What the Hell Can You Do With a MIDIBoy?
What the Hell Can You Do With a MIDIBoy?
(Also featuring Arduinoboys, MIDIboys, and the Nanoloop MIDI USB adapter)
The MIDIBoy is an item of lust and mystery within the LSDJ community – it’s expensive, it sports MIDI ports, it has cool blinky lights that indicate modes, and it has this magical thing called an Arduino inside running some custom code. In this article we are going to highlight the three main ways to connect you can enable MIDI connection with your Gameboy, as well as means to augment your Gameboy use, enhance your workflow, and stretch your music out beyond the typical chipmusic usage.
· What uses MIDI? Can I connect with it?
· Hardware connections with MIDI
· What can I use MIDI for with just a computer and free software?
· Extravagant use of MIDI with your Gameboy
· How to get started now (on a budget)!
What Uses MIDI?
Long story short: just about any electronic music device that isn’t rock-bottom quality and substance. The current MIDI communications standard has been around for at least two decades, and existed in a number of iterations. Currently, you can connect to most drum machines, synthesizers, computers, (some) mixers, and a host of other devices. Almost all hardware-to-hardware connections use the standard MIDI cable, while most connections to computers are done through USB or Firewire (with a MIDI connector adapter or independent MIDI box). There are wireless options but I personally would not recommend them.
Hardware connections with MIDI
One artist, Auxcide, makes extremely good use of MIDI with LSDJ. He can use Kaoss pads, drum machines, synthesizers, and all sorts of goodies with a special version of LSDJ made to control other devices via MIDI. The brilliance of this is that Auxcide can program his drums, keyboard riffs, arpeggios, tables, and effects and have them synchronized with LSDJ. Along with the hardware all operating together, Auxcide uses a custom built Arduinoboy he had tailored to his need for many MIDI ports. His music is pretty lush and makes great use of all of his equipment, check it out!
What Can I Use MIDI for With Just a Computer and Free Software?
Apparently, everything. You can use MIDI sync to automate the mixing of your Gameboy for live shows, sync it to video effects software for visuals, you can even record MIDI signals sent by your Gameboy and use them in a DAW. Think of it like writing songs on the go and uploading them later without having to write them by hand again on the computer.) You can also do NES-Gameboy synchronized work with Famitracker and LSDJ to really compliment each other. LSDJ’s WAV channel and the NES’s VRC6 are tough channels to master but would be amazing to hear in tandem.
Extravagant Use of Your Gameboy with MIDI
But wait, there’s more. You can sync your Gameboy up to any main DAW (and some trackers) to integrate it into your sound and workflow. You can sync tracks written partially in LSDJ, or use a program called mGB which allows the Gameboy to be sent MIDI signals and be played much like the MIDI NES cartridge allows for the NES to be used. You can hook up multiple Gameboys with mGB to an Arduinoboy with a keyboard to rock out with 9-note polyphony, or even a MIDI guitar.
Aside from DAW’s and instruments, LSDJ could even be used in a DJ setup. You can send the master clock tick from your DJ software to the Gameboy (running LSDJ), and lay down an acapella over a background/track in LSDJ to add that “live remix” feel to a set, or a throwback so you can start playing J Arthur Keenes Band and Anamanaguchi. It is also to use the MIDI-send version of LSDJ like what Auxcide uses to create effects loops and custom control sequences to use in your DJ software (but this requires lots of mappings and effort). The ability to use a Gameboy to control effects and manually tweak settings live is cool, but not as convenient as a dedicated DJing controller. Keep in mind that LSDJ’s Live mode could be used to exploit effects and live song remixing in very creative ways.
It would be possible to have two Gameboys – one sending MIDI in for effects control, the other out – using the same lsdjsng file on both carts so that you can have two versions of the song for live performance with different functions. One would control the DJ software effects on the song-playing Gameboy, the other would drive the actual prewritten backgrounds. This would free you (the DJ) up to scratch and manipulate the acapella track without worrying about controlling effects on the Gameboy (but if you want to tweak that live as well, go for it).
How to Get Started NOW (on a budget)!
There are quite a few options for everything mentioned here – DJ software, DAWs, MIDI-USB interfaces, Arduinoboys (and MIDIboys), and Gameboy software that is MIDI compliant. Here I will outline a few common options and provide any knowledge I can share about each item.
Free: Mixxx, Virtual DJ Home
Both of these software catch a lot of flack from working professionals in the DJ field, but they do what they are meant to do perfectly well. Great for those of you who are curious about DJing and learning how to mash up tracks, beatmatch, mix between keys, and build atmosphere.
