On the road from futuristic instrumental concept to real-world product, the Yamaha Tenori-On as shipped lacked some of the functionality its creator, gifted media artist Toshio Iwai, originally imagined. Notably, wireless networking, which promised social music-making with other devices, was gone, replaced with a more-limited MIDI connector.

Now, in a surprisingly literal translation from the hardware to iPad, it appears the Tenori-On has added that feature – but lost some of its charm. An iOS developer notes to me that pitches don’t sound when you tap the screen, only when they are played in the sequence. That fundamentally changes the interaction with the sequencer: you can’t hear notes until they’re sequenced, and you would presumably lose the sense of playing an instrument. That report is happily incorrect; both the developer and I were mistaken from our video impressions. That makes this far more useful.

My reaction here should be taken with a grain of salt – this is only a demo video. But in observing what is new (networked features look terrific), it’s likewise worth saying that something is lost when you move to tangible hardware. To me, a lot of the appeal of the Tenori-On was tangible: the machined metal case, with curved edges designed to be comfortable to hold, and the feeling of running your fingers against discrete, round keys on the array of buttons. Those are lost by necessity. Yet, oddly, some of the Tenori-On’s features designed primarily for hardware – the menu system and navigation keys – are reproduced here, features necessary on a hardware design but not a tablet.

Yamaha Japan, apologies for going on a rant on a product I haven’t yet used, but I’m concerned at what seems to be a missed opportunity. And designer Toshio Iwai has already conceived imaginative touch-based interfaces that are designed for a screen, in works before iOS had even been announced, like ElectroPlankton for the Nintendo DS and interactive installation work going back some 15 years or so.

Simply translating hardware designs to a screen is novel, but rarely usable. Just ask Tascam, who were roundly (and rightly) criticized for making a Portastudio app for iPad that required you rewind every single time.

At least the good news is, some of the musical personality of Toshio Iwai’s work remains, and in a form that doesn’t require a costly hardware investment. Updated – also, via readers, there’s evidence of MIDI support.You’ll find other videos on Yamaha’s official Japanese channel.

Just mark my words: the hardware is still cooler, and there’s a lot of potential in hardware and software sequencers alike beyond this yet to be realized, whether by Yamaha or by someone else.

Updated: I want to re-emphasize that there appears to be auditory feedback as you press buttons for sequences, which is great news and vastly improves usability. And while I stand by some of what’s advantageous in hardware, I’m excited to learn that we may get both networked and MIDI functions here, as we’ve seen in apps from makers like KORG.

Reader comments are very positive, so amidst this hopefully constructive criticism, I think it’s encouraging that the software looks promising and people are eager to try it! (And being critical of some features does not mean you can’t eventually like the product – part of why I tend not to shy away from criticism.)

http://www.youtube.com/user/yamahajp

  • Eric

    "…gifted media artist Tenori-On"

    Did you mean Toshio Iwai?

  • janosch

    i am using it right now and the pitches do sound when i tap the screen, no need for them to be sequenced first!

  • franz

    does it feature midi out?

  • janosch

    the i-mx1 midi interface is listed as an accessory (tab 'zubehör') for tnr-i on its german site:
    http://de.yamaha.com/de/products/musical-instrume

    neither the app's settings nor the description say anything about it, though.

  • http://the-palm-sound.blogspot.com/ Palm Sounds

    I think that the most interesting thing is the collaboration features through gamecenter which should be fun.

  • http://www.blah.com Kerm

    Plus, there's the competition that's been out for a while (e.g., Aurora Sound Studio, moxMatrix).

  • Joe

    Same question here. Does it feature MIDI out ?

  • DBM

    Sweat ! Come on US Store !

  • http://soundcloud.com/matthooper Matt Hooper

    YES, it does support midi out and Midi In ext sync.

    it supports both network midi (wifi) and also CCK.

    it sends out on all 16 midi channels too.

    how cool is this thing!!!!

  • http://www.prospectmusic.com Jonathan F

    Any word on when the app will be released?

  • Peter Kirn

    The multiplayer plus network plus hard-line MIDI functionality is very cool, yes. 

    We'll have more on this when we learn about it. 

    And I'm very pleased to learn that it seems I (and the tipster who pointed me to this) were incorrect in thinking that you don't get auditory feedback as you press notes prior to sequencing. That's terrific news, of course, and a relief – and makes a heck of a lot more sense.

