[Continuing his 'Sound Current' series of articles on video game music for GameSetWatch, Jeriaska looks at the DG-10 Japanese album/live event series in Japan, revealing the notable musicians taking the DS-10+ music creation software to new audio heights.]

Since the Korg DS-10 software was released in 2008, the cartridge has intended to give Nintendo DS owners the primary tools for creating electronic music. Not only was development overseen by Korg, but key input was provided by game industry visionaries Michio Okamiya of The Black Mages, Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono Trigger and Nobuyoshi Sano (Sanodg) of Ridge Racer.

Sano, who delivered a tongue-in-cheek Steve Jobs-styled keynote to announce the DS-10 Plus in Japan, is the producer of several albums of DS-10 generated music. Called the DG-10 series, they feature vocalists Asami Imai (VCO), Akiko Hasegawa (VCF) and Ai Matayoshi (VCA).

The music series started out as an idea by 5pb Records label producer Masatoshi Nakamura, who has previously overseen game soundtrack releases from the Etrian Odyssey series as well as organizing live music performances such as the EXTRA Hyper Game Music Events.

It was at EXTRA that Sano, Mitsuda and Okamiya's Korg DS Trio debuted. In this discussion we hear from Sano and Nakamura on the making of the album series. Three embedded videos from DG-10 performances offer a glimpse into the group's unique hybridization of Tokyo club music and videogame audio.

Masatoshi Nakamura, 5pb Records producer

Nakamura-san, thank you for joining us for this discussion on 5pb Records' DS-themed album series. Could you offer us some key points on what you see as the appeal of the DG-10 music series among audiences in Japan?

Masatoshi Nakamura: I think the appeal of DG-10 can only be deepened by investigating the background of the composers and learning about what made the source material so popular. I requested Sano-san compose the songs “DG-10,” “VCO-VCF-VCA,” and “Watakushitachiwa” with an image of the very latest trends in club music in mind, infused with an essence of Kraftwerk.

★The appeal of the personalized synthesizer

Try to imagine a fantasy personification that reflects the appeal of the personalized synthesizer and perhaps it might be something like the DG-10. This group has three members, all professional voice actors, whose voices are their instruments. Each singer has devised a personal style that complements the feel of the Korg DS-10 software, though each of their personalities are unique and original.

★The appeal of the Korg DS-10
As you can tell from the footage of the live event filmed at Liquid Room, the mixture of the Korg DS-10's digital synthesizer technology together with the analog quality of live vocal performances yields an original kind of sound. There's an appeal to discovering for oneself how to make music on the synthesizer, and for many encountering the DS-10 software marks their first such experience.

★The appeal of the DG-10 concept
Sano-san and I were responsible for selecting individual tracks for these album CDs while being mindful that they specifically play to the strengths of the DG-10 vocalists. The greatest appeal may well be that these are the creations of Sano-san, a key member of the Korg DS-10's professional development team.

Back in the '80s, songs like “High School Lullaby” (by Yellow Magic Orchestra) and "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" became very popular around the same time that the sales of synthesizers for personal use were picking up steam. I chose these cover songs because they're familiar both to fans of synthesizers and those who aren't necessarily.

I hope that people are able to enjoy the quality of the DG-10 vocals and compare these songs with their source material. For instance, DG-10 has arranged YMO’s "Rydeen 79/07." A member of the DS-10 Plus development team, natto21, was a contributor on “High School Lullaby.” Musician koishistyle has remixed “VCO-VCF-VCA,” changing up the synth materials to deliver a fresh new interpretation.

Toru Okada of Moon Riders joined us for “Synthesizer ni koi shite,” which intentionally calls to mind the advent of the techno-pop genre. “GHOSTBUSTERS,” a fun remix arranged by Yakan, fuses the familiar lyrics with an '80s atmosphere and analog synthesizer aesthetic. “Waza ari! (VCF-VCA version)” evokes a similar style to Disney's Electrical Parade, while “Amefurikaeru” is a very contemporary-sounding track. Our intention is that these songs capture the interest of fans of the DG-10 sound, while also gaining the approval of YMO, Kraftwerk and Denki Groove enthusiasts.

DG-10 Live at Liquid Room: The DS-10 Trio

Previously you've mentioned that in college you were on your way toward becoming a pharmacist. What were some of the key events that led you to this entirely different field, overseeing the publication of videogame records at 5pb?

Since elementary school, I’ve always been very into videogame music. I must own somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple thousands game music CDs all told. It was Wrecking Crew, Dragon Quest and Salamander that first drew me in. While in college I created my own videogame music website, and in 2000 I started a guide on the subject on All About Japan.

That all led to my being assigned a regular column about game music in a magazine called Nintendo Dream. During that time I was working part-time at the Scitron record company, responsible for publishing numerous game soundtrack CDs. There I was recording music for the Game Sound Legend and Famicom 20th Anniversary series.

