Designing Music With Toys: Writing a Song on the Nintendo 3DS
Updated: May 25
At 344 Audio HQ we have a nice collection of hardware/software synthesizers and effects.
There is one that stands out to us as particularly interesting, not because it's analogue, or expensive or pretty, but because it is a great inspiration tool. We decided to make a blog about our experience producing a song using only the Nintendo 3DS with the Korg DSN-12 application and mixing with the stock plugins in Pro Tools.
The great thing about using the DSN-12 is that there are lots of technical limitations. It is monophonic, uses a tiny screen and has no midi input. The reason this works well is because limitations force creativity. As humans we naturally get creative when we have no other option.
As we made synth patches, ideas were flowing. We have to admit though, it was hard not to be distracted by the brilliant 3D oscilloscope display on the top screen...
The workflow is quite laborious compared with using a MIDI editing software like Pro Tools. You have to tap to create a note, and they can't be extended, you have to create multiple consecutive notes and then visit the 'gate' section to switch legato on. If you spend time with it though, you start to find shortcuts assigned to the various buttons, which helps with navigation. One thing that was great when deciding on the direction of the piece, was the ability to use the stylus to tweak synth parameters. Korg DSN-12 features a semi-modular subtractive synthesis structure and has quite a wide range of sounds at it's disposal. I noticed some features definitely leaned more towards aggressive sounding patches, with it's MS-20 style analogue modelled filter and oscillators.
What We Made
We decided to make a Dubstep song due to the ease of modulation and the aggressive sounds available on DSN-12, listen to that here:
Once we got to designing sounds, our first instinct was to create a drum loop. The synth engine lent itself well to clicky kick drums, lasery toms and noisy snares. After creating a basic half time drum loop, we brought it in to Pro Tools to arrange and mix it:
The next recipe was of course the bass sounds! We used modulation on the filter cutoff and pulse width modulation to make some gnarly bass tones to stand up to the heavy drums. We then took these into Pro Tools and added stock effects to strengthen the tones within the mix:
The final element to create was a rise effect, common in Electronic Dance Music, letting the audience know when to get excited for the song's main section. We brought it into Pro Tools and then sampled some noise from the 3DS to layer as a white noise sweep:
What We Learned
Making a song on the 3DS and Korg DSN-12 didn't actually take a lot of time. The concept was made in less than an hour and the final piece was arranged and mixed in a matter of hours too. It shows that sometimes these limitations are beneficial - especially when musicians are experiencing writers block!
We also discovered the strengths and weaknesses of the software. It has a sound engine suited to aggressive digital sounds with a subtractive analogue vibe but can lack in desirable frequency content. We now know where to use this tool in sound design and music projects and how to play to it's strengths.
Another thing to take away from this is that Pro Tools stock plugins deserve a lot more credit than they are given. They can sound a little flat or harsh, but in the right hands they can still be used to sculpt and shape sounds, often crafting new and unexpected sonic ear candy.
Don't neglect the tools around you. Use that old synth, turn on that ancient keyboard, open up that old app on your iPhone and start making some music with it. You never know if you could design your next song with toys too! If you enjoyed this article please check out our ultimate guide to audio post- production: https://www.344audio.com/post/the-ultimate-guide-to-audio-post-production-sound-design