  • ben tendo

    As a physical TO owner, I'd like to mention that I find the navigation keys anything but counter-intuitive. The fact that I can remember to how to use it without ever consulting the manual is testament to that.  (I would certainly have preferred them to be on the back of the unit though, where my 8 spare fingers could reach instead of my 2 thumbs:)

  • fats brannigan

    For a more 'buttony' feel, lay a sheet of bubble-wrap over the screen…

  • http://www.normanfairbanks.com Norman Fairbanks

    Oh, cool! Does anyone know if it's possible to import TO block files or a sample bank? Anyway, will try it out later today…

  • DJHombre

    @NormanFairbanks, yes it does support loading song files…I've just loaded one of your public ones without issue!  As a physical Tenori owner, this addition is a nice one as it allows me to have 2 tenori's on the go, with one costing a tiny fraction of the original!

  • http://www.normanfairbanks.com Norman Fairbanks

    @DJ Hombre: Thanks! You mean block files… or song files? How do you upload these? Curious to see how the app latency works under full pressure. Pity that the iPad backside doesn't show any LEDs…. :)

  • digid

    My god how I hate that streamlined, arpeggiated, non-velocity sound of these things.

    Sorry. Just had to say that. And that the music sounds like something you would make with a tape measure.

  • http://www.proemland.com proem

    2 words: gimmie gimmie.

    in the meantime I'll be playing with koushion

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/koushion/id4244542

    which only has one draw back: you have to run another app on the desktop.
    :(

  • ex-fanboy

    well, i don't get it.

    i had the chance to get an ipad 2 plus some music apps all for the price of my physical tenori-on. i only thought about it a few seconds. why? peter encapsulated it perfectly: "To me, a lot of the appeal of the Tenori-On was tangible: the machined metal case, with curved edges designed to be comfortable to hold, and the feeling of running your fingers against discrete, round keys on the array of buttons." i liked the lemur and it's ilk for example, and even i think the ipad is pretty cool, but buttons and faders are irreplaceable (for me anyway) when you are playing live -> and the sun btw. kills any chance of me playing about and composing stuff on a reflective oled (or whatever) screen, sorry. these small devices i.e. smartphones, netbooks and tablets have just not shown me the ease of use and spontaneity of a tenori-on or my kaossilator. maybe it's really just a question of the inspiration factor.

  • Kent

    There's also a firmware update, for hardware fans: http://tenorion.exblog.jp. Follow the links, even if you can't read Japanese (I can't.) Allowing remote control of the Tenori-On being the gist of it (and essential, for this app to be able to control a h/w T-O.)

  • Paul

    And for the owners of the hardware version, there is a new firmware update that adds a couple of new tricks. V2.1

  • http://ardour.org/ Paul Davis

    @digid: i sympathize with your feelings. or rather, i used to. then i got myself a copy of norman fairbanks "7 days microsleep" and mostly revised my perspective. norman managed to coax a level of warmth and feeling out of his tenori-on that would be hard to do on any single instrument, let alone any single electronic instrument. wooden? a little. alive? very. its easy to make very, very dead music with the tenori-on, or maybe i should say zombie music since it still "moves". but as with most things, care and insight and experience can lead to much better results.

    norman fairbanks: thanks for that album. i did several nice runs around berlin a couple of years ago listening to it, where it grew on me (see above :)

  • DJ Hombre

    @NormanFairbanks, I connected the iPad to my PC and in iTunes, under apps for the iPad device I selected the i-TNR app and you can see the 2 pre-loaded files on the right hand box. I dragged bunch of .tnw and .tnr files over into the box. When I next loaded the app on the iPad I could see the files under one of the menu options – I can't remember which though! They all seemed to load OK, although if any are using UserVoices they will fire blank sounds when hitting those notes.

  • http://www.normanfairbanks.com Norman Fairbanks

    @Paul: thank you very much! :)

    @DJ: so you can't load any sample banks into the app?

