This can be a guitar. Or a DX7. You can grab the code for one app – or, if you know BASIC, write your own. Photo (CC-BY) MIKI Yoshihito.

For years, lovers of chip music and handheld instruments have hacked Nintendo gaming systems to turn them into music instruments. In fact, long before anyone in the mainstream tech world imagined something like the iPhone would be seen onstage, these intrepid Nintendo lovers transformed Game Boys into serious soundmakers.

But, the key word has alwasy been “hacked.” Nintendo closely guards access to its machines for big-league game developers, and, motivated in no small part by piracy concerns, frowns at everyone else.

Japanese developer Smileboom found a solution: they made a geeky title that opens up Nintendo DS to BASIC programming capabilities. It proudly catapults DS culture into … well, the past, into the days when BASIC programming was a standard feature in computers. (Sometimes the main feature. Or only feature. Let’s party like it’s 1979.) Talk about moving from content consumption to content creation – this means creating the software that creates the content.

But whether or not you’re into coding, the results are already extraordinary, a whole new world of musical goodness on the DS. You just need a recent DS – like the DSi or 3DS – with access to the DSiWare store. (I had actually found various musical gems for download there, and should really do a round-up ASAP.)

Fernando Lima Oliveira of Brazil points to the musical applications of the BASIC-running app, which has now come to the North American store from Japan. (Rest of the world, you seeing it yet, or just using America’s store anyway?) Fernando explains:

Smileboom’s Petit Computer (Nintendo DSi/3DS) has been released on the American DSiWare by GameBridge. There’s potential for music apps (I’ve seen a few videos of some basic synths already) and collaboration (copying to an SD card or through QR code). I’m in no way affiliated to these companies, just think it’s awesome to have a programming language on a handheld (programming through the touch screen might get boring real fast though).

He adds that you can also sequence tunes directly, without necessarily writing a new BASIC app:

These where listed in a response from Smileboom about the audio capabilities, they mentioned using MML (Music Markup Language?) to sequence/play songs too. Like this one: Didn’t think much of it, probably useful for game programming.

You also get a few dozen user samples and up to 16-voice polyphony, it seems.

Check out some of the amazing videos – like a soaring chip ballad:

— a guitar simulation:

— and, as things get really interesting, a full-blown, powerful synth, emulating the Yamaha DX7:

Smileboom, for their part, have posted a General MIDI demo.

I’m definitely checking this out. If anyone wants to help us share patches for this on CDM, especially with us English-speaking audiences, let us know. (Any Japanese-speaking readers who love your DSi?) [Petit Computer, JP]

Nintendo Life has an English-language interview with Smileboom [in English, with plenty of information, manual, etc.]