Friendly Fires Test The Tenori-On


Written by Seun Mustafa
19 Monday 19th November 2007

These were important questions that needed an intelligent answer from intelligent people. Despite the massive amount of press the Tenori-On (“sound in your palm” in Japanese) has received, nobody has even attempted to answer the obvious question - what do bands think? We decided to ask the Friendly Fires, who are headlining the Death To All Culture Snitches on the 23 Nov, to get on down to East London’s NOG gallery to give it a test drive.

Just poke it

The Tenori-On is actually a pretty expensive piece of kit. Weighing in at a smidgeon under the 600 squid mark, it’s unlikely to become a punk staple. Yamaha are aware of this I’m sure, and know their market – the Tenori is a work of art as much as it is an instrument. With its sensual design and rounded, glowing buttons, watching somebody making music on one does feel a lot like peeking into the future – until you start using the thing yourself that is.

The Tenori, despite being gorgeous, simply feels too much like an expensive toy to be taken seriously as a gigging instrument by anybody but the most experimental of musicians. Friendly Fires were intrigued enough to traipse the whole way across London after we told them about the instrument and showed them the brochures, but the enthusiasm faded pretty quickly once the trio had the Tenori in their hands.

Laughing at or with?

The unit appears to be made of aluminium, but has been coated in so much plastic that it ends up feeling like it’s made of, well… plastic. The buttons look really cool, especially when its dark and they’re all glowing and everything. But they have the unfortunate effect of rattling around whenever you run your fingers across the grid, giving the Tenori the sort of cheapo feeling you don’t really expect from a £600 bit of audio hardware.

Yamaha have been making a massive deal about how ‘intuitive’ their baby is. We aren’t going to admit to being morons by arguing with this statement - the thing is easy to figure out. But unless you’re the sort of techno music geek that spends half of your life on KVR and the other half reading SOS, then you probably won’t be able to get over the kind-of gimmicky feel that the Tenori exudes to actually bother to figure it out properly and make real music with it.

Alone, in the dark of night, that’s when the magic happens

After turning it on and figuring out how to get a sound out of the thing (take the headphones out of the headphone socket), it didn’t take the band long to point out that despite a handful of interesting sounds the Tenori is a lot like the sort of cheapo general MIDI synth we all hate with a passion. The fact that it is unable to double up as a sampler was also disappointing. The Fires managed to come up with a few melodies relatively quickly due to a pre-existing understanding of basic 16-step sequencing, although composing a multi-layered, dynamic piece of music still seemed a long way off.

After a hard day investigating the future of modern music, we bought the Fires some Stella and bagels. No half stepping.

While flicking through the handbook we were impressed by the prospect of being able to hook the Tenori up via MIDI, but it wasn’t until after the band had left that we realised the Tenori can only really be used as a kind of controller keyboard if you hook it up to another Tenori. This is unfortunate from the perspective of a live band that are unused to the device. All in all we had a lot of fun messing about with the Tenori, but ultimately the unit fails as a ‘band’ instrument for a variety of reasons.

So what do you guys think of Toshio Iwai’s new, revolutionary Tenori On then?

Jack: It looks really nice.

Ed: Yeah, it looks really nice.

Edd: I think it looks really nice.

Ed: On all the pictures the guy is holding it in his hands and playing it like an onstage instrument. But if you actually hold it in your hands it’s impossible to reach most of the buttons unless you put it down on a table or something, which surely defeats the whole point of it looking really nice.

Jack: It does feel like it would break pretty quickly, like if you dropped it even once.

Edd: £600 could buy 600 cans of Stella, which seems like a much better idea right now to be honest.

Can you see yourselves part-exchanging your Telecasters for a Tenori then?

Edd: No.

Jack: I don’t play a Telecaster.

Ed: Yes, no I’m joking. No.

When you’re in a band, strange ethereal lights shine where your face used to be...

Friendly Fires are going to be headlining the ‘Death To All Culture Snitches’ end of summer party on the 23 Nov along with Maurice Fulton. You can check out the facts @

Paris 7” is now available for pre-order from online along with the Friendly Fires remix E.P which has been out for a full minute. You can buy a Tenori On @

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