Korg: It’s the Real Thing
There was a dark period in the evolution of video games. I’m not talking about the American Idol home game, I mean before processors were able to squeak out a tune. It’s hard to imagine a video game without music, but in the beginning there was the video game equivalent of the silent movie era.
Eventually, those primitive bleeps and blops gave way to tones which, with the aid of a primitive sequencer, could convey a melody. More leaps in technology allowed for polyphonic compositions in which more than two different instrument voices could be layered for symphonic results. With the advent of sampling technology and the development of various music file formats, music in video games can now surpass the quality of a standard CD.
Now, hear this: We have musical-based games such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band, dance and rhythm games, and even karaoke. Up until now, all we could do is play, react, or slightly manipulate this music. But now, with the Korg DS-10 for the DS, we actually have a synthesizer in the palm of our hands. This is revolutionary. This is not a toy. It’s a professional musical instrument. It’s good enough to be used in live situations or hit recordings. Trust me on this one! I am a professional musician as well as a game journalist and I am really friggin’ critical – of everything. Admittedly, the Korg DS-10 is not for everyone, but if something like this is right up your portamento, prepare to get your mind blown.
I will get more technical later in the review, but for those with more interest than knowledge, let me give you an overview. Korg is a major manufacturer of professional musical instruments. They are onboard with the development of this software. I call it software because it’s not a game. I am having trouble getting it through my own head that this is a real musical instrument. It’s based on the world famous Korg MS-10 synthesizer that was popularized in the late 70s. It has been used on numerous hit recordings, then and now, including Soft Cell, Flock of Seagulls, and the Chemical Brothers. It’s what is called an analog synthesizer. It’s not digital. Analog synths are coveted more than ever today for their warm, fat, lush sounds. If you’re into techno or ambient, there is no doubt you’ve heard the MS-10. In real life it kind of looks like a futuristic accordion lying on its side.
Another thing about analog synths is that you have to create the sounds from mixing and matching a variety of filters, oscillators, and other frequency and voltage manipulators. There are a lot of switches, knobs, and faders to play around with. And that’s all part of the fun – experimenting with different sounds. Using the multiplayer/wireless component of the DS, it’s entirely possible to put together your own techno band.
The Korg DS-10 replicates most of the same filter processing as the original. The sounds are actually created by these processors, not sampled and stored to be played back later. That’s the amazing thing. You are totally in control of the sound sculpting, from a single bleep to a corpulent, fat, fuzzy, furious bass line. But there are some incredible features that come with this software that owners of the original MS-10 wished they had. For instance, instead of physically patching phono-cables into the various filters’ patches, you simply use the stylus to draw the connections. A six-track sequencer is included allowing you to experiment with two synth tracks, which is like having two keyboard units in one. The other four tracks are for drum tracks. There is also a Kaos Pad interface that allows for tone tweaking on the fly, which could be used for live performances. Patterns can be looped, recorded, stored, or sequenced. Custom sounds can be stored as presets. Not only could you play one note at a time on the original (monophonic) MS-10, but you couldn’t store any of your customized sounds. They had to be created from scratch every time. Aren’t you thankful you live in the future?
Making sounds on the DS-10 is easy and fun. There’s nothing you can do that will in any way damage the software, although you might damage some eardrums if you have the system connected to a loud stereo system or musical amplifier. If you really want to revel in the rich sonic goodness this instrument emits, I highly recommend plugging it into an alternate sound source. A signal buffer is recommended to boost the volume level due to the low output of the DS. Headphones are a good alternative, but forget the DS’s built-in speakers.
A virtual onscreen keyboard lets you input the notes, but it’s very small, which will make it really difficult for live performances. Or you can place notes individually on a grid using the stylus. This is a form of sequencing known as step-time, since you do it one step at a time. There’s really no other way to input such data unless the system was capable of utilizing an external peripheral such as PC keyboard or an actual musical keyboard. Fortunately, with the various sequencers available, you’re going to be more concerned with composing and arranging than playing live and improvising. To keep things interesting, various parameters can be adjusted on the fly, which aren’t necessarily musical but they “massage” and “distort” the audio signal to make it breathe. These are essentially effects such as echo, delay, distortion, chorus, flanging, and a variety of other sonic tweaks that can shape the timber, not necessarily the tone, which will affect the melody.
Up to four DS systems can be linked together via the DS’s wireless feature. This would ultimately give you access to eight keyboards and 16 drum tracks. That’s a lot of sounds to handle. This would be useful for more symphonic productions. Each DS will require a single copy of the software, with one unit acting as the master. It’s similar to MIDI; what digital keyboards and outboard gear use to link and sync up together. These units can be manned by individual players who can tweak the various parameters during the performance. Compositions can be sent to other systems but only locally. You can’t share songs online. Although the multiplayer mode accommodates eight units, it’s rather limited and not entirely useful.
So, who is likely to get the most out of this software? Keyboard players and independent music producers can use it to add various flavors to their sonic arsenal. Other musicians can use it as a portable composer to capture their inspiration wherever and whenever it strikes. Employing the Kaos Pad, DJs will be able to supplement their mixes and live performances with a variety of textures, tones, and techno beats. You don’t have to be a musician to play with the Korg DS-10, but there’s a chance that it might interest you enough to want to become one.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
Interface is extremely easy to discern and navigate thanks to realistic hardware simulation. 4.0 Control
Virtual keyboard is awkward to use. Input, arranging, tweaking, and playback are flawless. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Amazing sounds. I doubt few could tell the difference from the real synthesizer. 5.0
As long as you’re creative juices are flowing, you can play this as long as your DS lasts.
4.8 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.