The Yamaha Tenori-On

Yamaha Tenori On

Saturday Synth Porn: Newer devices, like the Apple iPad, have stolen some of the thunder of the Yamaha Tenori On.

But the Tenori On is still a fascinating and – yes – sexy instrument; one that has inspired a hundred matrix synthesizer and matrix sequencer imitations, in hardware and software.

In this image, Colorado-based synthesist Mark Mosher plays the Yamaha Tenori On at a recent Microsoft Store performance. See the complete set at his Flickr site.

17 thoughts on “The Yamaha Tenori-On

  1. I sold my TO back in January to buy a Korg WaveDrum. The WaveDrum got returned within days and I was left without a TO. I still had the SD card with all of my songs programmed onto it, so I found one in perfect condition on Ebay and bought it. Now I have my TO back and I am VERY happy about it.

  2. Hmm. Although I think the Tenori is a fascinating device it is still way overpriced in my opinion. I think my opinion is somewhat backed up by youtube. Just look at the video's (2000 hits isn't that much IMO); most of the stuff there are demo's and reviews. Hardly anything goes in depth about it; no user experiences, no tips and tricks on tweaks and usage and such, etc. Either people "showing off" or people reviewing it.

    People claim that the ipad may have taken some of the thunder.. Well, I wonder if the actual thunder was really there from the start. Thunder or hype ? Amazing, sure. But worth the price which exceeds even the price of an ipad (which I too think is somewhat overpriced, just like many other Apple products) ? And no; I don't hate Apple. Merely stating my opinion for context purposes.

  3. I also wanted to mention that using the Tenori-On always gets a positive crowd reaction when i perform with it as a controller. I've also noticed there are some folks who are into modular and hardware synths who use Tenori-On – probably something to do with not having to boot a computer. Of course with the growing number of apps supporting Line 6 MIDI interface, iPad will pick up a lot of fans as well.

    There are some Tenori-On forums out there where people discuss usage. To your point SynthFan, the cost is prohibitive so the community is on the smaller side. To Jame's point, googling "Tenori-On Like" yields a lot of references to Tenori-on. I've tried a lot of the "tenori-on" like apps and end up back on the Tenori-on as it's pretty hard to beat the tangible interface for this workflow.

    I'm hoping to blend tangible with mutli-touch in a portable form factor by combining Tenori-On with iPhone with a Line 6 Interface (provided Santa brings me an interface this year). Should be quite fun and help integrate both devices into my Live workflow.

  4. your right. I never saw an impressive Live appearance or a cool recorded performance with the TO. I sure love the idea of the TO matrix interface. But there is still a proof to make, that this 'instrument' isn't just a cool but useless gadget.

  5. Anything that gets electronic musicians away from the mouse and a laptop performance is worth trying out.

    Hope Santa treats you right this year!

  6. I used to love watching people use the Tenori-On. However, I haven't seen or heard anything really impressive in over a year. The instrument seems to have already reached its limits. The sound engine is incredible limited, it doesn't offer any of the basic abilities of most modern electronic instruments (it's kind of a sequencer, but you can't chain blocks? Really?) and it's sampling/MIDI functionality is also very limited. I had one for a few weeks, and was lucky enough to have purchased it at a place that gave me a full refund. Actually traded it in for a Blofeld and a new audio interface.

    I'm really hoping they continue to upgrade the software, and I hope that people are able to push it to new levels. For a similar kind of touching interface I think a musician would be much better off with a Korg KP3 and Kaosscilator Pro. You could buy both of these and still have money left over.

    Ultimately, the Tenori-On just wasn't the instrument for me. It feels like a really expensive toy in which you play with it the way the designers want you to.

  7. I agree it could be more with further refinements. Even so, I do like it quite a bit for real-time performance using it as a controller when paired with VSTs in Ableton Live. I certainly wouldn't propose this as someone's sole sequencer, and it's certainly positioned as a real-time sequencer – but dedicated buttons and the use of the 256 matrix buttons as part of the nav (select layer, copy layer from to, set loop points, copy block, copy part of a block, change octave, set volume, set swing, …) is incredibly rapid once you get the hang of it. At this point I pretty much fly around on it . It offers a nice break from computer-based work.

    If you put Tenori-on into advanced mode you can override default layer function then assign to different channels in Live. The layer concept fits well with hardware synths that don't have sequencers but support a multi-mode, like the Walforf Blofled.

