As a chiptune musician, I sometimes like to dabble in different programs and try new things. That said, I’ve noticed over the past months that there are people out there who don’t know what software or system is best for them to start making chiptunes.
Now a simple answer to this would be, “Whatever soundchip you like best, man.”
…but of course there’s more that goes into these kinds of decisions, and I’d like to be the one that helps out fellow chip-musicians in finding their preferred method of writing chiptunes. This is why I’m creating this blog series; ‘What Should I Use?’ or ‘WSIU?’ for short.
To kick it off, we’re going to be taking a look at Johan Kotlinski’s juggernaut tracker, Little Sound Dj, more commonly known as LSDj.
LSDj runs natively on the original Nintendo Game Boy, and can run on pretty much every system from the DMG all the way up to the DS. It pretty much works on anything that can take an original Gameboy cart, but does require some shopping around for the perfect system to use.
While original Gameboys are sold around $20 on eBay, you’re more likely to get a modded backlit Gameboy (to see in the dark), and a prosound 3.5mm mod, as the stock stereo out produces a lot of white noise, which makes recording and mixing an absolute pain to denoise without affecting other channels’ tonality. These modded ones tend to go for upwards of $130 with a custom paint-job. For those who want to buy modded Game Boys, I’d recommend Kitch-Bent for carts and parts, and Stardriver Services, Josh-Shmosh, (and for those in Europe) Joe Bleeps for mods.
Not only this, but carts can be very expensive. “EMS 64m” carts run about 50 USD while as more “luxury” carts like the “Drag n’ Derp” run for about 100 USD. There are official LSDj carts that periodically go up on eBay (as they’re no longer in production), but they have no backup capabilities without the use of a special read/write adapter.
Now with that all said, you can always get the ROM online for $5 on the official website and use an emulator like BGB. Although depending on how intensive your song is on the system, it will create some noticeable lag both graphically and in sound output. This also essentially voids the possibility of getting an original Game Boy, as the processor, though very versatile, can sometimes fail on you.
If you decide to write on a computer and transfer saves to carts for live performance or recording (like me), you come to a difficult and easily frustrating part of the entire process; save transferring. I wont go too into it right now, but basically, for windows users, it’s a walk in the park. But for Mac users (like me), it’s hell trying to get it to work. Though once you do get the setup and procedure down, it never fails.
LSDj is a 4 channel hybrid sequencer that incorporates tracker-like functionality. The prime example being the chains and phrases. Chains are laid out in the song screen like a sequencer whereas the phrases are arranged and programmed inside of phrases. These are also universal throughout the song, so you can call back on different phrases in different chains, or have a chain play more than twice in a song.
The whole system is divided into different screens…
This is your basic info screen where you can change tempo, transpose every note, change the font and look for the file, and general housekeeping like clearing unused instruments or phrases. You can also load and save your work here.
This is where you rearrange or create new chains, and where most of your playback is shown. As you can see, the main channels are broken up into Pulse 1, Pulse 2, Wave, and Noise.
This is where you rearrange or create new phrases. You can also transpose them. And that’s it I guess that’s it…
Like, for real, that’s all there is.
This is where you plop down your notes, create new instruments, and input commands.
This is where you change and modify basic parameters of instruments such as name, envelope, wavelength, and fine tune.
This is probably the biggest reason why most people use this tracker. The tables are very versatile, and allow for many different programming options. To get a full sense of what kinds of stuff you can do, I recommend checking out the effects list!
This is pretty straight forward. This screen determines how fast or slow phrases will play. The default is 6/6. To slow down, you can change it to something like 9/9, or 3/3 to make it faster!
Synth/Wave (Wave instrument only)
The Synth screen is where the magic happens for the wave channel. This baby here lets you modify the way your wave instrument will sound, and if you want to modify it further…
… you can use the wave screen! This allows you to modify the actual waveform that’s generated.
There’s also the option for adding samples to songs, which while requiring some java based software, can add a lot to any song or project you’re working on. Samples work much differently than other programs like Famitracker, where instead of needing a separate channel, it uses the wave channel to produce the sound. That can be a down side to people coming over from DPCM based trackers, but with a bit of practice, you can make great use of these limitations.
HOW IT SOUNDS
Of course, you can’t always predict how certain soundchips or trackers will sound, and before you go all in, you want to make sure you’ll actually like what sounds you’ll be making. So here are some demos of what you can expect from this soundchip…
That’s just a short list of my personal favorites, albeit with an included dose of shameless self promotion. ;)
MIDI & CONNECTIVITY
I could totally cheat here and just say “IT DOES ALL THE THINGS!” But I’d rather make a small list of popular supported outputs as of writing this article (v4.8.0)
LSDj has midi sync capabilities via link cable and CV out, so it practically works with almost anything. Although, in order to sync most things via link cable, you need to invest in some sort of midi interface. I’d recommend building or commissioning a USB-Boy, as arduinos don’t cost more than $3o, and with some soldering experience you can easily get up and running.
There’s also the ability to hook up a PS2 keyboard to get around the program easier, as well as for inputting keys, much like a majority of PC trackers. Although, this will require further modding of your arduinoboy or your Game Boy to make room for a PS2 female jack.
LSDj is a powerful tracker/sequencer. It’s probably one of the most renowned, and certainly is something almost everyone in this scene has used at one point or another. Although the controls and the interface can get clunky to move around sometimes (unlike PC trackers like Famitracker or Klystrack), and connectivity with the added bear of expensive custom or modded equipment can not only be a burden on your wallet, it’s certainly worth your $5 to run on an emulator and try out. It might possibly become your main chiptune tracker of choice.
LSDj get’s a solid 8/10
– Nanode OUT!