I wrote this as an email response to someone asking for thoughts on KYMA, so thought I'd repost here for others benefits.
Ok, first off, here's a really good post on Kyma vs MAX/MSP vs Nord Modular by Anthony Bisset.
I too use MAX/MSP. I also use it for tool and workflow creation. Aka SevenUpLive 2.0 for the monome.
MAX is really good at connecting stuff and controlling stuff. I don't find it particularly well suited to designing sounds.
KYMA on the other hand has a primary purpose of being almost a definitive platform for sound design. Supporting everything from nice sounding patches and straight subtractive stuff to very esoteric and bizarre forms of synthesis. You pretty much can combine anything with anything so a lot of times you create mashups of a bunch of different higher level patches. This is far more productive at actually creating interesting sound design than MAX/MSP.
The sound quality is untouchable. It's immediately apparent when you start working with it. This all stems from the fact that all sound computations happen in realtime within one clock cycle or sample. So KYMA is sample accurate. You are not doing sound computations on vectors of samples, unless you want to.
Another aspect of KYMA is the ability to have hot values for outside control of the patch. This is very easy to do. These hot values can connect to controls or can be controlled via midi or now OSC which gives you a nice connection to the outside world. the new OSC support is great, especially to connect MAX to KYMA.
The flow of a KYMA patch is a directed graph of signal flow. This is of course very different than MAX but very familiar in synthesis since signals flow from left to right. The components in the flow can be very low level or very high level prototypes for synthesis.
It's ridiculously easy to put a filterbank of 32 bands for example in a flow controlled by other aspects of a patch. It's also easy to resynthesize a sound by using an oscillator bank of 1000 sine waves controlled by the spectra of another sound.
But then you might be using something very simple like a VCA or an ADSR envelope.
But to answer your specific questions
Everything I hear about kyma is really
interesting to me. I love the
semi-programming interface. What I
wonder though is how "useful" it is. I
mean, it's one thing for it to be an
amazing tool for very infrequent
occasions. It's another thing entirely
to be a system that can contribute to
every project I work on, and allow me
to be more creative and think outside
of the box in more than just the
exceptional situations. That's what
I'm looking for! Not that I don't love
the lucid nightmares about buffer size
and envelope shape etc. that Max/MSP
So my question to you: How do you use Kyma? How valuable is it to you, creatively? How do you fit >it into your workflow?
First of all, I'm not a sound designer by profession, I just have an interest in music and synthesis. If I was though I think I'd be all over KYMA for a few reasons.
1 It's a tool for learning. You can do or prototype just about any idea in sound fairly quickly with sometimes surprising results. For example, here's a fun patch I was playing with that sounded like a digeridoo.
Modular synth controlling KYMA http://www.vimeo.com/10943340
2 You can build your own library of building blocks and keep combining them into new things. For example, let's say you want to create crazy engine, mechanical drones. You could build a patch that uses various methods of using detuned oscillator banks to create you own drone machine.
3 Kind of a secret weapon for sound design. If that was my profession. I'd be all over it.
So my workflow for KYMA is like so. Firstly, I use it for effects. Granular reverbs. Pitch/Time shifting, Filterbanks etc...
Sometimes I use KYMA to recreate an idea I found on the modular synth. Maybe I was playing with some interesting FM concept and I want to build a patch that recreates an aspect of that for reuse later.
It's a learning tool for discovering new concepts. Someone mentioned Karplus strong algorithmns. I looked it up on Wikipedia, found a prototype in KYMA. Built a patch to recreate hitting metallic tubes. You can experiment for the full range of pretty much any synthesis technique ever developed, or maybe invent your own. That is just cool.
I can do things in KYMA I just cannot do in other systems. So it complements other techniques. More fun to patch subtractive stuff on modular, but then I can do stuff like put the sound through a 32 band fixed filterbank whose bands are keying of notes in another sequence or something.
While you can use preexisting effects and sound out of the box. That would not be enough to justify KYMA.
There is a learning curve for sure. If you have already learned MAX then I'm not worried but plan to invest 100 hours in this before you get over the hump.
If you just want say an environment to do subtractive synth stuff. It definitely does this but it would be faster in an environment that was optimized to be a modular synth. The open ended nature means sometimes you have to discover which tool to use to get there. There are over 200 prototype components, so takes a bit to find the best path. There are usually a lot of solutions to the same problem.
For example, simple square wave, use an Oscillator that uses a square wave table, OR use two saws offset by a delay line and combined together. Now I can adjust the delay to morph smoothly from saw to square. I can put in a hot variable for Pulse Width, or I just grab a prototype that implements PWM. You can get to the metal or work at a much higher level than you can in MAX.
Use Tao editor to create smooth spectral morphs between two completely different sounds, human to cat to dog etc... Resynthesis and morphing? The are a half dozen ways to do this in KYMA that are different.
Last advise. If you are serious, buy the book!! KYMA revealed $35. It's a great read even without KYMA. If you feel drawn to the concepts there, you will likely enjoy the system.