    While I think it would be cool to be able to chain blocks, the lack of this feature has forced me to figure out how to perform certain parts and drive arrangement completely live, which at first seemed kind of crazy but I've actually gotten into this concept for certain songs. It's pretty similar to launching scenes in Live. Since there is no global quantize, you actually have to just practice the block switch. V2.0 introduced a feature to reset the reset loop point on the fly which comes in handy.

    I also use it as a scratch pad stand-alone on the road. I agree on-board sounds are not great, but good enough. That's why I plan to pair it with iPhone. So, when I get back home, I just hook it up and do a global record and capture everything back into live, then use VSTs to replace the sounds.

  8. Oh yeah, it fits into a hotel safe.

    By the way, I'm not trying to sell anyone on it. I dig it, some others dig it, the audience likes it. Luckily there is a lot of competition and choice these days.

  9. Nice thread guys…..I'm a long time tenori-on fan so hope you don't mind me adding my views

    Tenori-on isn't with out its limitations of course but it is without doubt (in the right hands) a truely remarkable instrument.

    The on board sounds do get a bit of a hard time but if you invest time in experimenting & tailoring them you can do some really interesting stuff which on occassion defies anything I've learnt about music tech.
    For example if you set a few notes playing in Push mode and then change to a new sound, you can add more new notes with the new voice ….. so you have two voices playing different notes on the same channel…..and you can keeping adding new voices/new notes on top of this.

    Also if you play around with the note length on some of the sounds you can get some great results. One of my favourites is with the Doze voice (12/11). Try making the note length 9990msec and just input one note into Score mode; the result is you get this really hipnotic feedback of the sound ….. it may just be my personal taste of weird sound scapes but I love this.

  10. Carl, your absolutely right that It would be great if there was more user activity on youtube but these things are so addictive that if I'm anything to go by there isn't time to make a movie…..although I'll try and work on that : )
    You've probably heard this already but this is one of the most interesting TNR productions I've heard to date….shame there's no video to go with it though:

  11. I have had a Tenori-On for a while now. It seems to me that when Tenori was designed, it was intended to break away from traditional paradigms. The emphasis of the Tenori-on, IMHO, is on form more than functionally. If you are to look at it only for it's functions, then it appears at first to be a unimpressive sequencer with no synthesis engine to speak of save a few lack luster effects.

    There may be a great deal of truth to that and granted, the high price tag certainly detracts from the appeal. That being said, I think the only way to see what a Tenori-on really is would be to actually use one. Even then, to really unlock its secrets you have to learn how to play it. Yes, play it. Most sequencer makers make some type of claim to real time changes in sequences but I have never seen anyone do this nearly as well as Tenori. In fact, must of what you can do with the Tenori you can do with your thumbs. Not to mention that but you can see it (and on both sides). This is an elegant music maker which is why I say the emphasis is on form rather than function.

    Tenori lets you play sequencers the way a musician play individual notes. I could go into technical specs but until you play Tenori for a while, its hard to get it. Tenori reminds me more of the elegant simplicity of a Zen rock garden. It's not trying to makes sounds and also make you coffee in the morning (albiet by travelling though endless menus). So in an age where synth programing (or sequencer programming) requires great patience to wade though menus, the Tenori breaks the old paradigms,

    Are there things I wish could be improved. Sure, and nay of the complaints here are valid not the least of which is price. But Tenori is a good start in moving electronics towards form rather than function and I think that is a very good thing.

  12. One other comment I wanted to add about You Tube videos. I have to admit that when I am buying a new piece of equipment I look at You Tube videos although I first look at the company videos or You Tube vids from trade shows. I often find that many people get a product that they are exiting about getting but really don't know how to use yet and then they post a poor video out of You Tube. The skill of trying to show people what a product can do in a short video is almost always lacking in amateur You Tube videos and sometimes lacking in professional ones.

    I remember watching the few You Tube videos of the Buchla Lightening sticks. One is hideous and the other is not much better. It is regrettable that Buchla does not do more to get their own videos out there to show what this product really can do. Lack of good You Tube videos does not a bad product make.

  13. I agree with everything you've said.

    It's really hard to get a sense for how well this form factor was implemented till you spend time with it so you are right on with – "I think the only way to see what a Tenori-on really is would be to actually use one" and "you have to learn how to play it".

  14. I've *just* gotten a Tenori-on, and I'm already in love. I've really like to hear some of your technical details. Learning to play it from the manual alone makes me feel like there are many, many techniques that I might stumble on … or I might not. I'd love some tips!

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