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Tenori-on is an electronic musical instrument, designed and created by Japanesemarker artist Toshio Iwai and Yu Nishibori of the Music and Human Interface Group, Yamaha Center for Advanced Sound Technology. It consists of a screen, held in the hands, of a sixteen by sixteen grid of LED switches, any of which can be activated in a number of ways to create an evolving musical soundscape. The LED switches are held within a magnesium frame, which has two built-in speakers located on the top of frame, as well as a dial and buttons that control the type of sound and beats per minute produced. There is also an LCD screen on the bottom edge of the frame. Using the connection function, it is possible to play a synchronized session, or to send and receive songs between two of the devices.

Tenori-on was demonstrated at SIGGRAPH 2005 held in Los Angeles, CAmarker in August, 2005 . A detailed discussion of the design of the Tenori-on is given in a paper presented at NIME 2006 conference held at IRCAMmarker, Centre Pompidoumarker in Paris, France in June, 2006 .

Toshio Iwai has been using the Tenori-on in live performances (such as at Sónar in Barcelonamarker, in June 2006, and Futuresonic in Manchestermarker, in July 2006, the Futuresonic 2006 live show had some good feedback from the audience and that was one of the most important triggers to make it a real product). The instrument was launched in London on September 4, 2007 for a recommended retail price of $1,200 (£599). To promote this launch, three prominent electronic and experimental musicians -- Jim O'Rourke, Atom Heart, and Robert Lippok -- were invited to compose "demo" tracks utilizing the device. These tracks have since been released as promotional MP3s from the Tenori-on website.

Iwai's intention in creating the Tenori-on is to create an electronic instrument of beauty. In his own words:

"In days gone by, a musical instrument had to have a beauty, of shape as well as of sound, and had to fit the player almost organically. [...] Modern electronic instruments don't have this inevitable relationship between the shape, the sound, and the player. What I have done is to try to bring back these [...] elements and build them in to a true musical instrument for the digital age."

The instrument builds on Iwai's previous work, such as his Electroplankton software for the Nintendo DS in the blending of light and sound, as well as the aesthetic elements of the interface.

A World Tour introducing Tenori-on began in Frankfurt, Germany, on March 12, and finished in Tokyo on 25 April 2008. Artists on the tour included Jim O'Rourke, Atom Heart, To Rococo Rot, Pole, Robert Lippok, Sutekh, The Books, Krikor, Safety Scissors, I Am Robot and Proud and Nathan Michel.


Basic Interface

Composing on the Tenori-On's sixteen by sixteen grid of LED backlit buttons consists of utilizing the various different modes of input by pressing and holding these buttons to generate notes in different ways. The function buttons of either side of the unit give quick access to commonly used functions, such as instrument changes, or layer switching.


Score Mode

Score mode is a basic sequencer template, with a time bar running from left to right on the grid running in a loop, much like a conventional DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) MIDI music sequencer. The player inputs notes by pressing for a short amount of time, which creates a note event, or 'dot'. When hit by the time bar, the corresponding note is heard.

Random Mode

The closest comparison this mode comes to is a combination between Score Mode and an arpeggiator, where instead of a scrolling timeline, a light travels from each note the player activates on the grid in almost a connect the dots fashion. Combined with the ability to rotate the sequence of notes at varying speeds this mode can emulate many arpeggiator effects.

Draw Mode

This simple mode of the device allows the player to draw on the surface of the Tenori-On and loops the sequence of notes drawn or tapped on the surface of the grid.

Bounce Mode

This mode allows the player to input notes which repeat at varying intervals depending on how high on the vertical scale a note is placed, which activates a bouncing ball effect, where the note is heard when the ball hits the bottom of the grid. Notes are deactivated by pressing the very bottom button on the corrosponding vertical line.

Push Mode

This mode allows playing of sustained notes by holding down a button until the note 'locks', and is repeated. Some of the sounds have evolving qualities which work well in this mode.

Solo Mode

This is the most tactile and instantaneous mode on the unit. Solo mode allows playing either quantized or unquantized notes on the grid, the bottom line having a constant sustained note, and each of the lines from then on plays notes at varying intervals, e.g. 1/1, 1/4, 1/16 and so on. This mode is also useful to create a drum machine effect controlled by the user.

Advance Mode

The Tenori-On possess an unlockable 'Advance Mode', first unveiled at the US Tenori-On forum, which allows the user to customize the different modes of the Tenori-On, outwith the standard layout of modes. By holding function keys L1 and L5 on power-on, Advance Mode is unlocked and new features within the Layer Menu are unlocked. Discussions with designer Toshio Iwai have brought about rumours of other hidden features of the unit, but no further details are available at this time.

References in Media

On the Channel 4 show The IT Crowd, in the episode "FriendFace" Roy is shown playing with a Tenori-on.

As part of his 2009 live stand-up tour, the comedian Bill Bailey used one in his routine.

UK electronic singer Little Boots is also known for using a Tenori-On for live performances.

See also


External links

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