Music making, child’s play. Photo (CC-BY-SA) Attila Malarik.

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:

And on SoundCloud:
Dream Stages (FREE ALBUM!) by AuxPulse

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.

  • fruit

    Just port it for smaller iOS devices

    • peterkirn

      Korg already has iOS apps.

      And soft synths. And hardware.

      What's unique about this is a handheld device that isn't *also* your phone, and whatnot. See my commentary above. Maybe you want to make music without taking calls on your instrument.

    • http://www.rutgermuller.nl Rutger Muller

      For me, the two fascinating things about DS-10 are

      1) The fact that it's an all-in-one composing studio. I approach composing on it it with a similar philosophy that surrounds chiptune software (primitive trackers): "OK, it looks limited, but I have everything I need, let's see what I can do with it." 

      2) That it's a very intuitive LIVE instrument, thanks to the pattern mode that syncs to the rhythm, the 16 step sequencer that fits exactly on the screen, the Kaoss pad / Koassilator functions that can be applied to every parameter, etc.

    • Paul

      But it is also your kids toy of choice for a pokemon fix. Still, maybe you want to make music on a kids gaming platform?

      Actually, im not especially knocking the Nintendo.. But it is an example of how your point doesn't really stick.
      It's not as if iPhones are only for making calls and posting what you had for breakfast on Twitter live from your bus journey to work. That would be like saying your desktop computer is only good for office spreadsheets and making sales forecast pie charts. Indeed, the iOS platform is good for doing many things, and doing them pretty well at that. But music production?

      Of the 3 core iOS devices you can currently get your mitts on, 2 of those I find hopelessly small to do any real musical work with anyway, no matter how clever the GUI of the software is. This Nintendo deal looks equally tedious, in much the same way as making a "Ship in a bottle" is tedious. Sure, it's undeniably clever, but both are a chore that in time will make you cross eyed.

      But then, along came the iPad! (And other similar tablet'esque devices with unbloated operating systems)
      You should try one ;)

    • peterkirn

      No, I'm not saying an iPhone is *only* for making calls. I'm saying that part of the appeal of the DS is that it's a relatively distraction-free, dedicated device. And some people also have these machines to play games on — which doesn't necessarily conflict with the distraction question, because the devices are very much about uni-tasking, not multi-tasking.

      It's also often around $100, which is far cheaper than an unlocked iPhone ($700-800) or iPad ($500+)… or even an iPod touch.

      At the end of the day, of course, all of things are just computers. 

      So, what I find interesting about *Rutger's* response is that he really just likes the software. And it's different than what KORG has done with their iOS software.

    • rutgermuller

      Yep…. I'm actually very willing to switch to iPad, or whatever. I've even dived into iMS-20 (see http://www.soundcloud.com/iNALOG for the official demo track I did). It sounds better than DS-10, but I prefer the DS-10 interface, it make works intuitive and therefore makes me more creative…

    • http://zeroreference.blogspot.com zeroreference

      Yeah! Peter and Rutger, if I could take the risk of generalizing, the DS-10 (which I kinda want – maybe after I complete my monotron collection…..) offers a different subjective experience than, say, an iPhone. As every different device does. 

      A different physical design, a different tactile interface, and perhaps a subjectively different mental state in the use of a DS-10 to make music. I may be off-base here, but I tend to blend questions of interface and medium – we could think of the DS-10 as its own medium (every device can be it's own medium!), and, if we've learned anything recently, it's that medium matters. So why shouldn't we, as artists, value different devices differently – even if they provide the SAME range of sonic (note – NOT musical) expressiveness. As artists, i.e. not wholly rational creators, our subjective experience while creating is an important influence on what we create.

      I'm sure a design theorist or someone could say all of that in like, ten words. Incidentally, that's why I've always loved the OP-1. It looks fun to work on, and that has the potential to translate into a different musical experience than some hypothetical $20 OP-1 iPad app. That's also what I think a lot of the OP-1 haters miss. Though I don't want to end up defending $500 gold-plated MIDI cables because of their subjective value……

    • rutgermuller

      To my surprise working on the DS-10 doesn't fatigue me at all. Its design really works on the small screen, and you can flip through the screens quickly with the trigger buttons on the back of the DS. DS-10 is based on the analogue original (MS-10/20), but the interface is completely adapted to the DS. That is unlike KORG's iMS-20 synth studio for iPad, which disappointed me a bit as its sequencer is pretty much a 1 : 1 copy of the analogue original (SQ-10), with its tedious knobs. I would have preferred to see something new, and more intuitive.

      But I'm sure iMS-20 will get a successor some time…. hopefully.

    • jimmie

      you know you can record sequence via the keyboard or kaoss pad, right?

    • rutgermuller

      Oh, you're right, I should have given that credit, that works pretty well! Like the scales functions, etc. 

      Still for some reason, both Michael and I felt that DS-10 works much quicker and more intuitively, it's hard for me to pinpoint exactly why… strangely.

      I also forgot a disappointing thing though: there's only 1 real time synth, where DS-10 has 2 synths. So for making soundscapes for example, DS-10 is much more organic. See http://soundcloud.com/ds10dominator/ds-10-dominat

  • http://www.rutgermuller.nl Rutger Muller

    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.

