Chris Kann, the owner of wayfar.org, sells a device called the Midines. It’s a Nintendo cartridge that plays the Nintendo Entertainment System like a musical instrument, I kid you not. You insert the Midines cartridge into your NES, plug MIDI cables into the Midines, and off you go, into a world of bloops and blips.
I paid $99 for a Midines in the year 2008, and… I have still not received it. I have sent Chris Kann at least a dozen emails, and never received a single reply. In 2008, I did track him down on IRC — he mentioned that he was going through some hard times, but now it is 3 years later, and he has been completely silent.
I wondered if I offended him personally, but it turns out that many, many, many, many (etc) people have sent money, and received nothing. A critical mass of people complained to PayPal, who finally shut down his account, so he switched to using Google Cart Service this year.
If I receive a Midines, then I’ll be happy to give it a proper review! In the meantime, I urge everyone to use their own research & judgment before sending money to strangers.
Meanwhile, whether you own a Midines or not, you can make NES-style chiptunes for free. I created an Ableton Live Pack with all 5 NES waveforms: Download it here. You can also download the raw AIFFs. Here’s a silly track that demonstrates how it sounds:
The 5 waveforms are: 1-bit noise (the drum beat), a 4-bit triangle wave (the bass), and pulse waves at three different widths: 50%, 25%, and 12.5%. Here’s how the pulses look, next to the noise:
The triangle wave is a bit tricky. The NES provides 4-bit volume control for the other channels, but the triangle wave always plays at maximum volume. In my Live Pack, I generated a triangle wave using Operator, downsampled it using Redux, and then filtered the high frequencies to curb the Redux artifacts. This was a subjective process, I tweaked the filter until it sounded correct.
I recommend altering the instrument envelopes, to create smooth attacks and gradual delays. Also, try using vibrato and tremelo (changing the pitch or amplitude with an LFO). This will improve the character of the instruments immensely.
If you want a more authentic sound, try limiting yourself to 2 pulse channels at a time, since that’s all the NES can support. You can also send the instruments through convolution reverb, using a small speaker impulse. This may sound more like an 1980’s television speaker. Enjoy!