Volca Sample Tutorial 3: Working With Automation

In the previous tutorial, we went over a number of facilities provided by the Volca Sample for you to change how your samples sound like. This shorter tutorial shows how some of those parameters can be programmed to change in time using automation. In Korg’s parlance, automation is referred to as “Motion Sequence”. We will use both terms equivalently, although I prefer the former, as the same principles and techniques are common to a number of other synths and software programs (LMMS, Ardour, etc).

As happens with the other tutorials, this text is accompanied by a demonstrative video on my YouTube channel.

Understanding Automation

Automation is recording how a parameter changes in time. In Tutorial 1 I shown how the Volca Sample records triggers for each part on a 10×16 grid (see bellow). For each of the 10 parts, the Volca Sample also has am additional 11×16 grid where it can store the position of each¬† transparent knob in the Sample Editing Matrix at the time each step starts. This means that if you record the sweep of a knob (for example the filter cut-off), the Volca Sample will reproduce it in a stepped manner. Although there is no equivalent to the Volca Key’s smooth functionality, the Volca Sample allows you to further edit the automation after you recorded it.


Each pattern in the Volca Sample is recorded as a 10x16 grid of triggers. For each part, the automation memory can be considered as a 11x16 grid of parameter values (0 to 127 or -63 to +63).
Each pattern in the Volca Sample is recorded as a 10×16 grid of triggers (up). For each part, the automation memory can be considered as a 11×16 grid (lower image) of parameter values (0 to 127 or -63 to +63).

Controlling Automation

There are only two controls dedicated to Motion Sequence: one for turning it on or off and another to clear it. Both require the [FUNC] button and a key in the keypad.

  • [MOTION SEQ ON/OFF] = [FUNC] + [KEY12] Turns Motion Sequence on or off. This command applies for each part independently. As usual, the active part is shown by one of the first 10 LEDs in the lower row.¬† When Motion Sequence is on, the LED under KEY12 will also light up. One interesting performance feature is that you can turn automation off during playback, and then turn it back on without losing the Automation data (example in the video).
  • [MOTION SEQ CLEAR] = [FUNC] + [KEY13] Clears the automation memory for the selected part… all of it! If you have multiple motion sequences going on. Let’s suppose you already have some nice HI CUT and PAN automation going on. You now want to add some melodic variation using SPEED but you got it wrong. If you try to clear Motion Sequence, all the previous work will also go away. Fortunately, you can record Automation over already existing automation, as well as edit the automation at each step individually. :)

Recording Automation

Before recording motion sequence, you need to check a couple of things:

  1. Select the correct part (using either [PART >] or [PART <] or press the corresponding key in Live Mode).
  2. Make sure the Motion Sequence is active for that part (see above).
  3. You are in Live Mode.
  4. The pattern is playing (you cannot record automation if the sequencer is stopped).

Once you have the pattern playing, you can hit [RECORD] and start twisting the knob. The [RECORD] key will lit during 16 steps and then it will stop recording automation. This is so in order to avoid you recording new automation on top of the first steps you recorded.

You may repeat the process to record automation on another parameter, or to record new automation to replace the one you already recorded. This latter feature is useful for correcting errors. Indeed, if you start recording automation and quickly move a knob to it’s default/desired position and leave it there, only the first step will sound different (you can latter correct this), which is the next best thing to erasing the automation of a single parameter.

Editing Automation

This feature is actually absent from the manual (at least as far as I know), and I know it from Gaz Williams’ review. After recording automation you can go to STEP MODE, press the key corresponding to the step you want to edit and turn the knob to the desired value while keeping the step key pressed. This feature allows you to edit automation one step at a time, and fine tune your automation.

I included this feature under “Editing Automation” and not as a means of recording it, because on Gaz William’s review he said that this was only available after some automation has been recorded. This might have been true in the early versions of the Operating System, but I have my Volca Sample running the latest firmware update (1.30) and we can now use this method to introduce new automation data into a track without previous automation (see video above). Thus, we can think of this method as a Step Mode approach to record automation.

Indeed, you can do this during playback, and your don’t even need to have Motion Seq. ON. Which is very handy for live performances.

Recording Melodies using Automation

Being able to edit or record automation data in Step Mode is useful for creating more-or-less complex melodies using the SPEED knob. Indeed, recording a melody is no more than recording automation for this knob, and automation works either using SPEED by itself, or using the [FUNC]+SPEED combination in order to have semitone intervals.

Unfortunately, pressing a key in the keypad, the [FUNC] button and rotating the SPEED knob may lead to some Kamasutra-like finger twisting, specially when editing the automation in the first half of the keypad. To make things easier, you can find bellow a table that translates semitone intervals into SPEED settings for the two octaves below and above the sample’s original pitch. As can be inferred from this table, the more extreme pitches are difficult to link with a certain speed setting provably because SPEED changes the playback speed linearly while [FUNC]+SPEED changes it exponentially.

Conversion between semitones and SPEED settings. An asterisk (*) denotes an approximate value, with the actual tone lying between two adjacent settings.
Note Description SPEED Note Description SPEED
-1 Seventh bellow -3 1 3
-2 -5 2 Second 5
-3 Sixth bellow -8 3 Minor third 8
-4 -11 4 Third 11
-5 Fifth bellow -13 5 Fourth 13
-6 -16 6 Fourth augmented 16
-7 Fourth bellow -19 7 Fifth 19
-8 Third bellow -21 8 21
-9 -24 9 Sixth 24
-10 Second bellow -27 10 27
-11 -30 11 Seventh 30
-12 Octave bellow -32 12 Octave above 32
-13 -33(*) 13 33(*)
-14 -35 14 35
-15 -36 15 36
-16 -37 16 37
-17 -39 17 39
-18 -40 18 40
-19 -41(*) 19 41(*)
-20 -42(*) 20 42(*)
-21 -44 21 44
-22 -45(*) 22 45(*)
-23 -46(*) 23 46(*)
-24 Two Octaves bellow -48 24 Two Octaves above 48

In the next tutorial, we will see how different patterns can be concatenated to form longer musical phrases, using Song Mode.