    Cheers!

  • Markus Schroeder

    cool! I am a big supporter of the DS-10, also.
    I Love what AuxPulse did

    I did the “same” as in using DS-10 only for live sound a while back, but focused on noise kind of music with the Sherman Filterbank als only add effect.

    so with the intention of a conspirator let my share that: http://www.soundcloud.com/n2s1

    mind that 2 songs are still missing and I need to rerecord them
    :)

  • http://bryface.bandcamp.com bryface

    just going to round out the selection of already stellar artists above with a plug for my own DS-10 album "how to dodge lasers" =)
    http://bryface.bandcamp.com/album/how-to-dodge-la

    it's not as new as the above releases, but do check it out if you are interested in an DS-10 music with a distinctly unique focus on composition and melody.

  • aubie

    That’s just plain bad. As in ill, as in sick, as in Awesome! That’s the first time I listened to a long YouTube video about a handheld device (iPad, monotribe, shruti) all the way through. I’m not trying to start a device war, Just saying that I’m also about to download auxpulse’s album. great share! The rest of the guys are solid too.

  • http://bedroomproducersblog.com/ BPB

    that Decktonic album blew me away! huge bass sounds and such cool tracks – it's awesome even if you ignore the mind-boggling fact that it was made on a DS-10. amazing how talented some people are!

    :O

    • http://thisisdecktonic.com Decktonic

      Thanks so much! 

    • http://www.auxpulse.com Rutger

      Big up!

  • Jespoke

    It doesn't surprise me one bit that they are from the Netherlands when its on a topic so related to DJ's. I'm proud of you birthplace and DS!

    • http://www.auxpulse.com Rutger

      Haha thanks man. Although we're Dutch, musically we come more from the UK school of music: Warp, Rephlex. And there's some German influence as well, I like Alva Noto.

    • http://www.auxpulse.com Rutger

      But some of the tracks were influenced by old Thunderdome compilation albums:&nbsp ;http://soundcloud.com/auxpulse/combined-forces

    • peterkirn

      Don't forget, Nintendo and KORG are Japanese.

      And chip music had a lot going on in the US, in turn inspired by the demoscene in Europe.

      It's a small, small world. ;)

  • Markus Schroeder

    @aubie
    Yes, there is no reason to ditch the ‘AND’ and limit yourself to the ‘OR’ in music. :)

    @bryface
    “the final boss is tom selleck” just extra great! :D

  • Juno

    Seriously would love a DS-10 or the DS10 Plus, but in Australia these carts seem hard to find.

  • http://soundcloud.com/chaoticinnerchild DragonBomber

    I think comparing the DS or DSi or the PSP to the iOS devices as far as which works best would be a bit unfair, if not a bit like comparing two entirely different tools in a toolbox. Yes they each have a touchscreen, but even those screens differ widely and your software options are changed as a result. The memory and storage specs, as well as the internet connectivity limit things. I began using a myriad of DS music apps after running across Google hits to misc blogs that mentioned them, including this very place as well, as I had been curious what was available. I had always enjoyed the PS2 music apps, and older DOS trackers, so for me working on a DS is a bit comforting. A welcome release from overly complex layers of music production, improvisation, or experimentation that I sometimes wander.

    I enjoy using the PSP, NDS, iPhone and iPad along with the laptops and desktops for fun music times. There is nothing wrong is getting rad sound out of the different tools. They each have different apps that can produce different things. Going over old DOS tracking, mobile composing, modern tracking, DAWs, and DSP/VST filtering in a youth mentoring environment has taught me to embrace these tools, not reject them because something else has more range. Sometimes having less range is exactly what I or the youth I have worked with need. They see that anything can make sound. Sound can be edited and modified to do what we want it to. Hardware can be chained together or mixed such that new and exciting things can be made. Those four devices, cables, and my Zoom H1 are some of the best tools to instantly begin working on improvisation and composition with youth, or just to inspire them creatively.

    I would say on the NDS I get the most use out of the two Korg DS apps, Electroplankton, NitroTracker, GlitchDS, Master Stroke and axe. I would be a sad panda without the additional apps of CellsDS, ProteinDS, RepeaterDS, SoundCells, ToneSynthDS and occasionally the misc DSMI protocol apps for wifi MIDI triggering for demonstration purposes. On the PSP I really like Beaterator, though I have not given nearly enough time to the homebrew apps on memory card sadly.

  • itsok

    I really enjoy making music on korg ds 10.But would like to see an update on a tablet or ipad i didn't care to much for ims 20 analog sequencer.Just feel the creators made somthing good and should improve upon it

  • http://www.petermobeter.com UncleBibby

    I've been using Korg DS-10 since it came out, and my favourite thing about it is the community is always coming up with new tricks and techniques for using it. It's sort of like how some fighting games' communities are constantly coming up with new combos and stuff.

  • leakeg

    you can yell at me "it's should only be about the music" all you want, but a guy on stage with a gameboy looks beyond naff.

  • pc999

    Quite a few "eshop" games for DSware I have been plying with Rytmik, and I never thought I could do so much with it.

    Anyway what these guys do is amazing !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!