Tenori-on: sound on your palm
September 5, 2007 3:35 PM   Subscribe

The Tenori-On is a new electronic musical instrument by Toshio Iwai [wikipedia], the creator of Electroplankton [previously]. It was just released commercially by Yamaha [flash site], to great excitement among those of us who get excited about such things. But what does it sound like? [more inside]
posted by moonmilk (27 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This post on createdigitalmusic.com has some nice videos of Iwai demoing the Tenori-on at the launch event in London yesterday. You can find more with the obvious search on youtube.com. I've been a fan of Iwai's work since I saw his interactive music installation Music Insects at the Exploratorium 15 years ago-- but I'm a bit disappointed by what I've heard of the Tenori-on so far. Maybe it'll take someone else besides the inventor to discover the full potential of this thing. And I want to play with it too! Yamaha's selling it for £599 in the UK only (so far). Here's an interesting set of photos of the development and assembly of the device-- it looks like a boutique product being built in a workshop rather than mass-produced, which may explain the high price.

The Monome project is a similar instrument, though it works with a computer rather than being entirely self-contained like the Tenori-on. Interestingly, it's an open-source project-- you can buy monome kits or assembled instruments from the developers, or download the plans and software and make it yourself.

These two devices aren't quite instruments in the traditional sense. They're somewhere between instruments and sequencers, where the performer sets up patterns of sound and the device automatically repeats them. They seem well-suited to loop- and sample-based music, and I'm curious to see if they will lend themselves to other techniques.
posted by moonmilk at 3:36 PM on September 5, 2007

So it's a tactile tracker. It seems like it would be fun for people who are high.
posted by delmoi at 3:41 PM on September 5, 2007

A nice post.

Electroplankton is a piece of fine art, but has no long-term appeal as a "game" because it doesn't impose any challenges. If you really want to turn a Nintendo DS into a musical instrument, I hereby order you to obtain Daigasso! Band Brothers, a Japanese import. It is legend. (DS doesn't have region codes.)
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:43 PM on September 5, 2007

Wow, I've remembered Music Insects for so many years. That was pure fun to play with... he did Electroplankton too? Geeze, I even remember thinking that it was a lot like "that Amiga music thing at the Exploratorium all those years ago". I had no idea it was the same guy.

Off to check this out!
posted by Malor at 3:45 PM on September 5, 2007

Ah, Okay. It can do a lot more then basic tracking. Interesting.
posted by delmoi at 3:46 PM on September 5, 2007

i thought electroplankton was very meh....and i was very excited about it. these technologies seem really cool, but they also seemed geared towards non-musicians.
posted by gnutron at 3:46 PM on September 5, 2007

Well, you know what they say: If you wanna make a sushi roll, you gotta put tenori-on.

posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:48 PM on September 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow, that looks like fun, but 600 pounds is going to be about $1200. :(
posted by Malor at 3:51 PM on September 5, 2007

This is going to put Steve Reich out of a job.
posted by aladfar at 4:12 PM on September 5, 2007

about $1200. :(

Ouch! Frowny face, indeed! Too bad, I was thinking this would be a cool thing for my 7-year-old, but that's just a wee bit pricey...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:17 PM on September 5, 2007

Given that the obvious answer to this question is "The use to which it is being put," I still have to ask the same obvious question which has been asked about a lot of musical instruments over the years, especially electronic ones:

"Is this a musical instrument or is this a toy?"

Posing it this way pegs me as Old School. Well, yeah. But I am always genuinely wondering about the aesthetics of musicians who weren't born so many decades ago.

The more the years roll by, the more I want to know.
posted by kozad at 4:23 PM on September 5, 2007

I hate devices like this, because I love devices like this. Imagine, if you will, a scene...

[manufacturer] Look at this fabulous thing we've brought to the market! You want this! you need his!

[starving musicians] Yesssssss... we want it... we need it....

[manufacturer] And you can have it! For only $$$!

[starving musicians] But we don't have $$$, we're starving musicians!

[manufacturer] Well, perhaps if you got a real job...


[real-job-having ex-musicians] Wow, now I could afford this fabulous thing to make music with, if I were still a starving musician! *weeps*
posted by lekvar at 4:23 PM on September 5, 2007 [4 favorites]

Lekvar, I figure that a Tenori-on will show up in a local pawn shop any moment now. I just have to keep checking...
posted by moonmilk at 4:30 PM on September 5, 2007

OMFG DO WANT. I could tool on one of these for nonstop hours on hours on hours. $1200 makes it a far off purchase for right now, but the MIDI ins and outs would make this a cool controller for all sorts of silly sounds. Now I want this and that synth-table. Music schmusic.
posted by knowles at 5:14 PM on September 5, 2007

Am I right in thinking this is really just an old school groove box type of sampler/sequencer that Roland and Yamaha used to make, only with a redesigned user interface, or does it do something radically different?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:23 PM on September 5, 2007

I think it doubles a s a hotplate.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:48 PM on September 5, 2007

With a bit more effort I can get the same effects out of my Yamaha keyboard.

And I have a multitude more sounds to choose from.

posted by konolia at 7:32 PM on September 5, 2007

With a bit more effort I can get the same effects out of my Yamaha keyboard.

And I have a multitude more sounds to choose from.


