What’s the cutest conceivable musical instrument? It’d be tough to top an anthromorphic musical note, complete with eight-note flag, whose smiling face opens when it “sings.”

Boing Boing Gadgets (by way of Tokyo Mango) gets the story on this latest creation of art group Maywa Denki and lead creative instigator Novmichi Tosa. The Otamatone is only barely practical as an instrument; it sports a nasal tone from its simple electronic oscillator and, at the end of the video, demonstrates an entirely new way to render the US National Anthem slightly out of tune. (Apologies to Jimi Hendrix.) But it also exhibits sheer genius, like shaking it to get vibrato and adjusting formants by squeezing the character’s mouth open and closed. And it easily trumps those horrible plastic Yamaha recorders we were all forced to play in school.

It’s almost a surprise to see Maywa Denki with something selling at retail, as their previous creations have been designed to be completely absurd. Take the Tsukuba Series of instrumental devices, which includes:

  • An instrument built to punch bubble wrap (packing tape)
  • A “voice vibrator” you strap to your throat
  • A Brazilian percussion robot
  • “Guitar-la,” an array of six guitars played by a pedal organ.

You can see those and other creations by clicking through the “Art” section of the project’s site; there are other wonderful (and kawaii) toys, too, called “nonsense toys”:


I previously wrote about the strange aquatic-themed musical designs, evoking the shapes of fish bodies and skeletons:

Bizarre Fish-Themed Gadgets, Musical Instruments

It’s all pure design genius, and a reminder that designs need not be bereft of personality, whimsy, and the absurd.

Thanks to Tom Betts from whom I stole found this story.

  • wishniak

    i got to play with one of these last weekend at the ars electronica festival in linz. very fun. and there was also a film of demonstrations of various instruments created by the group; fascinating, absurd and practical.

  • Paul

    Modify these sweet honey ducklings into a stribe like touch interface

    [bang] that saucelid into puredata and with a couple logigasms by way of connected boxes you could have a nice touch midi cc to go alongside mothers monome

  • salamanderanagram

    white eighth notes? aside from being invisible on paper, they kinda look like sperm cells, no?

    cool toy, but without an audio output of some form, quite limited indeed.

  • The adorable appeal of this thing relies on its presentation as well as its physical acoustic aspects, like the "wah" filtering at the mouth and the vibrato you can get from wiggling its orientation. All that would be lost if you simply turned it into some generic controller or audio-out synth. If you only want a bendy sawtooth sound with a lowpass filter, you can get that from anywhere.

  • Yeah, I agree – it's really about the visual design of the thing. But that to me is pretty inspiring. It's an easy principle to overlook in design.

    And yeah, it's otherwise entirely impractical, but that's sort of the charm of his work.

  • I will pay any price

  • Polite

    Oh wow! Maywa Denki. I remember seeing a story about these guys on Adam and Joe Go Tokyo.

    I believe this is a link to a youtube vid of it:

    (I can't see it to verify as youtube is blocked here)

  • Maywa Denki have been selling retail for years. The fish skeleton extension cord is a retail item as is the talking rotary phone talking watch and the old school TV remote control… well actually Maywa Denki decades ago when Nobumichi Tosa and his brother were kids his father ran Maywa Denki which at the time was an "normal" electronic parts company.

    It's also worth noting that while one well known series of instruments are mostly fish themed there is also a line with a fetus theme. I think it has to do with rationalizing the idea of "cute" in pop culture.

  • vjfranzk