Afters years in development, the closely-watched TENORI-ON instrument from Toshio Iwai was officially launched in London by Yamaha last night. Noted game and film composer Gary Kibler was there, and he’s back with lots of juicy details, from the origin of the instrument’s conception to details on its launch and even a link to a PDF manual.. He’s also put loads of videos up for us on YouTube. -Ed.

Yamaha hosted an event last night in the heart of London’s Soho district to celebrate their official launch in the UK of what’s been described as a "revolutionary hands-on instrument that seamlessly fuses lights, sounds and music". The TENORI-ON is a unique handheld performance controller designed by Toshio Iwai, an established interactive media artist and designer, that has taken a full six years to go from initial concept to final production. Its basic makeup is a 16×16 matrix of LED buttons that not only provide the control interface to its 16 layers, 256 preset tones, and 6 sequence/loop modes, but also displays in lights what is often a stunning visual feedback loop on whatever is being output by the device. The device is planned only to be sold in the UK presently with a list price of £599 (approx. $1200 USD)

The highlight of the stage presentations was this first solo performance by Toshio:

Below is a short video interview with Toshio (he begins with signing my "Electroplankton"
DS game that he had designed earlier for Nintendo).

Here is the link to this and other photos I took at the event.

Peter Peck, the Marketing Manager for Yamaha, got up on stage just before the performance segment to make a few announcements, including some official details on the launch of the product:

  • The price point is 599 UK pounds and will likely remain there for the foreseeable future.
  • There is currently no set date for an international or US release of the product.
  • Yamaha will be displaying these through nearly a dozen retail record outlets throughout the UK. This list is available here.

The evening featured discussions and performances by Toshio himself as well as some guest artists who had been given prior access to the device during its development. One such artist was Robert Lippok, who is well-known in Berlin’s electronic music scene with his noted band "To Rococo Rot". I counted seven or eight demo stations where people could try out the device for themselves, most equipped with headphones but some with powered monitors (Yamaha, of course). Like most people who have only been able to watch demo videos of others playing this device, it doesn’t necessarily appear intuitive, but I personally found that after about 15-20 minutes spent with it in combination with a quick read of the quick-start guide that it all begins to make sense to the point you’re able to produce something fairly quickly and effortlessly. I found myself drawn in and after 45 minutes that appeared more to me like ten, I had to be dragged away kicking and screaming.


Gary shot loads of video for CDM over the course of the evening; take it away, YouTube!

A personal demo: Peter Peck from Yamaha gives a full demo of the Tenori-On for Gary and CDM.

The inspirational music box that started it all:

Robert Lippok’s soundcheck and a 360 shot of the basement under Phonica Records:

Hands-on Experimentation

Gary’s first-ever TENORI-ON composition, part of his hands-on time with the new instrument:

And a second masterpiece. Gary: “Just because I understand a bit better what I’m doing doesn’t necessarily translate into producing better results. That may be the beauty in this beast.”

Further experimentation, shortly before the “dragged kicking and screaming” moment. “Not only did I have just one hand available to me due to my holding the camera with the other, but I couldn’t hear a thing because I needed to have the headphone resting on the camera mic. Not as satisfying a result as when I was using two hands and could hear, but a tribute to the device that blindly allows you construct something halfway listenable, without even listening!”

Stay tuned…

Thanks again to Peter and CDM for allowing me to cover this event for them. I had a great time. I have some definite impressions after having some direct experience with the device, as well as after speaking with Toshio and the other interested parties attending this event. I’ll write up these comments in the next day or two. I’d like to see some additional discussion started among CDM readers as a result of some of my comments.

For more in-depth info on the TENORI-ON, be sure to visit Yamaha’s Official Tenori-on site.

(Just added in the last 48 hours, areas on the official site where you can actually download the product manual and quick-start guide.)

Gary Kibler is a game and film composer who most recently worked for Sony Pictures in their Games Studio in Culver City. He recently relocated to the UK just outside London where he is now working on several new projects.

  • Man, that's a f***load of videos. I can see how I'll be spending my day. πŸ™‚

  • DO WANT.

    I really hope Yamaha brings this to the US. I would be willing to pay the current list price for it. I would imagine it's impossible to get it imported from the UK at this point.

  • dead_red_eyes

    WANT! I swear that if they don't bring this to the US I'll just buy the damn thing from overseas. you UK people are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO lucky. I don't freaking understand why there's no Japan or US launch coming anytime soon. What's the deal with that?

