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In-depth Feature:  Nanoloop
Gameboy Cartridge Synth/Sequencer
Mark Tinley writes: .


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Overview
I have long been an advocate of portable music technology and embrace anything that will allow me to make music on the move. In some ways I am rather taken by Nanoloop .
It's a simple synthsesis and sequencing system with 3 mono parts, and here's the good bit - on a Nintendo Gameboy cartridge.

The concept is brilliant. The software utilises and re-positions boot sale technology to deliver reasonable quality audio from a Nintendo Gameboy. So I trundled out on Sunday morning and picked up one of the original grey ones for a tenner.
The reasonable sized screen has the potential of giving a comprehensive overview of what is going on, and it does, but at this point the fun ends. The manual wasn't comprehensive enough in places and I found myself winging it a lot. The concept of a 16-step sequencer is very familiar to me having grown up with Roland drum machines, however I found capturing melody ideas slightly frustrating and filed the whole experience under 'clever bit of software that makes unique techno noises, must use when I have more time'. Someone younger than me is bound to write a huge hit with it in the very near future...

The software actually controls the Gameboy's built in synthesis. The sequencer presents three instrument tracks within patterns based on a 16 step grid. There are three instrument types: S (software-synthesis), which includes wavetable and frequency modulation (FM); R, dual oscillator rectangular wave forms; and N, which is the noise instrument and provides filter-like effects. Patterns inhabit banks, 15 patterns in each, and songs can be constructed using patterns from within a single bank. In other words, you can't mix and match patterns from other banks to create a song.

What does it sound like? In practice, it really reminds me of the synthesis option on the Casio FZ-1 sampler. Buzzy, ringy and suffering (or enhanced by) low-bit depth. Actually I loved it, but I am just completely at a loss as how I am supposed to keep track of the notes I have entered into. Its only a serious music making tool if you can't afford anything else, and at 80EU quite frankly you can.

Nanoloop is a demonstration in what's nearly possible. The user interface is mildly confusing and, while, customisation of sounds is very appealing, it isn't going to replace my all-time favourite Yamaha QY20 any time soon.

Given that the Gameboy has been around since 1989 I personally believe that when the next generation of audio enabled handheld computers become affordable, sample sequencing programs such as FruityLoops will find their way onto the Palm OS - perhaps the new Sony - and Windows CE platforms.

The burning question is, is Nanoloop creating a market for such devices? The initial excitement around it would suggest that it is.

More Resources              Articles - full listing
  • Nanoloop Site
  • Contact Nanoloop

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