Unfortunately the company went out of business, but a few alumni started 5pb. They asked me to come on board, so I went to work as soon as I graduated from college. At 5pb. I’ve been overseeing the publication of albums for Etrian Odyssey, Odin Sphere and Famison 8BIT [email protected], outside of the DG-10 projects. I also organize the EXTRA-HYPER GAME MUSIC EVENT series.

Tokyo has an active club music scene, and 5pb has brought talent from that world into the videogame industry. Could you tell us how you came to work with Quad, who has performed as a DJ for 5pb events and mastered numerous albums?

I've always deeply enjoyed live club music in Tokyo and have even performed as a DJ myself. Quad was a DJ at a club that I frequented, and I was so impressed by his style that naturally I wanted to strike up a conversation. When I first met Sano-san it was at a club called Legend back in 2002, while the game music guide for All About Japan was underway. Those experiences have led us directly here.

Etrian Odyssey has found an increasingly large audience outside Japan, and there are numerous enthusiasts who import 5pb's soundtracks and arrange albums composed by Yuzo Koshiro. What are the most recent releases you've been focused on at 5pb Records?

Here are a few:

February 24th: Yggdra Union Audio Collection
March 25th: Classic Dungeon Original Soundtrack
April 7th: Etrian Odyssey III Original Soundtrack
May 12th: Etrian Odyssey III Super Arrange Version

There are also numerous others in the works, so please keep an eye out for them.

DG-10 Live at Liquid Room: Golden Synthesizer

Sano-san, thank you for offering your time for this discussion. The last time we spoke, the Korg DS Trio had just debuted at EXTRA. Can you tell us a little about how this has led to the formation of DG-10?

Nobuyoshi Sano: It's been awhile. At the time of EXTRA 2008 I could hardly imagine that our DS-10 trio would one day be performing in Copenhagen.

The concept for the group was first suggested by Nakamura-san, and that’s how this all got started. As it so happens, when the idea first came up I had been toying with the notion of producing a vocal album, so the timing could hardly have been better. As you might guess, most live DS-10 performances are entirely electronic. I loved the idea of adding the element of the human voice and started straight away on realizing this concept.

Are you currently also playing a role in audio design on Cavia Inc.’s game projects, such as Nier?

These days, when it comes to audio design on videogames, I primarily manage staff members. It’s a completely different set of tasks from those required in developing the DS-10 software, and I've been dedicating myself to both jobs in parallel.

On twitter you've mentioned that Gold Synthesizer "must be your masterpiece." What specifically did you intend by that statement?

What I meant to say in my excitement is that all three members of DG-10 and every single person who contributed to this album had a great time, and when I listen to the CD that enjoyment shows through on every individual track. That was the meaning behind those words.

On your DS-10 Blog you appear to take a personal interest in overseas musicians like DS-10 Dominator who have dedicated themselves to the software. Did you initially foresee there being this kind of reception?

I didn’t see it coming, so it was an extraordinary surprise. What I would like is to continue providing such tools for making music.

What features did you feel were important to add to the Korg DS-10 Plus, and what led you to seek these editions?

A programmer at our company believed it would be possible to implement DSi features and double the power of the original DS-10, which was the central reason why it was developed. Also the new DS-10 enables you to control pretty much everything, even while in SONG mode. Implementation of per track MUTE/SOLO for realtime performance was another feature people had been requesting.

Your videos, like the Korg DS-10 Plus Steve Jobs parody and hospital-themed music video, have attracted attention for their surprising sense of humor. Is humor important to your approach to promoting the DS-10?

Whether it's a promo video or a DS-10 project, every time I turn my attention to a creative endeavor I always try to invest some humor in it. I mean, it takes a sense of humor to turn a Nintendo DS into a synthesizer, don't you think? When I had to memorize that entire "Jobs script" in English, it was just like being a student again, preparing for a big oral exam. The DG-10 promo video we filmed inside an OB/GYN office. (There was a hospital in Shizuoka we discovered while scouting.) Everyone had a blast on that shoot.

Now that you have introduced this popular software to the world, can we expect to see the DS-10 and DG-10 Trios performing elsewhere outside Japan?

Naturally. People of the world, please contact us! We’ll go anywhere and bring our DS-10s with us. The downside is that we're on a shoestring marketing budget, but if you can take care of the airfare and accommodations, count us in!

DG-10 Live at Liquid Room: High School Lullaby

[This article is available in Japanese on Game Design Current, in Italian at Gamesource.it and in French on Gameblog. DG-10 albums can be imported from Amazon.co.jp. Interview, photo and video by Jeriaska. Translation by Kaoru Bertrand. Images are courtesy of DG-10 Official web and KORG DS-10. Copyright © 2010 5pb.Inc. © Sanodg All Rights Reserved]