Tenori-on Meets Kyma from Nomad Cinema on Vimeo.

US distributor Keyfax NewMedia reports that it has Yamaha’s Tenori-On in stock and shipping out now. (Pre-orders began at the beginning of May, but this is apparently the first the US unit has made it to our shows — unless you happened to win one from createdigitalmusic.com, that is, in April, in which case you know who you are.)

Every time I mention Tenori-On, despite the awe and lust it inspires in some musicians, someone raises the point of its somewhat retro-styled, simple sound bank. Fair enough: the minimal sounds are fantastic in the hands of creator Toshio Iwai and were specifically programmed and voiced to match his aesthetic. Other people, perhaps, not so much. So it’s interesting that reader Steven aka Nomad Cinema sends along this video (seen at top) of the Tenori-On paired with the absurdly deep luxury modular synth Kyma, along with a couple of beloved new analog synths. He writes:

In order to tap the real power of Yamaha’s new Tenori-on, it helps to pair it with external equipment capable of producing more satisfying sounds than the somewhat lackluster soundset included with the Tenori-on itself. In this video, no internal Tenori-on sounds were used whatsoever. Tenori-on is functioning purely as a sequencer with external equipment, including advanced sound-shaping from Kyma and analog synthesis from Alesis Andromeda and Dave Smith’s Prophet ’08. Sequencer data coming from Tenori-on is processed in Ableton Live (utilizing midi scale and chord filters, as well as injecting some generative randomness) before reaching Kyma, Andromeda, and Prophet ’08.

That to me remains the Tenori-On’s unique strength: to me it’s really an alternative step sequencer, exploded into an array of flashing lights and animated with game-like motion. This is to me also another way in which it isn’t a Monome, which feels more like an intelligent, programmable set of pads an an extension of your software, in comparison to the Tenori-On which seems to be re-imagining a giant pixel as a controller. I will be getting around to showing off some hands-on applications very soon, at long last.

  • dead_red_eyes

    Wow, that was really freaking cool. Thanks for posting that Peter.

  • Synthfreak

    I have a Tenori-On. I was #52 of the first 100 people to order one. I could hardly wait for it to arrive. I actually went to the SF launch party and I won't tell you how but I actually had lunch with Toshio that day beforehand. He's a real interesting guy who gave an amazing presentation at the company where I work. I actually had him sign my macbook and one of his posters. Anyway… After getting to know it and use it now for a couple of months I have to say I'm less than impressed. I'm pretty good with new hardware and getting the most out of it. The Tenori-On has a lot of flaws in it's design most notably it's lackluster soundset but there are many others. Just read the forums on the Tenori-0n site to see what I mean. It is true that really it's a neat step sequencer. I have software apps that are much more effective and useful. In a dark room it is neat to mess with and people that come over always ooh and ahh over it although one of my friends called it the "annoy-o-tronic" after 15mins of playing with it. Better sounds, the ability to integrate with your computer and having it be more open source would have been the way forward.

  • dead_red_eyes

    "Better sounds, the ability to integrate with your computer and having it be more open source would have been the way forward."

    Yeah, I agree with you there. It really sucks how expensive it is. It's the main reason why I still haven't tried to pick one up.

  • http://frgm.net Bean

    As Synthfreak points out, there was an initial limited availability (100 units) in May. I was a little further down the list, but since putting one's name on it was not an obligation to buy, I did end up picking one of them up.

    It does do some interesting things as "an alternative step sequencer", and that's mainly what I've used it for over the last month, through Ableton Live and into various softsynths. The "Random" mode in particular, can generate some unexpected results, and is the one mode that would be difficult to re-create on a monome (though not impossible).

    The other thing that it does well, really from the moment you turn it on and start pressing buttons, is make pretty loops. Granted, given the relatively shallow sound set, they all start sounding like a bit more of the same after a while. But even with the built-in sounds, it's not bad as a generative device for creating raw material to be processed / cut up / mangled with other instruments. (A monome and mlr, say.)

  • bliss

    Whatever Tenori's limitations, if it indeed was in control of all that music in the video — Wow! Forget the limitations – which, to me, do not seem a bad thing – and just have fun with the damn thing! Or be serious within its minimal sound aesthetic. After all, it's about you and not the machine. At least, that's how it would be for me.

  • Nick

    I'm hoping the Tenori-On will get a firmware upgrade at some point to address some of its limitations, because when it's fun it's great fun. I'd like to see the internal effects given an overhaul – the Tenori is begging for a delay, and a way of controlling the FX send (akin to the track volume 'screen' would be nice, though how they'd fit it in I don't know – well, I guess pressing a function button twice could switch between volume and effect send, for example.

    The stock sounds don't bother me too much, I just think of them as part of the Tenori's character, although the 'real instrument' row always makes me wince if I hit it by mistake.

    My favourite feature by far is the spinnable arpeggiator, which can come up with some great sequences. Obviously the Tenori is in an ideal position to have a pattern generator based on Conway's Game of Life, too. Well, hopefully the US launch will lead to some interesting developments.

  • M-.-n

    NDS + DSGlitch :)

  • Rex Rhino

    I thought that you could load your own samples into the Tenori-On??? Am I mistaken?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Rex: Yes, you can. You have to do it via flash card, though. To me, the thing that would make Tenori-On a killer device is an audio-in jack and live sampling.

  • dead_red_eyes

    The thing with that tho Peter is how would you edit the sound file since there's no robust LCD screen to work with? I think that sampling into it would be cool and all, but it's probably best to just load samples via the flash card so that you can actually make sure that your samples are cut properly.

  • dead_red_eyes

    Or is the LCD display not that bad to begin with? It just looks really really small.

  • zenzen

    This and the Monome seem impenetrable to this spectator. Maybe one "gets it" as you play with it. Right now I'm befuddled.

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  • http://www.mindlobster.com mindlobster

    I'm late with this one…but I love the thing, I'm happy to take it as it is. I WOULD like sampling built-in, like some of you guys…just a crappy little laptop-type mic on top would make me happy, and I don't need to edit. Just hit record, and the first .97 sec of whatever's going on in the room goes to a 'slot', or leave it running longer, and the first 48x.97 sec are mapped to the user slots automatically. If I need more control, I'll prep files on the Mac.

  • vÄ“er

    I relly dont get the idea what makes Tenori-On so hyped among people, in my eyes its quite limited tool for posers, sorry.

  • peterpan

    I think people should see this strictly as a midi controller, and forget about the synth aspect… I see the in-built sounds more like something to help you get going if you have no computer or hardware synth at proximity (to play outside, while travelling, etc..) .