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SoundSquare standoff: Monome vs. Tenori-On

Two futuristic music interfaces--the Tenori-On and the Monome--are in a race to capture the hearts of electronic musicians.

Photo of Monome MIDI control surface.
The Monome is a homegrown, hand crafted, blinky box interface for electronic musicians. Monome.org

The latest testament to the geek appeal of blinking pixels are two handheld electronic musician interfaces called the Monome and the Tenori-On. Both are slated for a new release in the next few months and while they have a lot in common conceptually, there are a few key differences between the two that I'll explore here.

Even if you couldn't care less about electronic music, these products demonstrate stunning interface design (not to mention eye candy). Remember, it was an obscure music interface company named Jazz Mutant that pioneered the multi-touch screen interface long before the iPhone came to town. (Videos after the break.)


Think of the Monome as a beautiful control pad for a drum machine. When buttons on the grid are pressed, they light up and mark where a note will be played. While the Monome doesn't generate any sounds on its own, it connects easily over USB to your computer, where it controls a suite of infinitely configurable music-generating and sample-chopping software. While musicians like Daedelus have been using versions of the Monome for the past few years, a larger, more advanced 256-button version is undergoing production as we speak for an expected release mid-October. One of the biggest improvements will be the addition of interactive tilt sensors, shown here on video. The latest Monomes are built into a black walnut enclosure and will be priced at $1400 for the 256-button model, $800 for the 128-button version, and $450 for just 64 buttons. Photos of the current production process can be seen here, and several videos featuring the previous Monome model in action are available on the Monome Web site.


Photo of Atom Heart with Yamaha Tenori-On.
Electronic musician Atom Heart attempts to mind-meld with the Tenori-On. Yamaha

I wrote about the Yamaha Tenori-On a few months ago and since then, Yamaha has confirmed a September 4th launch date and will be kicking things off with a proper UK party. Just like the Monome, the Tenori-On uses an illuminated, interactive grid of lights for triggering and composing sounds. Designed by Japan's darling of interactive digital audio, Toshio Iwai (creator of the Electroplankton Nintendo DS music game), the Tenori-On has come a long way from its days as a concept product to its imminent commercial release through Yamaha.

The two main features that distinguish Japan's Tenori-On from the Philly-brewed Monome, are the Tenori-On's ability to generate sounds without being attached to a computer, and its non-configurable software. The good news is that although the Tenori-On's music sequencing software is not open-source, the device can spit out computer-friendly MIDI data, allowing the mesmerizing device to be used with most open-source and commercial music software packages.

The Tenori-On will have an estimated US price of $1,000. New artist videos featuring Atom Heart, Jim O'Rourke, and To Rococo Rot using the Tenori-On have recently been added to the product's Web site.

(Thanks to Create Digital Music)