Random sounds on the Volca Sample

Wouter Hisschemöller
Feb 8 · 5 min read

I’ve made an online app that loads random sounds on the Korg Volca Sample.

In music making I often like to use a process involving randomness. Something that generates unpredictable results to work with. It gives me a new and unexpected starting point for a piece of music. I find that inspiring.

The Volca-Freesound app selects random sound samples from the Freesound database and transfers them to the Korg Volca Sample. You end up with an instrument filled with new sounds, ready to play and to use in your music.

Freesound

Freesound.org is a collaborative audio database. Anyone can create an account and share sounds. And these sounds are everything! Not just musical sounds like drums and instruments, but people’s voices, birdsong, mechanical clicks, machines, field recordings of exotic street markets, really anything.

I’ve used sounds from Freesound in my music before, and have wanted to use the Freesound API in a programming project ever since I found out it existed.

Korg Volca Sample

The Korg Volca Sample is a musical instrument that plays samples. It can hold 100 samples in its 4 megabytes of memory, of which 10 sounds can be selected as active and playable at the same time.

New sounds can only be added with a dedicated computer program.

The Volca-Freesound app

The Volca-Freesound app downloads random sounds from the Freesound database and transfers them to a Volca Sample connected to the computer’s audio output.

It’s an online app. It runs in the browser, so you can use it on a computer as well as on a phone or other mobile device. You can open and use the app in your browser here:

Quick start

Setting up

  1. Open the app at https://hisschemoller.github.io/volca-freesound/
  2. Switch on the Volca Sample.
  3. Connect your computer’s audio output to the Volca Sample’s ‘Sync In’ input with an audio cable.
  4. Use a clean audio signal. Make sure any equalizer or audio effect on the computer is disabled.
  5. Set the computer’s volume level close to maximum, about 80%.

Transferring sounds

  1. In the app select the maximum allowed duration for the sounds to download. By default it’s 1 second.
  2. Select ‘Normalize’ if you want to maximise the sounds’ volume.
  3. Select ‘Double speed’ to pitch the sounds up one octave. The sounds will take up only half the memory on the Volca but must be pitched down twelve steps to sound normal again.
  4. Select which sample slots on the Volca should receive a sample. At least one must be selected for the app to start.
  5. Click the ‘Start’ button to begin transfer.
  6. The download and transfer process starts. In the app the currently transferring slot button turns red, and green when the transfer is done. The Volca shows the slot number in its LED display.
  7. When all sounds are done press the [RECORD] button on the Volca to exit transfer mode.

If you prefer a video, please watch this tutorial I’ve put on YouTube:

Transfer receipt

After transfer ends a Receipt button appears below the Start button

The receipt is a text file with information about the downloaded samples, such as license type and Freesound URL.

Freesound audio files can have different types of licenses, depending on the choice of the owner and uploader of the file. If you end up using a sample in a released song it will be necessary to know if there are restrictions to its use.

The files downloaded by the app are 128kbps MP3 previews of the sound, which I think is a good enough quality for a slightly lo-fi 12 bit sampler like the Volca Sample.

If you like a sample and decide to use it in a higher fidelity music production, you will need a way to find the source of that sample.

If you create a Freesound account and log in, you will be able to download the sound in the highest quality available.

If you forget to download your receipt it will be almost impossible to to ever find back information about your samples.

Open source

Volca-Freesound is an open source project. You can find the source code on GitHub:

I wrote this app to get experience using the React framework and Redux state management. I used Kriasoft’s React Starter Kit as a base to build the app on.

To convert the Freesound audio files for the Volca Sample I used syro.js, Panagiotis Tigas’ JavaScript port of Korg’s Syro SDK.

Notes

The Freesound API allows for 2000 requests a day. So if it’s a busy day the app may stop working at some point. In that case nothing can be done but to wait for a new day.

Take care with the computer’s volume level. The modulated audio signal sounds quite harsh and loud if accidentally played over speakers.

Finally, here’s a demo song I made with the Korg Volca Sample, using only sounds that were downloaded by the app from Freesound. I hope the app can be of use to you.

Wouter Hisschemöller

Written by

I am a visual artist (painter) and a frontend developer. I’m interested in electronic music too. I like to explore ways to combine these fields.

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