Nanoloop, the classic Nintendo Gameboy cartridge, is now its own hardware-based synthesizer

Spoken Word with Electronics is an audio series delivering to you a two side recording of unusual stories paired with vintage modular electronic sounds

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the show. This week, a Nanoloop arrived from Germany. I was elated. It showed up with great timing, too, on the afternoon of the day of the Election. Not sure it's possible to describe how stressful that day felt, though I imagine it's relatable. A drum machine synthesizer that is built off of the sounds of classic Nintendo Gameboy circuitry was just what the doctor ordered, so I turned off the news (to the best of my ability, anyway) and recorded Nanoloop beats for a week. You'll find that mood journal here for Side A.

The Nanoloop itself is a legendary component of chiptune music, and other electronic formats, providing instant acid house-esque rhythms. It's really wonderful for sound design, too. It's four concurrent 16-step grids, four voices, and is played like a video game. You'll hear Nanoloop on some recordings you love, from Aphex Twin to Boards of Canada, and elsewhere. A discussion on that is included.

The Nanoloop began as a cartridge for the original Nintendo Gameboy. It was then made for the Nintendo DS, ported to a deliriously fun iphone app, among other history. All of these iterations beg the question: "Why make a dedicated piece of hardware?" The answer is hardware is physical (obviously), electrically more musical (each note is a synapse), and has unpredictability you can't find in software. I've spent a week with the Nanoloop hardware and already find myself more drawn to play it than any of the software versions, cartridge included. This is a great successful achievement for Wittchow, who successfully launched a Kickstarter to realize Nanoloop as hardware in February 2019.

The serendipity of the Nanoloop arriving unexpectedly as it did was all the more nice, as I'd paid for it in March 2019. Kickstarter campaigns can be a little like messages in the bottle in that way, and the arrival of this gear on that stressful day is something I'm very thankful for. The original price of the Nanoloop was $100, which gives you a very capable PCB, buttons and a lucite clear faceplate. I might spend a little to build a custom metal or wood case around it, as I expect to use this for many years to come. (I expect that original price to increase if there's a second run of these made, too, and wouldn't fault them for it.)

Oliver Wittchow, the inventor of the Nanoloop, also makes one of my favorite phone games, the self-described Hungry Ducks, which just involves throwing bread out in the water and watching ducks scurry to eat.

SPOKEN WORD WITH ELECTRONICS #31: "So Damn Relieved Biden Won."

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Thanks and have a good terror-free week, Trump is on the way out, Ethan