Korg DS-10+ Perfect Guide Review

A back a year ago or so, I tried writing up the last few reviews on the remaining Gakken Otona no Kagaku products that weren’t a part of the regular numbered kits line. This included the stand-alone book for the Korg DS-10 Plus Synthesizer. At the time, I dismissed it out of hand for just being a collection of 100 patch settings.

Then, last Christmas, I returned to the U.S. and picked up a used Gameboy DS Lite and some games (Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Dragon Quest: Celestial Sentinels and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn). After playing all three games, I decided to check out a nearby electronics store in Japan that had set up a used games section on the third floor, with 3 shelves set aside for about 200 DS games. One of the titles that caught my eye (other than a reboot of Chrono Trigger, which I just had to get) was the Korg DS 10+. Because I have a renewed interest in synthesizers from my work on the Java synth, and the DS-10+ was only 3,500 yen used (about $40 USD), I figured that I might as well buy it. Which of course raised the question of whether I should track down the Gakken book to give it a more proper review. After answering “sure, why not”, it started looking like the book had sold out while my back was turned. Kagoshima has 3 big bookstores – Kinokuniya, Junkudo and Maruzen. Maruzen doesn’t have much in the way of old stock, and Kinokuniya’s book search kiosk showed it as out of stock. The Junkudo search kiosk indicated that they still had a copy, but it wasn’t on the shelf indicated by the computer. On a hunch, I checked whether there were any books for the DS-10+ by rival publishers. There were 2, but in a completely different section. I went to that section, and that’s where I found the Gakken book.

(Image taken from amazon.co.jp for review purposes only.)

Korg DS-10+ Synthesizer Ongaku Tsukuri Perfect Guide, 1800 yen. Pub. 2009.
Amazon carries a used copy for 1,500 yen, but the shipping costs would probably make it break even. This is an A4-sized book (8″x12″) at 170 pages. The first 20 pages are a combination of artist profiles and a how-to guide for imitating the sounds used on the song Polyrhythm from the female trio Perfume. The first article is Trio the DS, which brings together Denji Sano (he scored the music for Ridge Racer and Tekken 3), Michio Okamiya (musician for The Black Mages, which did work on the Final Fantasy games) and Yasunori Mitsuda (scored the music on Chrono Trigger). In fact, Sano formed Trio the DS to promote the DS-10+ game.

The Perfume patches were developed by Tomoaki Kanamori (Korg sound designer), and the last article is a Q&A with Polymoog and Jet Daisuke. Polymoog is a frequent contributor to the Otona no Kagaku mooks, and Jet is a gadget hacker and musician.

(Main sound menu screen.)

Pages 27 to 47 are a user guide to the Korg DS-10+ game, which pretty much duplicates the user booklet packaged in the clamshell, but with more illustrations showing how different controls affect the sound envelope. The rest of the book consists of the patches, with screen shots of the synth edit and synth patch screens and text describing which controls to set. Not all patches are for just synth sounds – there are also sequencer sets for reproducing certain song patterns, and drum synth patches.

If you’re not familiar with it, the Korg DS-10+ is an enhanced software emulation of the Korg MS-10, originally released in 1978. It builds on the original DS-10 game, adding a dual synth mode, and individual track mutes. You can play music via a touch screen keyboard layout, or a variation on the Korg Kaoss pad.

(Synth editor screen.)

If you already own a Gameboy DSi or DS Lite, buying a used copy of the DS-10+ is a great, cheap way to get started on synth music. I’m not sure I’d recommend buying a DSi just to play this game, but that depends on your own personal tastes. Interestingly, there is a two-person duet mode that employs the DS’s wireless feature. So, if you wanted to do a solo on stage without having to drag a cord around, you could wire the second DSi into your mixer and play wirelessly with the first one. If you get two copies of the game. And you have a mixer. (I can dream.)

(Synth Patch screen.)

I haven’t really gotten into the guts of the game yet, so I don’t know exactly how many patches you can save (I think 27) or how long a sequence you can have (up to 1 minute(?)). Right now, I’m still just trying to figure out what effects EG Init and Cutoff have on the overall waveform. I’ve only played with the first 5 patches from the book, and I still have a long way to go to understand this thing.

(Drum Sequencer.)

A few of the websites I’ve looked at call the DS-10+ a “game”, which I think is a misnomer. This is a full-blown software synth. However, I don’t know what else to call this application or Gameboy card, so I’m resorting to “game” when I don’t have any other choice. The Gameboy touch screen makes wiring patch cables a very simple matter of touching and dragging. Changing the control dials is a different matter – often the game ignores me when I tap on the screen to grab dial controls like EQ Init or Attack, and it takes me several tries before I can get it to respond. That, plus having to constantly flip screens in order to switch edit modes are the two things I don’t like about this game. Otherwise, I have no complaints.

Overall, I think the Gakken Perfect Guide book is a good resource if you own the DS-10+ game. Otherwise, don’t bother buying it. As for the DS-10+, if you really want to play with a synthesizer and don’t have the $400 or so for something like the Micro Korg or $600 for the new Korg MS-20 Mini, and you do have the Gameboy DSi, then yeah, get this “game” (but since it’s been out since 2009, I expect that you already know much more about it than I do).

Gakken Update – Mar. 18

Naturally, right after I wrote that the Gakken Facebook page has been really quiet lately, they decided to run two new posts. The first was an announcement that the dommune site was accepting ticket reservations for a Mar. 12 performance of the Open Reel Ensemble, a group that uses reel-to-reel decks for creating music. The second FB post states that the first Open Reel Ensemble DVD is now available for sale. They include a link to the youtube video advertising the DVD.