    I'm going to start sounding like a whiney bastard here soon, so I'll just stop.


  • dead_red_eyes

    Also Gary, thank you so very much for all of these videos. You sir, are the man. Awesome how he did a drawing on the cover of Electroplankton for you. He seems like a great guy. I would expect nothing less.

  • Hungry Antelope

    So anyone care to mention how the sampling/synthesis actually works? So far all the music I have heard on this thing sounds like general midi bell sounds. Could someone compose an electro or hip hop track on one?

  • Finally here comes some Tenori-On criticism.

    It's certainly a nice idea to have an electronic instrument with its own character and I agree that it has to be a closed system to realize this concept. However, as far as I can tell from the videos, it fails to create a unique character; with its multiple modes it rather appears like some demo patches to show off the possibilities of the device. Yamaha did not have the courage or just not the clue to make it truely simple and limited like a classical real instrument. The goal should have been to design a single-mode software which provides as much flexibility as possible but does not appear like a computer program and does not offer too many "possibilities".

    Same with the sound: To be taken serious as an instrument, it should be specific but raw and simple (just sine waves and noise for example). Instead, tones have a smooth envelope with a handsome reverb and percussion is an arbitrary ROMpler drumkit. Along with the always-nice-but-boring pentatonic scale, this prevents the essential experience of making disharmonic noise.

    I think an instrument should be difficult to handle to a certain degree (through a simple interface though), there should be some challange, otherwise it's just a toy. It looks like the Tenori-On is more of the latter, you can give it to any kid and it will make some beautiful but pointless music. You can't do anything nasty and ugly with it, can you?

    Honestly, I find their whole concept of instrument that helps to create "beautiful" music a little naive and would have expected something more mature from a company like Yamaha.

    One more word on the reverb:

    The Tenori-On is a portable instruemnt which can be moved around in space and different environments. A great feature which allows the spatial situation to become part of the performance, with two devices for example. But to experience the fine nuances that result from a different position in space or a different surrounding, a raw tone with a sharp envelope would be much better suited than the pre-washed tones of the Tenori-On which simulate space already.

    Think of a piano which has only black keys and always sounds like it is playing in a cathedral. Nice, but you can't do much with it.


    I'm sorry for my rude english.

  • "So anyone care to mention how the sampling/synthesis actually works?"

    It seems there is no synthesis involved in it, it either plays its internal ROM's sounds or plays very short samples (0.95 seconds per voice).

  • am I the only one not caught up in massive tenori-on hype. I mean it looks like a neat toy and all but how is something that is basically a crippled monome with better lights and a built in synth to plug it into "Revolutionary?" Is there something I'm missing?

  • I'm headed to London in 10 days. Will definitely be checking this out :-). If you'd like me to bring one for you, drop me a line at nasir at userlicious dot com, and I'll ship it to ya when I get back to the U.S.


    – Nasir

  • I would be willing to pay $299 for something like that, but not $1200! Yamaha must be out of their mind. Good luck with that one.

  • I'm worried about the bell sounds– will be trying that out. I'll try to read up and prepare an SD card with a sampleset that doesn't sound so 'Tenori'-ish.

  • Just to add to the growing amount of footage – we have an interview with Yu Nishibori we shot earlier in the year (we couldnt post until yesterday) explaining some of the functions of the Tenori-On here

  • dead_red_eyes

    I admit too, that if you can't use your own set of samples for this … it's too overpriced.

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  • vanceg

    About using your own sounds: It does send MIDI, though, does it not? I was planning to use it more as a sequencing interface….triggering external sounds. Isn't that possible?

  • poopoo

    It sends midi note on/off. It doesn't send CC's or NRPN or anything other than notes. You can't tweak the internal sounds, the sampling is straight playback (no envelopes, filters or effects) and the only effects are global chorus and reverb.

    I think it's all a bit over hyped for 1990 standard GM style synthesis.

  • "am I the only one not caught up in massive tenori-on hype"

    No. It looks boring. I have yet to see anything you can do with it that can't be done better with any number of alternative means. It's a bunch of toggle switches folks.

    Of course I might have a different reaction if I actually played one. But the videos don't give me hope.

    Still, kudos to Yamaha for trying something different.

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  • Todd Fletcher

    "Still, kudos to Yamaha for trying something different."

