The clever musical gems for the Nintendo DS just keep coming. Nintendo’s handheld game console, in my mind, wins hands-down among mobile platforms in terms of sheer choice, even though the homebrew development is entirely unsanctioned by Nintendo.

The latest entry: glitchDS, a clever sequencer that uses a cellular automaton (a simple, grid-based model of the evolution of cellular structures). CA, particularly John Conway’s Game of Life rendition from the 70s, has been applied to music before; there’s a powerful version in the Newscool preset in Reaktor 5. But this happens to be particularly well-suited to a touchscreen, and to having something you can stick in your bag and fiddle with on the go.


  • Customizable Cellular Automaton sequencer

  • Create your own “trigger points”

  • Load in your own sounds

  • Save and load your work

  • BPM settings, or “strum mode” for controlling tempo

  • Up to 6 sounds can be loaded at once

  • Each sound has its own 32 step frequency modulation sequencer

  • Global Distortion setting

And the price is free. There’s even a series of free soundpacks to go with it.

The only catch is, of course, that whole “unsanctioned” bit: the preferred means of loading this is an R4DS card, though DSLinker, DSTT, CycloDS Evolution, Acekard 2, EDGE, and some others work. Be sure to check the documentation.

The design is really clever, potentially inspiring for other projects even if you don’t have a DS. One especially unique twist: “strum” mode lets you strum a sequence like a guitar, something I haven’t seen before. Thanks to Ronnie of the awesome for sending this in.

Want more cellular automata? It just happens that a video synth using CA, coupled with a patch bay and optical sensors and packed in a lovely case with an LCD, also happened into my inbox this week for Create Digital Motion:

Circuit-Bent Cellular Automata Video Synth Toy with Patch Bay

  • Guitar-like strumming (of a virtual guitar sound) on the DS is essentially what the commercial "game" Jam Sessions ("Hiite Utaeru DS Guitar M-06" in Japan) is about.

  • I think you misunderstood me. Strumming, I've seen quite a lot of. (Not least on guitars, but yes, on Jam Sessions!) But the idea of strumming or scrubbing a sequence is interesting.

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  • Once I got it working, it proved to be awesome. Going to use this to generate some loops to play with in more traditional ways. 🙂

  • How easy is it to get the homebrew DS stuff going these days? Not long after I first got my DS, I got interested in the little audio nuggets I saw floating around (including a tracker). And the Commodore 64 / GEOS emulators looked fun for nostalgia's sake.

    But I never got anything. It seemed like there were too many different options for getting homebrew stuff onto the DS and they weren't all compatible with each other; and many of them seemed to require hard to find items. I couldn't find any stores or good starter kits that catered to such a market.

    At the time, it appeared that there were some libraries in late development that would unify a lot of the storage options, or at least make ones choice of storage option irrelevant. But I haven't checked on their progress.

    So – what's the state of homebrew for the DS? Has it gotten easier for the lazily-interested?

    In the meantime, I'm looking forward to the luscious-looking DS-10.

  • Jeff, I'd categorize it as a minor pain in the butt. Nintendo sill persecutes the homebrew scene — not with all its might, but enough to keep it out of the mainstream.

    To get something like this running is still basically a hack on top of a hack, but developers have done what they can to not make it too nasty. DLDI stuff for instance means that, with the M3 DS Real (and some other hardware I'm sure) you don't have to go through any sort of patching process; just stick it on the memory card and hope it works.

  • BirdFLU

    NO hassles for me. I just copied to my DS-X card and started playing with it. Glitch DS is more verstaile than it appears in the video. It strikes a nice balance between predictable control and unpredictable results.

  • Best way to avoid hassle is to do a little research. As you'll see on the GlitchDS site, there are specifics on which cards work and which don't. If you do some homework before you buy the card, you can save yourself a LOT of trouble. Some cards work very well … others don't. The DS-X, while expensive, is very much on the "working well" end of the spectrum.

    But yeah, in my dream world, Nintendo just opens the thing up, sacrifices a bit of piracy but gets broader appeal for the platform. I don't think it'll happen, and I understand their reasoning, but it is my *dream world*, so things go the way I want.

  • Hello Jeff Shell,

    It's super easy to get started programming on the DS. Download an emulator such as no$gba and google for palib and "palib tutorial". The painful part is getting the correct versions of the libraries installed. After that, it's easy!

    – Bret

  • ed

    Just tried it, pretty cool. i'll try to record something using glitch ds + nitrotracker.

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