Don't knock things you don't understand. Yamaha has an astonishing record of innovation in music -- and they've stuck to their guns through several better technologies that didn't take off immediately. They came out with the first commercial MIDI synthesizer, the DX-7 and FM technology, I remember when that was such a rush -- then the electronic wind instrument that I play today; the first cheap moving fader digital mixing board; physical modelling synthesis, where the sound is produced with a model of a vibrating column of air; "Silent Brass," a great trick that lets you practice a real brass instrument without disturbing anyone else (you hear the sound on headphones)... etc. etc.

Yamaha has never produced a real dud (that I remember) -- even things like mLan are very clever and simply didn't get successful.

I'm downloading the manual and I'll decide if I'm going to buy one or not...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:26 PM on September 5, 2007

Oh, man. Check out the manual. I am so getting this(*). I was thinking of going to England anyway, this is such an excuse.

The gist is that you can create live software things that live in layers and that bounce around the screen to provide the timing.

It has MIDI out so you aren't at all restricted to the internal sounds (which I haven't heard).

Downsides are that there are only 3 internal sound slots for your own sounds (boo! It's nice to go out without your own sound generator) and I imagine that you can't write your own plugins.

Still, I might be able to make a splash with one. I wonder if it takes external sync?

(* -- actually, I date equipment all the time and don't marry it but I'm in love!)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:32 PM on September 5, 2007

Link to all documents.

Here's some of my work that was played on a Yamaha WX-7 electronic wind instrument into a Yamaha VL70m physical modelling synthesizer and mixed in a Yamaha ProMix 01v digital mixer (and a bunch of external effects and a guitarist too :-D).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:37 PM on September 5, 2007

Looking at more of the videos is a little disappointing. However, the manual does present possibilities still.

If the thing had a software development kit, I'd get it instantly.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:55 PM on September 5, 2007

Looking at more of the videos is a little disappointing. However, the manual does present possibilities still.

Yeah, I have to say, after watching the videos, I didn't want one. I think that there's a real market out there for some kind of interactive, loops-based hardware groove box. Something that takes a software product like Ableton Live to the next level, by allowing the user to play with pre-set loops and their own loops, using both samples and an internal synth. Letting you both layer, create and modify loops interactively in real time, through a novel, intuitive user interface.

This wasn't it though. The tone generator sounded like the cheesiest thing I've heard in a long time. Pure 1980's Casio. There seemed to be a limited number of pre-programmed 'gimmicks' that, once you'd heard them a few times, would get old rapidly. And contrary to what Yamaha's marketing guy seemed to think, the interactive display on this would *not* wow audiences. It's just a couple of rows of dasblinkenlights fer God's sake. I'd rather watch them trigger loops in Ableton, especially since it has the capability to sequence film clips.

Sorry, I just don't see it. But if you build the thing I describe above -- I might pay £600 for that. Till then, I'd rather stick with an MPC 2000.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:12 AM on September 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Definitely a toy that wants to be an instrument when it grows up.

Monome looks a much wiser investment for the price -- and it's open-source, open-hardware.
posted by Twang at 3:36 PM on September 6, 2007

i used it at siggraph 2006. it's a lot of fun and they had to pry it away from me to let someone else use it. if you think it's a toy, you're misunderstanding its capabilities.

(i say that as an owner of a large arsenal of sound generation hardware, btw)

it's going to be a huge hit for live performance. the problem we're facing now in electronic music is the interaction methods are (mostly) just uninspiring and nonmusical. even keyboards themselves are strange, unnatural abstractions of a traditional instrument when used to trigger drum sounds or other non-keyboard instruments (keytars anyone?). so when things like the tenori come along and allow some really clever interaction with your sounds, the impact is much greater than that of a toy. i'm not certain it's $1200 worth of greater when we have things like the Monome available, but it's certainly better than poking around an endless field of anonymous knobs trying to remember which one controls a filter cutoff.

i know this all boils down to opinion, and since we live in an age where actual circuit-bent toys become instruments, the concept of "toy" is a bit vague. but really, you need to try this thing out because it might be the most inspiring -- as in "come play with me" as opposed to "OBSERVE MY MASSIVE FEATURE SET" -- electronic instrument to hit the market since the minimoog.
posted by Señor Pantalones at 12:21 AM on September 7, 2007

still thinking about this...

i guess i'd put this in the same category as the buchla thunder, zen drum, genoqs octopus, and notron latronic before i put it in the same category as an mpc2000 or other devices used for comparison in previous comments
posted by Señor Pantalones at 12:58 AM on September 7, 2007

I dunno, Señor Pantalones, everything I've heard or read about the Buchla Thunder would indicate that it's a far more sophisticated midi controller than the Tenori-on.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:13 AM on September 7, 2007

Here's a followup on createdigitalmusic by someone who got seduced by the T-o. I wonder if this is one of those things that's hard to appreciate if you don't play with it yourself?

Of course, that means that there's a risk that the music you make on the T-o is impossible for anyone but you to appreciate. Like those bongo-playing idiots outside my window.

I teach a class in circuit bending and performance, and I'm aware that we play dangerously near the self-indulgence horizon, and sometimes cross it!
posted by moonmilk at 8:27 AM on September 7, 2007

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