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Composing in code.

Three Pieces for Electroplankton (Two MP3, One Score)

Complaints that the Nintendo DS cartridge Electroplankton has no “record” feature have been answered. Not by some cheat code that reveals a command to record the sounds produced by users on the ingenious sound toy. No, instead by the increasing number of musicians who treat the Electroplankton as an instrument, plain and simple. No one looks at a clarinet and says, “Pity it doesn’t have a record function.” Electroplankton-enthusiast musicians just hook up a microphone, or an analog-to-digital converter, and add the game’s inherent generative samples to their tool set.

The forums at various video-game websites are a good place to fish for Electroplankton-based songs. Last month (at boards.gamefaqs.com), an individual going by yangfeili linked to two such pieces: the mix of aquatic frivolity and electro-carillon that is “Holy Plankton Ocean Temple” (MP3) and a rough draft (“napkin doodle,” jokes the composer) of the darker, more insistent “BeatNESvania: Sea of Agony,” which includes an industrial-style vocal sample (MP3).

You can record Electroplankton compositions without a microphone — you just have to transcribe them as a series of instructions. (The image above, of a typical Electroplankton interface, is borrowed from the ones included in the gamefaqs.com repository.) In another forum thread at boards.gamefaqs.com, a composer-user named Dumbledope describes how to make a tidy little loop system in one of the game’s underwater interfaces, named Hanenbrow. Here is the meat of the composition, but do click through for further details:

Press the A-button to show the degrees.

Position the launching leaf at 57 degrees. Position the bottom right leaf at 8 degrees. Position the middle right leaf at 273 degrees

Now for the only difficult part. You have to use the speed that is exactly one unit slower than the default speed. Press left on the d-pad once to do this. If you hold the button too long, the game will interpret that as a speed shift of more than one unit. The reason this is difficult is that “too long” is actually pretty short. Try to only tap left on the d-pad; don’t press it too long.

This transcription method of reproducing Electroplankton music is quite handy, as is the method of posting screenshots of a given set-up. It’s as if the game’s developer, media artist Toshio Iwai, has re-introduced the concept of sheet music at a moment when studio-based compositions had seemed to relegate it to the recycle bin of history.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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