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Hands-on with Tenori-On

CNET's senior editor for digital audio interviews Yamaha's Yu Nishibori regarding his futuristic Tenori-On electronic music instrument.

Photo of Yamaha Tenori-On electronic music instrument.
The Tenori-On's hand-brushed magnesium body is light and durable. The illuminated 16x16 matrix of buttons combines the satisfaction of popping bubble wrap, with the pride of programming a drum machine. CNET Networks/Donald Bell

All my ranting and whining must have finally paid off because this week I finally got some time with Yamaha's mystery-enshrouded Tenori-On music sequencer.

Prototypes of the Tenori-On have traveled the globe, popping up in the U.K. and Germany, but rarely in the United States. I couldn't believe my luck when San Francisco electronic musician retailer Robotspeak (my former employer) gave me the heads-up that Yamaha would be dropping by the shop for a rare demonstration.

While there's still no concrete plans for when the Tenori-On will be released in the U.S. (or how much it will cost), Yamaha's Yu Nishibori seemed fairly confident in telling me that the device should hit our shores in 2008. I can only hope he's right because after seeing my fair share of electronic music tools, I can say without hesitation that the Tenori-On is one of the most engaging and ingenious sound gadgets I've come across. The demonstration shown in the above video offers only a small glimpse at the Tenori-On's capabilities.

Photo of Yu Nishibori at Robotspeak.
Yamaha's Yu Nishibori demonstrates the Tenori-On at Robotspeak in San Francisco. CNET Networks/Donald Bell

Yamaha is currently selling the Tenori-On for 599 pounds in the U.K., making it likely that the U.S. version will retail for over $1,000. Dropping a grand on a futuristic music sequencer is probably a stretch for the casual gadget connoisseur, but electronic music musicians eager to break away from their laptops and stale drum machines might just jump at the opportunity.

Regardless of the Tenori-On's mass-market appeal, I have to hand it to Yamaha for investing in a project that could have easily languished as a concept design, deemed too ahead of its time. If this year's Blip Festival was any indication, the kids are ready for a new handheld sound machine to replace their hacked, aging Gameboys.