For a number of years I’ve been into sound art and electronics, but never had the cash and space for an ARP 2600. I recently acquired a Korg Kaossilator, a fabulous little dynamic phrase synthesizer, which, for all intents and purposes, now serves as my main musical device. Pocket-sized and touch-operated, the Kaossilator is comprised of 100 sounds: electronic beats, synth chords and pads, squelchy bass tones and the odd acoustic instruments. The Theremin sounds alone are worth the price tag. The fun part is creating 8-beat loops in which you can control the tempo and the scales of the instruments selected. I’ve already “composed” a few pieces using just the Korg and will most likely start incorporating it into GarageBand or, perhaps, Max/MSP once my visual programming chops get happening. My only complaint is you can’t edit or remove instruments/sounds as you layer them or control individual volumes. Still, I highly recommend the Korg for beginners and semi-pros that haven’t got a cache of gear and/or software. For standalone equipment, I don’t think there’s anything really comparable to the Kaossilator, except it’s cousin, the Mini Kaoss Pad, which is more for effects.
A hobbyist that was a session drummer in another life (before children), it’s limiting to how often I can make music. Drummers have to deal with the confines of noise volumes (the neighbors), the amount of space required and the portability of your gear. Plus, your output is restricted to mainly the rhythmic aspects of music as well as performing in the more traditional acoustic genres. With two small children, I don’t get to play with the Kaossilator as often as I’d like, but the one-year-old loves to see and hear it in action. While you can use the sounds to record with in your audio software, you can also just plug in headphones and experience your public transit commuting time diminish exponentially. I’ve taken it out of the house a few times. It runs on either a 4.5V adapter (not included) or 4 AA batteries (included). I have yet to really clock the amount of time used with just the batteries, but it’s been a lot longer than you’d get on a laptop.