Words from the lexicon of visual arts have often been applied to the world of music, from the way 1960s British Mod band The Creation described their music as “red, with purple flashes” to the way modern electronic and ambient music is often described as “sound collages” and “aural landscapes.”
The Tenori-on, created by Yamaha and Japanese artist Toshio Iwai, takes this connection between sound and vision a step further by allowing users to literally “draw” their own sounds. It is basically a small, hand-held synthesizer controlled on a 16×16 grid of touch-sensitive LED buttons, which allows users to build up and manipulate multiple layers of electronic loops.
It’s not Iwai’s first foray into the world of visual music-making though. In 1987 he created the music-based shoot-’em-up “Otocky” for Nintendo’s Famicom Disk System, and his 1994 installation “Resonance of 4″ introduced the idea of creating sounds visually by manipulating a grid. Most recently, he created the musical toy “Electroplankton” for the Nintendo DS, where animated sea creatures can be manipulated to create and record sounds using the hand-held console’s microphone and stylus.
Iwai sees the Tenori-on as an attempt to restore the relationship between the shape and sound of musical instruments that he believes was lost with the advent of electronic music, and a host of well-known names from the world of indie music, such as The Pastels, Battles and Tortoise, have been signed up to endorse it. A Tenori-on world tour started in Germany on March 12, taking in shows in Paris, Montreal, New York and San Francisco — with the final date in Tokyo on April 25. Iwai himself will perform, along with experimental musician and producer Jim O’Rourke (of Sonic Youth fame), Atom Heart (aka German electronic musician Uwe Schmidt), postrock palindromes To Rococo Rot and Paul de Jong of electronic/acoustic duo The Books.
The Tenori-on World Launch Tour reaches Tokyo on April 25 at Spiral Hall, part of the Spiral art center in Minami-Aoyama (free entry); a Pre-View event and After-View event, featuring yet more performances, will be held at Spiral’s Eat and Meets Cay restaurant on April 24 and 26 (¥4,500 in advance, ¥5,000 at the door). For more information, visit www.spiral.co.jp or www.pvav.org.