Then, on Friday, Gakken announced that the second Otona no Kagaku video episode is going to air on NotTV.

What I’m really waiting for, though, is an official release date for the next Otona no Kagaku kit…


Gakken and Ijin News

Things are getting really quiet now.

On the Gakken front, there’s been no new releases of any of the kit lines (Sound Gadget, Beginner’s Crafts or Girl’s kits). The next Otona no Kagaku kit still has a tentative release date of “early Spring”, while Amazon.co.jp shows it as April 18. The Facebook page is also almost dead. I did post a link to my blog entry for Animaris Pengi, which Gakken eventually moved to their main FB section and “liked”. Plus there was a recent announcement that Gakken has a program that has started on NOTTV, a video streaming site for the smart phone.

As for Ijin, or the “80 Famous People” series, the two latest issues have been for Ieyasu Tokugawa (early warlord in Japan) and Lucy Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables author). Both are too cartoony and cutesy for me so I’m giving them a pass. The one for Michelangelo will come out next week, and if the art is at least close to that for Da Vinci, I’ll consider getting it. Otherwise, it’s going to be Ernset Seton (founder of the U.S. Boy Scouts) and Chihiro Iwasaki after that. I’ll think about buying Chihiro, but the only one I have any real interest in right now isn’t until issue #62, with Roald Amundsen, explorer of the South Pole.

80 Famous People – Louis Pasteur

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Louis Pasteur is a household name. Or, at least, he used to be. During the 60’s and 70’s, pasteurized milk was still something of a novelty and dairy companies would make a big deal out of advertising it. Now, not so much. But, he was responsible for more than just simply making his name into a brand label. Born in 1822 in Dole, in southern France, he showed amazing talent as an artist, painting portraits of his parents at age 15. He went to University in Paris, where he obtained degrees in chemistry. He later served as a chemistry professor in Strasbourg, where he married the rector’s daughter. According to the wiki entry, three of their 5 children died of typhoid, causing Louis to start work researching bacteria. He was approached by French vintners to determine why wine goes bad, which led to the discovery of yeast, the idea of pasteurization and the confirmation that some diseases are related to bacteria. He then went on to demonstrate the concept of using dead bacteria to inoculate patients against diseases like polio and cholera. He received France’s highest civilian honors, and died at age 70 from complications following a series of strokes.

The intro manga starts with Yuichi and Mami trying to psyche themselves up for an upcoming challenge, and Merrino wanting to join in. Yuichi’s mother enters the room and asks if the kids are ready for their vaccine shots. Mohea chimes in with the declaration that Sheep people have their own medicines – and that although the needles look big and scary, they don’t hurt. Merrino tries to beg off, saying that he’s going to study famous vaccine researchers, safe in the conviction that Earth doesn’t have any. That’s when Study Bell announces the start of the Louis Pasteur lesson. In the wrap-up, Merrino outruns Mohea, and she gives up, panting out of breath. Mami and her mother suggest luring Merrino out by making him cookies, but when he pauses to say that he’d like some, Mohea jumps out and stabs him with the needle in his posterior, incapacitating him. (Yes, Sheep Planet needles hurt.)

(The reporter gets a letter detailing Pasteur’s challenge.)

The main manga is drawn by Teruko Arai, artist on DEATH:topia, and main illustrator for the Psychic Hearts webgame. The majority of the characters are manga-stylized, although Pasteur comes kind of close to looking like his photos. Kind of.

The story starts with a young boy on a farm with his parents. A veterinarian has just diagnosed a sick cow as having anthrax and the entire herd is going to need to be destroyed. The parents are devastated, and the boy shouts out “what kind of an animal doctor are you?” The vet just shrugs and says that’s the way it is. Fast forward to 1873. Pasteur is about to go on stage in front of an auditorium filled with doctors to announce that the root cause of many diseases is germs. He’s met with jeers and catcalls as someone who’s never practiced medicine before. In the face of such rejection, he’s surprised to be greeted by a young doctor that asks to join him as a research assistant. They work together on chicken cholera, and one day they discover that one of the test subjects didn’t die as expected. Pasteur asks if the assistant had injected the cholera sample correctly, and is told that he’d screwed up and used an old sample. This happy accident leads Pasteur to prove that dead or weakened bacteria can be used to inoculate the patient against the real thing.

Soon after, a French newspaper reporter writes an article calling Pasteur a fake. Louis sees this as an opportunity to publicly demonstrate his theories. He sends detailed letters to the reporter and his critics spelling out the conditions of a showdown. Take two groups of sheep. Inoculate one with his medicine, and then both groups with anthrax. If even one of his inoculated sheep dies, he’ll concede defeat. The contest is held, and it will take at least 2 days for the results to be announced. After the first day, one of the test sheep develops a fever. The assistant can’t sleep and is a ragged mess the next day due to the stress. Pasteur refuses to treat the fevered sheep because that would undermine the test, but he’s plagued by doubts himself. Finally, the second day dawns, and Pasteur and his assistant ride out to the farm, where a crowd is gathered in front of a pile of dead bodies. Pasteur is frozen in his tracks, until a spectator yells and points at the second group of sheep, healthy and happy. Even the one with the fever had gotten better. The reporter arrives to apologize, and offers to spread the word of Pasteur’s discoveries around the world. Some of the doctors, who had earlier scoffed at Pasteur now try to brown-nose him into becoming his assistants and are chased off. The manga ends with a list of Pasteur’s other discoveries and how they have led up to our modern medicines.

The textbook section has great photos of Pasteur, and a short, but good, biography. The last two pages describe various microbes, both good and bad, including the ones used for making natto.

Things wrap up with two more postcards.

Overall, this is a good mook for learning more about Pasteur and bacteria as a whole. Recommended.