You might not expect a handheld game console, the gadget kids use to play Pokemon, to prove much worth as a musical instrument. But even in the age of readily-available computer plug-ins and iPhone apps, the DS holds its own. In the hands of two sets of artists, we find music that stands alone, independent of the gimmick of the device on which it was made. For these artists, the limitations of a fold-up touchscreen – entirely independent of doubling as a phone, or a computer, or a Facebook-browsing engine, or a powerful 64-bit DAW – apparently prove enticing. Beginning with Korg’s DS-10 cartridge, they use a stylus-operated software synth with its own unique character.
On some level, I almost hesitate to wax poetic about the fact that these were made with a Nintendo DS at all, because what these are, really, is love letters to synthesis.
And as it happens, both are available as free downloads from Bandcamp.
First up: AuxPulse is the duo of Rutger Muller and Michael Vultoo, based in Amsterdam and Kockengen, Netherlands, respectively. Late last year, they debuted their first album at Amsterdam’s prestgious Stedelijk Museum of modern art, playing a big set (two and a half hours) on small devices. Primarily employing the Nintendo DS, they nonetheless produce sounds that are rich and layered, sometimes even tending to the ambient exploration, not just the rawer chip-music sounds regularly associated with Nintendo handhelds.
Their music is trippy but danceable, unapologetically electronic, fully exploiting the DS-10’s idiosyncratic sonic character, one that’s slightly lower-fidelity than many soft synths (or even iPhone apps), without being “chippy” in the sense of retro devices. Dark textures collide with precise, clockwork rhythms, in sounds that sometimes tend to acid techno and sci fi game realms. (Lo-acid-fi, anyone?)
As you watch them live, you also see the value of the interface compositionally, both in terms of its pattern banks and its more conventional synth controls, all manipulated with the added precision of a stylus.
As they put it:
We aim to bring experimentation back to the dancefloor by expressing a psychedelic atmosphere through the use of a variety of rhythms and moods. Some of our inspirations are analogue synthesizers, acid, IDM, hardcore, gabber, ambient and oldschool electro.
Right now we mainly use the KORG DS-10 synthesizer for Nintendo DS to compose and improvise our music. When playing live we fuck with the synths as much as we can, trying to surprise ourselves with new sounds.
Our first album was recently released in Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam! Now we perform regularly, trying to open up some minds and move some feet.
The album, on Bandcamp:
Bonus: an interview with them (in Dutch, naturally)
In a very different direction, Princeton, New Jersey-based DJ and producer Christian Montoya (love and tonic records) produces music on the DS-10 that’s drier and more exposed, as he programs intricate bass music on the unprocessed Nintendo cart. Christian works as a game designer by day, and channels some of the DS-10’s game music and so-called “chip music” heritage. The results, though, are a perfect marriage of game chip-waveform rawness, nude bass and synth and percussion sounds, and carefully-concocted grooves. For anyone concerned that game systems could hinder moving your butt out of the seat, this album is required listening. It’s utterly stripped-bare dance goodness – and it turns out the DS bass sounds fantastic.
Grab the record for free:
DS-10 users, got any tips for us on getting the most out of a Nintendo handheld and this KORG synth? Let us know.
Also, from comments but worth pointing out, Rutger directs us to good resources for getting the most out of DS-10:
If you’re interested in making DS-10 music you can check out http://www.ds10forum.com
I (Rutger, DS-10 Dominator, 1/2 of AuxPulse) run it with Harley (http://harleylikesmusic.com, superb DS-10 composer!) and we try to help out beginner’s and advanced users as much as we can.