reverb series, The Process. In each episode, we'll profile a musician to learn more about their creative process—learning not only what kind of music they make, but how and what they use to make it. For episode one, we caught up with Kimbra, a singer and multi-instrumentalist who’s currently touring in support of her latest full-length record, Primal Heart.

Originally from New Zealand and now calling New York City home, Kimbra’s 2010 single “Settle Down” from her album Vows put her on the map internationally, leading to a steadily growing fan base and collaboration opportunities with other musicians. Her and Gotye’s notable duet, “Somebody That I Used To Know,” landed her a worldwide distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records and also snagged Grammy awards for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group in 2013.

In the video above, Kimbra talks about her struggle to make her songs sound bigger on stage when performing by herself and how the desire to do so led her to experimenting with all sorts of gear. Using loop effects and MIDI synchronization, Kimbra is able to layer harmonic vocals and create lush textures.

At the center of Kimbra's live rig are the music production software programs Ableton Live and Native Instruments Machine, which both acts as control centers for the many sequencers and controllers she has assembled around her. (The Maschine Jam is the controller for her NI software.)

The Novation Launch Control is the mixer responsible for the whole mix, including late-stage effects like bringing vinyl noise or pitch-shifting to spoken-word or ambient samples

Her Arturia Beatstep and a Korg Kaoss Pad KP3+ bring in and control preset effects. Using the touchscreen of the Kaoss Pad, Kimbra is able to bring dynamic changes to the sounds controlled by the Beatstep.

Kimbra creates loops by using the TC Helicon VoiceLive Touch 2, taking snippets of her vocals and running them through other equipment, like the Kaoss Pad KP3+ or her Korg Kaossilator Pro+, to drench them in effects like reverses, stutters, and more.

"So getting on the Kaoss Pads allowed me to do my own throws at the touch a finger and be the master of when I could make something feel dramatic or cinematic," she says. In another setup she's recently started to use, Kimbra connects her Critter & Guitari Septavox to the VoiceLive to create a Vocoder-like effect. This then lets her use the Kaoss Pads like instruments instead of just effects boxes for her vocals.

Ultimately, to Kimbra, it's about using all of the tools available in computers and effects units, while maintaining a quest for discovery.

"Kind of the beauty of these things is that you're not sitting there like a professional musician working out the inversion, you're feeling it and you're discovering some things. These help me to play with that place between collapse and comfort," she says. "I'm constantly on the edge of my seat, which is fun."

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