Peter Kirn writes:
has released the first album produced entirely on
the Tenori-On, the unusual LED-bestrewn sequencing
sampler instrument currently available from Yamaha
in the UK. It’s a no-risk listen: the full album is
available for download free from his website. The
results sound like a Tenori-On album, with minimal
looping patterns a bit like those you’d expect out
of a newly-invented Pocket Steve Reich Machine, but
the textures get immersed in a cool, ambient
landscape. Good listening for gray November days
Now, pitching an album as produced
entirely on a new, buzz-friendly instrument is
clearly a nice gimmick — Yamaha even sent out a
press release touting the creation. (One more reason
for us non-Brits to be jealous.) But I was curious
nonetheless what drove Norman to use just one
instrument. The lesson here is nice: sometimes
limited tools can be ideal. And this confirms for me
what’s beginning to happen with new digital
interfaces, which is that they’re not so much
instruments in the traditional sense as windows into
musical structure, part way between instrument and
score. Here’s how Norman responded to CDM’s
What made you work with the
Tenori-On? What had you been working with before?
I did my very first demo some 17
years ago, produced with just one synthesizer. So I
quite know a bit about how challenging it is to make
a great sound with only one machine. I call that
“creativity through limitation”. Working with the
Tenori-On was a bit like being in the same situation
again. It was fascinating for me to do this
self-experiment, to utilize only on one machine in
order to see where it can go. Besides I did not feel
like I needed anything else to make it complete.
I work extremely reduced with
respect to my equipment, just using my laptop, a
good soundcard and my Grado’s. Strangely enough I
believe my sound became even better the less
equipment I have used. The Tenori-On obviously fits
the way I work perfectly.
What have you liked best
about the instrument?
For me, the Tenori-On [has] the most
attractive and intuitive user interface I have seen
for many years. It is great to work with as an idea
generator or for live performances.
How do you think Tenori-On
influenced your music on this album?
I think the Tenori-On helped me to
question my understanding of the general concept of
music, which is not necessarily influenced through
sound. I just say that because I don’t think my
album is interesting because of its sound but maybe
through the structure within the tracks. So I guess
the ultimate thing [that] happened here was to get
back a specific sense of direction [in my music] …
this became very tangible for me through the Tenori-On
[for the first time in] a long time.
What’s one frustration, if
any, you’ve had with it so far — anything you would
want changed in a hypothetical Tenori-On 2.0?
Most important for me is to always
find the suitable musical approach when utilizing
specific capabilities of a specific instrument. In
other words: I like to explore limits with the given
opportunities - that’s challenging to me. I guess I
wouldn’t have done a complete album if I was
frustrated. I haven’t even tried out my own sounds,
all tracks were done with the built-in stuff. You
see, there are still many things to explore.
Got one (or more, if you
feel moved) tip you’d share with potential Tenori-On
buyers or current users in terms of how to get the
most out of the instrument?
May I ask a counter question? What
is the best way to drink a coffee - with milk or
without? Unfortunately there is nothing I can really
recommend but I am convinced that anybody working
with the Tenori-On will quickly get a feeling how to
make the most out of it.
That’s easy — without milk.
CDM is made possible by black coffee. If you add
milk, make it a latte. Erm, sorry — thanks, Norman!
The album can be downloaded in
320kbps mp3 format from