    Ditto. The price is REALLY high, but it does look really snazzy. Crazy how you can see the lights through the damn thing out the back. Superficial, yes. But thats still one thing it has on the Monome. On the other hand, that's an approx $800 price increase for…well, being pretty. Wonder what Toshio thinks of the monome.

    Might be one of those pieces of gear that appeal to people wanting to make an interesting live show, especially if they're gonna go all crazy with ableton or max and vsts out the whiz wang.

    That being said, the practical functionality doesn't seem any further than FruityLoops.

  • Wes

    I was at the Manchester launch last night, and i must say it was awesome to see it in person, also finding out the story behind the tenori-on and all of toshia's previous works was an amazing list.

    As for the product, it seems like once somebody really gets their head around it then it can do much more than the demo that toshia did at the beginning.

    there was a performance by robert lippok after all the talking finished and he really rocked it, he seemed like he'd had his hands on it for quite a while. He did an awesome cover version of 'freedom' by George Michael with a woman singing and he really messed it up and made it an awesome version.

    Graham Massey seemed like he had only just seen it with his performance with a live drummer, he sampled somebodies voice and a few other little samples and it seemed pretty good as a MIDI type sequencer although i think it takes a while to become fully comfortable with it. I had a little play on one (as there were a few scattered around on stands in the venue) and it seemed a bit tricky to get your head around at first, but you could really get it going once you got your head around 'layers' etc

    Overall even though the price is quite high, i think that its very innovative and i'm sure it goes very deep if you want it to. Oh and Yamaha reckon that its only being released through 10 record shops in the UK so its very limited stock levels.

  • Dr. BS

    guys, c'mon…

    it's a rompler with blinkin' lights and a much to high price tag…. oh well

  • robertlippok

    it´s true in a way. but it is fun maschine. put a little analog distortion effect on it and rock. i think a challange is to create a whole live set with it. yesterday i used ableton with it. and the midi out from the tenori was sent to a clavia micro modular.

    for max msp users the tenori feels maybe a bit static but i like that at the moment very much.

  • In what way did you hook it up to Ableton Robert? I'd be interested to know whether you can launch clips from the individual buttons & whether playing back sequences on Tenori-on can be sync'ed up with Live?

  • robertlippok

    i haven´t tried triggering clips but as it can send midi notes i shoud be easy. each layer has a different midi channel. layer one – midi channel one and so on…. sixteen all together. my tonori was running in slave mode. secondos one was the master. one feature i like very much is the change of the length of the sounds. explored that yesterday.

    take care


  • robertlippok

    sorry for my english. to much beer yesterday! : )

  • Ah, sounds like it should be possible then, thanks! I'm intrigued at the possibilities of triggering clips from Tenori-on either as you play or from it's internal sequencer, so that I could set up micro-sequences in Live clips and have them triggered from Tenori-on's special modes (like the bouncing ball or the random mode with rotation thing.) I work just around the corner from Phonica, so it's really hard to stop myself popping in after work with credit card in hand! πŸ™‚

  • robertlippok

    mmh, interesting… and when you trigger the bpm with the random mode than you can create a nice mess!

    i´m on my way to berlin now. i have a look on this page tomorrow again.

    take care,


  • MadSaw79

    please can anyone confirm that it midi sync as slave to software sequencer an not just to another tenori? I plan to use it with ableton live triggerin samples πŸ˜‰

  • dead_red_eyes

    robert, i must say that your tinkering is going to give us a clear picture of what the tenori can do. if you can, please do some experiments from those suggested in the comments.

    Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you're our only hope.

  • Joel Abbott

    I know it's too new, but I'll be interested in this once we get some Tenori-on virtuosos out there making videos on YouTube. I haven't seen anyone making anything other than blips and beeps, but nothing very musical yet.

    So, I'm really hoping for all of you rich Brits who get your hands on one of these things to get your practice on in the next couple of weeks, and then post your vids, because I'm anxiously awaiting the new Clara Rockmore of the Tenori-on to demonstrate the device's full capabilities, and to MAKE SOME MUSIC.

  • Stephan

    It seems like the industry is looking for new instruments, but what we get is a toy..

    Where are the dynamics, phrasings, rhythmical variations etc? If you take that away from music, you end up with the sound of an elecronic doorbell or the soundrack of a computergame..

    This is about what I heard on the video..

