Yeah, that’s right it’s a Nintendo DS. And not even one of the new ones. It’s an old DS Lite that I’ve had for about five years. Believe it or not it was this handheld gaming console that switched me on to the possibilities of music-making in the digital world.
A year or so ago I came across this “game” trading for £20 second hand on Amazon, US import. I put the word “game” into inverted commas, as it’s only the context of it being for Nintendo that makes it so. The blurb claimed it emulated an old school KORG analogue synthesizer. The reviews were positive. I was curious. So I ordered it. And it really did blow my mind.
Essentially, it’s two analog synth emulators, a drums module, 6 track/16-step sequencer, with 3 effects (Delay, Chorus, Flanger). I think it goes some way to show how far the revolution in digital music has come that the analog devices this little 1″ square of plastic and circuitry is emulating would originally have taken up half a fair sized room. (In deference to the original machinery, you can manipulate vitual patch cables with the DS stylus; the yellow wires in the screenshot).
With this thing you can make music. Push notes into the sequencer, set up some drums and away you go. Twiddle the virtual knobs with the stylus and make some really dirty synth sounds. Best of all, twist those sounds outrageously using the KAOSS pad on the DS touchscreen. I didn’t even know what a KAOSS pad was before I got this, and if you don’t, basically it’s a set of axes (X,Y) to which you set different parameters to manipulate the sound. It means you can make sounds like this:
It’s a great little tool, and really opened my eyes to what is possible with digital music – and it’s not even very new (2009). Here’s an example of what you could do if you have greater skill and patience than I:
It does have some drawbacks: there’s no way to get audio out of it except by using the headphone jack (that I can see) so if you want to use it for the purposes of recording the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s under-amplified. The instructions are pefunctory at best (I ended up downloading the manual for the original synth!), so if you want to go beyond noodling for sounds, that can be quite frustrating. And, really, it doesn’t stand comparison to anything remotely professional.
But it is genuinely a part of my little studio’s equipment – there are some things it does that nothing else I own can. And it’s portable, so you can get ideas down on the move (or in bed if you are unfortunate enough to have nothing better to do).