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I am the music man: The story of Mike and his KORG DS-10 (Part One) August 18, 2008

Posted by Mike in Impressions.
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Ticking off the entries on my imaginary “Things To Do Before You Die” list a week ago, it was obvious to me that the one that said “create a musical masterpiece” would have to be passed over with regret.  So I decided to do something about that by importing the Korg DS-10 for Nintendo DS from Japan.

I’ve always wanted to be a music maestro.  I learnt the guitar for years.  Classical, unfortunately.  At the time I had no idea that I’d later want to be in a band, and learning how to play melodic, Spanish, sub-Gipsy Kings musak never quite made me confident enough of an effective transition to take the plunge.  There’s a videogame to paper over that particular crack in my life and allow me to unleash my inner rock god, of course: Rock Band.  I’ve always wanted to sing as well, and there’s a fine pretend-me-up for that too: Singstar.

But the only console games that allowed me to dab my hand at the third wheel – electronic musical composition – were the Music series from Codemasters on PS1 and PS2.  And after the hilarious David Morales intro  (“This is the M… T… V… music denerator 2… 2…” (and yes, that ‘d’ is intentional. Dig the game out of your collection if you have it, and relive the horror)), nothing I made could ever possibly live up to my dreams. Basic stuff was possible with Music, but as it was sample-based, pissing around with the sounds themselves led to diminishing returns. Stuff just sounded “wrong”. And it was all rather fiddly, despite being an impressive technical achievement at the time.  I didn’t just want to pattern match.  I wanted to create my own sounds.

Now there’s a new kid on the block: the Korg DS-10.  But surely there’s some mistake here.  A full-blown synthesiser on the DS?  The Nintendo DS?  The console that can come in shocking pink and has games with titles such as Horsez?  Yes indeed.  In Japan, you see, the DS is much more than just a games machine.  There is a veritable banquet of non-gaming applications that we see neither hide nor hair of on our shores, and it was only a matter of time before a program like DS-10 became available.  The homebrew scene has developed a few music offerings itself, but this is the first real attempt by a developer for retail, and in partnering with Korg, the developer of many synths over the years (the 70s classic MS-10 being the inspiration for the DS version), AQ Interactive clearly has high hopes to plug this apparent gap in the market.

Confession time: I had never used a synth before today.  I had no idea what attack, decay, sustain and release actually meant in practise.  Until today, I thought that Kaoss was a comical misspelling by someone in extreme need of remedial education.  But having now whizzed and wooed my way around the various knobs, dials and stylus sensitive pads on the DS-10, I know what all of them mean and more.  Okay, so actually, that’s a complete lie.  I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, to be honest.  At the moment I’m flailing around on the thing like Mikey from Big Brother facing a 90 mph bouncer from Andrew Flintoff.

But here’s the thing: I’m having loads of fun regardless.  The squelchy analogue sounds I’m enticing out of this pocket-sized marvel are rather tremendous.  And I want to learn how to do it properly.  Sometime over the next few days, I’m going to make my first proper tune.  I’ll upload it somewhere for you all to listen to and laugh at.  And maybe then I’ll be able to tell you whether you should import the DS-10 yourselves.

My first impression is that you probably should, but, to be sure, stay tuned for the forthcoming Part Two of this musical odyssey, in which I’ll not only go into some of the features of the synth and exactly what kind of things you’re able to do with it, but also outline how friendly (or not) it is for people like me who’ve never used anything like it before.

The Korg DS-10 is now available for import from Play-Asia for £33.12 plus delivery charge, and will typically take around a week to get to the UK.  While the manual is in Japanese, the program itself is in English.  A US release is currently expected in October.  No UK release has yet been confirmed.

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