  • robertlippok

    back in berlin now.

    ah, nice discussing, sorry have no time to talk everything in details. ( my typing is very slow )


    i don´t now what you mean exaclty. the sync mode its like you would sync two computers together or a computer and a mpc….

    ableton is sending midi clock and the tenori is receiving it.

    in the tenori events i had the feeling that using the tenori an a master is more accurate . the sample secondo triggerd on his tenori were tight. he said he adjusted the sync in the ableton preferences -30 ms. have to try this.

    deadred eyes.

    well i can´t cover all the experiments. i rather follow my on path with it. i will use it for the next to rococo rot show and will see how it feels to play with a band with it. i will also build a new tenori stand. i used clamps from a tool shop but they took them of me a berlin airport. so i went to a toolshop near phonica records to get new one. this can´t go on for ever. i will build a stand made out of plexiglas.


    hey, i love blips and bleeps. i think you should be the new clara rockmore!

    i´m not so much into virtuosity of any kind but maybe its good.

    MAKE SOME MUSIC is a good thing to say with the tenori. with this instrument the borders of just playing around ( call it "daddeln" in germany ) and making music is nicely blur.


    when you get asked for a project like that you always ask yourself if it right or wrong. after the first email contact with yu from yamaha and his visit in berlin i thought this is a deeply personal project which sound funny when you think yamaha is putting it out.but its quiet a small unit which worked on it. you could see it a bit on the pictures

    toshio should at the event.

    and its not the iphone so there are no big marketing think tanks behind it. believe me.

    about the sound. yes, most of them are preset. mathew herbert talk about this the preset issue lots of times and there is also are interesting book called vorgemischte welt – klaus sander and jan werner (mouse on mars) . i don´t now if ther is a english translation.

    my view is opposite. i like more african and asian musicians who do not f**king care about preset sound or not.

    well anyway. nice evening everybody. sorry no time to write more stuff on this page.

    greetings from berlin,


  • dead_red_eyes

    One thing I'll say is that I'll gladly take blips & beeps (chiptune or Tenori-On style) over circuit bent instruments any day. I have respect for those who do it, but the majority of bent instruments sound like compelte ass to me. That said, it's all about taste. And I really think that the Tenori-On will definitely find some users with it's default sounds, especially among the chiptune crowd. But I will be really happy to see what else we can do with it, as far as using our own samples with it and such.

    I still want one badly, but I really wish the price was at least half of what it is now.

  • Stephan said:

    "If you take that away from music, you end up with the sound of an elecronic doorbell or the soundrack of a computergame."

    …and I think red_eyes hit it on the head in the following post. There are some people who want, neigh, CRAVE that kind of thing. I saw this guy a couple weeks ago (live in Chicago) play his guitar and sing while the LSDJ on his gameboy provided the drums and backing melodies.

    Looking over the videos again… the thing does look fun and cool. But man- that price hurts.

  • Well i don't think it's cheap but if you consider that you can pretty much write a complete tune on it and play live with it it's not outrageous, isn' that along the lines of a big groovebox, an mpc, a roland 909 or things like that? I think the real problem here is that for a musician/tweaker/dj is not that easy to integrate in an existing setup and beginners will look for cheaper, more standard tools to start from.

  • I think the sound set is actually quite good, a lot the sounds are quite contemporary which is a matter of taste really but don't forgot you can hook it up to other sources & add your own samples. I think for me it's the combination of the visuals, sounds, tactile feedback and portability that really makes it unique. The price is on the high side but hopefully that'll come down with time.

  • dead_red_eyes

    Also, we're hearing CRAP audio thru these YouTube videos and none of us have had the time to float thru all of it's samples yet. Hell, most of us haven't played on it and won't get the chance to for some months now. So no one should really outright knock it's sounds yet.

    I'm really interested in hearing some compositions made on this thing( that are in mp3 format at least) that are all stock sounds. And it would be equally as great to hear someone compose something with their own samples. We know now that we can add our own samples to it, which is a damn good thing. I'm betting on 16bit 44khz samples? Plus, I can't wait to see the manual for this thing.

  • Hungry Antelope

    But no-one has even answered how the sampling works:

    1) How much sampling memory does it have?

    2) How do we sample? Can we copy sounds from our computer, or run a digital line in for sampling?

    3) How do we assign sounds we sample.

    All anyone is able to say is: "It samples". Sorry, I need to know more than that!

