In the second part of this series, I said I planned to contrast Beatnes and Rec-Rec against each other. I was overhasty to do so. Although both Electroplankton modes have a lot in common on the surface, their musical purposes are very different. As Kathy Griffin would say, let me walk you through it:
When you load up the plankton, you'll see what look like five floating kites against a blue/red background. Each of the plankton has a head, a tail, and eight segments in between. The head and tail play short sound bites from NES games. The middle eight segments are diatonic notes, starting with the lowest at the bottom (so for the key of C major, from bottom to top the segments would play C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C). The notes are the same across all five columns.
After a little chirp, the star music for Super Mario Bros. will begin playing. Pressing the select button will scroll the plankton offscreen, replacing them with a new set against a different colored background. Unfortunately, there is no "blank" background. Note that all the modes share the same loop length (8 beats), but have different sounds, key signatures, and beat patterns. In order of selection, here are some of their individual features:
|Koopa Hit||Fireball||Block Hit||Jump?||Mario Damage|
|Coin||Laughing Dog||Shot||Hit||Duck Flight|
|Notes Up||Notes Down||Missed||Explosion||Score Chime|
|"Left"||Score chime||"Up"||Arpeggio Up||"Right"|
|"Open"||Item chime||"Down"||Arpeggio Down||"Close"|
Like Luminaria, Beatnes will quantize your sequences for you to the nearest 16th or 32nd note, so that nothing will be off-rhythm. Between the waving motion of the segments and the automatic quantize approach, however, the notes may sometimes trigger a 16th after when you think you keyed them in. Because you can't stray from the tempo, they won't be too jarring, but it may add a little accidental swing to your lines. Luckily, you can alter the tempo of the Beatnes by pressing left and right on the d-pad. Altering the tempo does not change the pitch of the samples or sequences. Like all the Electroplankton, you can also pause the song by hitting Start (Iwai has cheekily labeled this "Intermission").
Between the two primary drawbacks of Beatnes (limited memory and preset drum patterns from familiar NES cartridges), it can be hard to integrate this into original music. Since you can't access the samples without the intrusive background sounds, you pretty much have to use these ridiculous drum patterns, even if you just want to use the synth functions. Depending on your audience, this will either make you the hippest girl or guy at the party, or you'll be accused of copyright infringement (more on that in a later installment).
The role I can best see Beatnes play is as an extra electronic instrument, perhaps played by a vocalist or multi-instrumentalist. The player would need to have an A/B switch handy, in order to match the Beatnes tempo to the song using in-ear monitors, much like a DJ. Once that's done, it could be used to build a nice cheesy synth solo. You could also use Beatnes as a portable synth band-in-a-box--but you're not going to get very much variety out of it, and it's unlikely that you could play it and sing/play another instrument at the same time. Although I originally thought Beatnes had a lot of potential as a jamming tool, I think the NES source ultimately limits it too much for use by aspiring electronic musicians.