Tenori-on is an electronic musical instrument, designed and created by Japanese 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, CA 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 IRCAM, Centre Pompidou in Paris, France in June, 2006 .
Toshio Iwai has been using the Tenori-on in live performances (such as at Sónar in Barcelona, in June 2006, and Futuresonic in Manchester, 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 4th, 2007 for a suggested 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 12th, and finished in Tokyo on 25th April 2008. You can read the rest of the Wikipedia article in it’s entirety here.