    @all: Seven Days Microsleep plus more TO recordings are available here:

    Seven Days Microsleep
    http://www.normanfairbanks.com/blog/?page_id=12

    Living Near The Valley
    http://www.normanfairbanks.com/blog/?page_id=15

    L.A. Machine
    http://www.normanfairbanks.com/blog/?page_id=79

    American Optimism
    http://www.normanfairbanks.com/blog/?page_id=36

    Bale
    http://www.normanfairbanks.com/blog/?page_id=118

    A workshop (in 8 parts) can also be found on my website. Enjoy!

  • http://www.normanfairbanks.com Norman Fairbanks

    @Paul: thank you very much! :)

    @DJ: so you can't load any sample banks into the app?

    @all: Seven Days Microsleep plus more TO recordings are still available (for free) on my website!

  • new guy

    wow now this site is banning people complimenting tenori-on HARDWARE.

  • Peter Kirn

    @new guy: I didn't block any comments. Generally, unless people say something really abusive (which because this is the Internet, I set with a pretty low bar), I don't delete comments. If a comment doesn't post, it was probably caught by our automated spam filter as a false positive.

  • Peter Kirn

    Yup… there we go; comments resolved. If y'all ever see a comment not appear, hit us in comments and we can check our spam filter. Technology's not perfect.

  • http://www.normanfairbanks.com Norman Fairbanks

    Sorry for the spam… didn't see my comments appear in the thread and thought I need to re-post them. Thanks for helping to get this mess sorted Peter.

  • Renderful

    @proem, Koushion supports the CCK and network CoreMIDI since version 2! 

  • http://www.normanfairbanks.com Norman Fairbanks

    Uploading block / song files works very well except for I noticed some sounds are slightly different compared to the TNR hardware.

    Also, the sound presets 1-16/2-16/3-16 are empty – same as on the hardware – does anyone know if i-TNR supports sample import?

  • BirdFLU

    Where are you getting the app? Do you all have access to Japanese iTunes, because I'm not finding the app in the US? Is there a US release date yet?

  • http://youtube.com/vjfranzk VJFranzK

    I'll be watching this closely, and will do a video comparing the real TNR-O to the TNR-i as soon as it comes to the USA app store.

    As a user of Aurora also (the most detailed similar app on iOS) I must agree with Peter and others, in that there IS something special about the physical interface of the hardware Tenori-on, which only can be understood after playing one for a while. Unfortunately, it's not easy (at least in the US) to find a place to actually try one out, or I think this instrument would be far more popular in general!

  • http://noisepages.com/members/exatari/ Derek Morton

    As of this morning, TNR-i is now available in the US App store!  
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tnr-i-us/id4413402

  • http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GssgQylj9k vjfranzk

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GssgQylj9k

    Okay, here is my review of the USA App!

    I went into a LOT of detail here, of interest to new players, or Tenori pro's, comparing the app to the device.

    Overall, I am quite pleased with the app,

    and the web sync means that owners of the hardware like myself will have a new way to use it!

  • josh g.

    I'm curious to hear if anyone else has tried it on the iPhone / iPod. It looks great on the iPad but the iPhone-sized screenshots seem like it would be harder to play with accuracy.

  • http://usenbenz.net Andreas Usenbenz

    hey all. i read about , that the tnr-i for iphone and ipad has the option for midi out and ext. sync ?? this would be great, because i want it to play my vst/au Synths and stuff. can you provide more informations for this feature ?

     thanks..

  • Lech

    @Peter

    Can you verify that network midi (over WiFi) is actually working? I find that unlike with other apps the iPad doesn't show up in the network midi config (on OS X) while running the TNR-i app.

  • http://www.proemland.com proem

    there is no network midi.

    It syncs via game center to another ipad running the app.

    Maybe there's an update…

  • http://Proemland.com Proem

    There is a sync in the preferences menu but im guessing it 'slave' only syncs start, stop and maybe tempo. 

  • Lech

    @proem

    That's a shame, network midi would have been fun. Some people were talking about network midi on the web, guess they got it mixed up with the multiplayer feature.

  • Zac

    I love Aurora, I use it in gigs, you can see it in action here http://youtu.be/o6WOBKBTXO0

  • Jazzmoron

    There is no midi at all. :-(

     I hate buying apps, without testing before. Lots of info on the net that it does support midi out but it doesnt.

  • Marc Yamaha

    Five-star review from AppSafari on the TNR-i app: http://4wrd.it/TNR-IAPPSAFARI