Making music

Henry Northmore talks to Peter Peck from Yamaha as the company launches its revolutionary Tenori-On

It’s hard to neatly sum up the Tenori-On. The bare facts are these: it’s a new music device from Yamaha; it produces a light show that corresponds with what is being played; it can be programmed in real time and is a new innovative, intuitive system.

Conceived by leading Japanese media artist Tioshio Iwai, the Tenori-On takes the form of a 16 x 16 matrix of LED switches that offer instruments/samples along one axis and time along the other so you can build and create music and tracks in your hand. And each of the buttons on the front sets off a corresponding light sequence on the back so the audience gets a visual interpretation of the music being played and the sequences being created. But the only way to fully get your head around what the Tenori-On offers is to see it in action.

You can tell Yamaha are very excited about the Tenori-On; the smile on the face of Peter Peck, head of UK marketing for Yamaha, is infectious as he manipulates the device and instantly creates new tracks. ‘It’s just such a fresh way of looking at things,’ he explains. ‘Personally speaking, I’ve been making music – bad music – for more years than I care to remember, using synthesisers and sequencers. Because so many midi-based musicians are hiding behind the laptop or a big bank of synths, people in the audience don’t necessarily appreciate what’s going on, but with something like Tenori-On you can actually see from the audience what’s happening and it becomes far more visual.’

Not only does it add to an artist’s performance, the machine presents a user friendly way of creating electronic music, and of course you can import your own samples and sound effects. ‘You find that you can start a loop going; it cycles round and then you can just go back to it and move one note, or change the sound or length of that sound without having to do shift, menu, edit, F9 and all that. So on stage you can create completely new pieces of music live.’

He’s not the only one to be excited by this new device. Samples have been sent out to the likes of Kraftwerk, Mouse on Mars, Atom Heart, Jim O’Rourke, Tortoise and To Rococo Rot. ‘There is a moment with Tenori-On where the penny drops and people just get it,’ says Peck, ‘and most of the time there is just a huge grin that comes across people’s faces.’

The Tenori-On launches at Rub A Dub Records, Glasgow and Underground Solushun, Edinburgh, Tuesday 4 Sep.

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