Pay-For: Serato, Traktor
These are the two big softwares within the DJ environment, both are similar enough so that a user of one can’t feel alienated on the other. Before you take the financial plunge be sure to look into the features, hardware support, software support, drawbacks, and customer service each software and their company provides. Also, assess whether or not it is a wise investment, as these pieces of software are not cheap.
Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)
Free: Cubase, Reaper (evaluation copy), FL Studio demo, Ardour, LMMS
Again, great for learning and basic learning-of-the-ropes, and despite any people screaming in capslock online about other paid software, free DAWs are extremely capable. The real difference in free DAWs is the support from the developers, niche functions and features, user interfaces, and software compatibility (typically OS dependent).
Paid: Ableton, Renoise, FL Studio, Protools, countless other things
Countless professionals use these softwares and sign great praises of them. Large userbases, (at least decent) customer support, most of them have fantastic forums. Like paid DJ software, examine everything carefully before you buy, and make sure to know the advantage of all the macro, features, and tools your DAW has that sets it apart from the free ones. Otherwise you may as well use a free DAW.
Get a cheap no-name-no-brand USB-MIDI adapter online, most can be had for $5 or so before shipping. Try to see customer reviews of the device (make sure it works!) and see where your adapter will be shipped from. Waiting for an adapter to come stateside from Hong Kong is rather daunting while having a distributor in Maryland throw one to you in Tennessee isn’t so bad. Be prepared for there to be some lag (latency) in commands and MIDI signals, and you will need to make your software compensate for it in settings.
The nanoloop USB-MIDI interface is wonderful for syncing one Gameboy (running LSDJ, nanoloop, or mGB) and setting it to slave of some other software via the USB adapter and a link cable that has Gameboy Color/Gameboy Pocket connections (DMG users will need an adapter or multi-Gameboy-model-capable cable). The adapter is about $12 and a good investment for trying basic MIDI clock sync and full use of mGB. Worth taking the plunge, and fairly resellable if you decide MIDI isn’t for you (but don’t write it off too quickly)!
Sky’s the limit. As price rises, so does build quality, capability (multiple ports), longevity of use, and latency will become less and less of an issue. You may even want to look into wireless MIDI options if you plan on becoming a rockstar and jamming out with a keytar or MIDI guitar onstage. Or something. Again, sky’s the limit. Or your wallet is. But if you get serious with using MIDI in your setup, invest in a good USB interface. Chinese knockoffs can do the job, but when MIDI becomes an essential part of your setup it is good to know the device running it is backed by a real company, warranty or return policy, or at least some real reputation for doing the job right.
Do It Yourself:
Cheapest way to do it is to buy the components you need online including your Arduino board. In some countries it may be a hassle getting everything shipped in from major specialty electronics stores, and often the prices at Radioshack are beaten by online deals. There are few things that feel as good as building your own gear and (eventually) getting it to work, and if you have the time it may be worth building your own Arduinoboy. If you are unfamiliar with copying code to an Arduino or soldering be prepared to learn a lot and practice before you go for the big fish. If you aren’t sure of your abilities to select your own parts or flash you own code, check out the noisechannel.org shop for custom Arduinoboy kits made by the infamous Gameboy modder NeX for your consumption.
Buy It Prebuilt:
Countless modders can make you an Arduinoboy if you pony up the money – some follow a format the modder makes, others can be built-to-order (like Auxcide’s Arduinoboy). Be prepared to pay for parts, time, shipping, and talent that a modder offers. This is what really sets purchasing pre-modded goods instead of doing the job yourself.
A MIDIboy is a Gameboy that has an Arduinoboy fitted inside. Such things are convenient as they are two combined devices, have extra on-the-go utility, and they blink with their LEDs. I believe that it may even be possible to squeeze in parts for a USB-MIDI adapter if one could find the right device. The worth of a MIDIboy is up to the designer and user, otherwise it is a great conglomerate of parts. MIDIboys are often built-to-order, or sold in sale threads or shops. I believe that MIDIboys are the pinnacle of single-Gameboy power, allowing for so much control and work outside of the typical LSDJ work while still occupying the same space in your setup or pocket.
MIDI-compliant Gameboy Software
LSDJ, mGB, amongst other things (such as pushpin which is basically obsolete).
LINKS WILL BE UP TOMORROW FOR DOWNLOADS AND THINGS
LSDJ is one heck of a piece of software, and if you are curious about branching out you should go for it! The Gameboy can do more than plenty as it is, and MIDI capabilities open a whole universe of possibilities – DJ controls, video mixing, live jamming, even basic live mixing. The power is in your hands, it’s up to you to use it.
Written by Max Dolensky (the Bitman)