  • alext

    well I can attest (I was at the Phonica launch), that the thing sounds great over the PA (Iwai's opener sounded immense). From what little I caught of it, I was in the next room fiddling with the thing, Lippoks set sounded great too, but I think he/you were purely using it to sequence stuff on the mac. which I'm all for. I'd use both aspects.

    to the people who think 'big whoop', the bottom line is just because you can have the same functionality with software on a computer doesn't mean that you'll actually end up writing the same stuff. as far as I'm concerned, the nature of how we're actually getting our ideas down in electronic music has received the least attention of all aspects, and is probably most important. interacting with something like this engages you in a way I haven't found a mouse able to.

    as a sketchpad alone its worth its weight in gold, but hook it up to a sequencer and you've got a recipie for the most intuitive input device this side of a lemur. or a monome, which has half the buttons.

    as for the sampling question:

    1) not sure about polyphony, but each sample cant be more than 0.97 seconds long.

    2) you put them on SD card via some PC software.

    3) RTFM?

  • Prospect

    Why isn't it being released in the US?!

  • dead_red_eyes

    I have no idea Prospect. I also have no idea why it wasn't released in Japan in the first place.

  • I believe it's just a limited run for now in the UK (apparently assembled by hand?) – full production may start next year at which time I'd expect the price to come down and the distribution to go international… patience dear friends, all good things come to those who wait! πŸ˜‰

  • emmett

    does anybody know if there's a way to send the visuals from the tenori out to a projector, etc. seening as the lights and the ability for the audience to have some visual cues to whats going on, it seems like there should be some way to get that information into a computer as a 16×16 pixel image or something more complex. that combined with midi capabilities makes me a bit curious about vjing possibilities.

  • emmett, I'm pretty certain it doesn't provide any direct output feed with regard to the LED matrix lighting info, but that sure would be one hell of a cool circuit-bending project. (Although it's one thing to brick your $15 Speak-And-Spell and whole other to nuke your new $1200 toy πŸ˜‰

    That is an interesting idea though from a VJ perspective.

    Just so everyone is aware, Peter just posted my TENORI-ON review article.

    As far as I know, it's the first one published. If anyone has seen others, I mean outside of Yamaha-sponsored things, please let me know.

    The comments and response here have been great. The videos alone have had nearly 9000 total hits since they were posted late Tues. I think I've thrown out some points in my last post that might juice up the conversation a bit. Let me know what you think. Cheers, -G

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  • Nick

    I dunno…Looks more like a fashion item to me. I think they understand that and are trying very hard to make this into a "cool" item to have.

    This is not an instrument: it's an input device. Just like MPC pads and the CHAOS pad. Therefore, if I was Yamaha, I would just integrate it to something like the Motif and call it the day.

    My 2 cents.

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  • For those interested there’s a good fidelity podcast that was just posted on of the entire Toshio Iwai performance and presentation from the Mint Lounge in Manchester last Wed, the night just after the London debut. The good thing about this is it's recorded directly off the board so you get a real sense of the fidelity and quality of the output of the TENORI-ON that you don’t get from any of the YouTube videos.

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  • jw

    It looks pretty lame. The sound is annoying, and it seems like it's just an interface with blinking lights. Dumb.

  • joe

    why the hell was it released in london, there are so many more people in the U.S. of freakin' A. More people = more money, plus i really want one and now i hafta wait. . .

  • Flaxter

    I am pleased it was released in the UK first. (Not just in LONDON!)

    You Yanks always get everything first!

  • J-Rob

    Trying to synch up my Tenori to the laptop…with difficulties…seems like the clock in Logic is triggering low notes in the Tenori and when I take

    the midi in off, it starts and stops the computer but is not bang on the beat…any cure?

  • Saw 808 State do a live set on saturaday night with one of these as well as all their old hardware. It was awesome!

  • oscilofi

    808 State are fantastic.

    I am quite tempted by the tenori-on now, it's in stock here:

  • Delicate Bonfire

    I found one if these set up on a demo stand at Andertons in Guildford so I hogged it for half an hour or so last sunday morning…. very easy when you read the little intruction leaflet they had on the stand. I would have bought one on the spot but luckily they did not have any for sale – only the demo. I say 'luckily' because looking more critically, it sounded no better/worse than my old TG500 rompler did in 1994 (at leasr that was editable), the sample memory is pathetic and there is no way to humanise the sequences. It's all a bit too perfect & souless really. As for selling it in record shops, it's obviously marketed at the Nathan Barleys of this world.

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