DEATHMATCH: Tenori-on Vs Monome
May 29, 2009 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Which is a better musical instrument: the Tenori-on or the Monome?

So, to a lay person (me!) they look like the same thing; buttons and LEDs. Most people either are in love with one or the other, or think they're absolutely different, apples and oranges.

The Tenori-on is made by Yamaha, sells for $999, and is probably best known as that weird lite-brite thing Little Boots uses. It can generate it's own sounds and the software it pairs with is not configurable by the user.

The Monome devices are made by Monome and vary between $500-$1,400, providing you can snatch one when they become available or find one on ebay, or put it together yourself. It does not produce sound on it's own; it's simply a controller for software. Many user-produced software exists for it, and you can write your own.

I'm asking this for my boyfriend, who does a fair amount of DJing live and bedroom-recording of music that sounds like if glitchy robots could beatbox. He mostly uses Ableton Live, and is learning Max/MSP. If I got any information wrong in this question, it's because I'm not a DJ, just a club kid; feel free to correct me harshly.

Does the Monome make sense if you're not a programmer and Max/MSP looks like some scary moonman software you'd have to be Venetian Snares to understand?

Which is better for playing live?

Which is a better deal for the money?

What's on your personal wishlist? If you bought one, do you regret not buying the other?
posted by Juliet Banana to Technology (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think it could be phrased like this - Monome is a midi controller. You use it to control your software such as Ableton Live. The Tenori-On is more of an instrument. It plays it's own stuff. I think you can assign your own sounds to it, but it is not really a controller.
posted by AltReality at 3:16 PM on May 29, 2009

If the intended recipient has any familiarity with Live and Max/MSP, then the Monome is the beast you're looking for. It's built for exactly this setup, whereas the Tenori-On is a limited, stand-alone toy*.

*I like toys, so this is in no way meant as a slight. I'd love to get my hands on one.
posted by lekvar at 3:33 PM on May 29, 2009

I'm not a musician at all, but the Tenori-on I played with in Tokyo felt really cheap for a thousand bucks. People do cool stuff with it though.
posted by ejoey at 3:34 PM on May 29, 2009

I got to play around with the Tenori-on back at Mutek in 2008 and it was excellent, but like AltReality said, it's more of an instrument. Mind you, it's a very pretty instrument with an intuitive interface and a lot of potential (and portability).

So, Monome might be more immediately useful for him, but I can't discount that the gearwhore part of your BF might get very excited over the Tenori-on.
posted by LMGM at 4:12 PM on May 29, 2009

I'm going to expand on what I said a bit more.

The Tenori-On is a pretty neat piece of kit. It has a built-in 16-part sequencer, built-in sounds, sampling capabilities, and MIDI in/out. It's a stand-alone musical instrument, nice and showy with all those pretty blinking LEDs. It can sync with a computer or digital audio workstation. I've never gotten a chance to play with one, but it looks like it's a ton of fun. Despite all this, it it what it is, and no more.

On the other hand, the Monome is a controller. It has no built-in functionality, no sounds, no MIDI; it interfaces with a computer via a USB port. By itself, it's useless. But once you hook it up to a computer, it's parameters are fully modifiable, via Max/MSP. With the caveat that it has to be hooked up to a computer, it has limitless potential to control Live. It has a huge, open, friendly user-base, and, as I understand it, that user-base is particularly interested in finding new and exciting ways to get the Monome to play with Live.
posted by lekvar at 4:12 PM on May 29, 2009

I'd recommend going with the Monome, especially if the bf is already using Max/MSP. It can be pushed much further... there are some videos on Vimeo of a huge modular synth being controlled with it for total madness, etc.
posted by Spacelegoman at 6:25 PM on May 29, 2009

Definitely recommend the Monome. More versatile, better build quality, more wow factor. But NO user friendliness - it is what you make of it.
posted by arimathea at 7:28 PM on May 29, 2009

Have a look at some Monome videos on Vimeo. There's some excellent and really exciting stuff on there.

I'd also consider the new Akai APC 40 which is a purpose built controller for Live.

What's really neat is that with the new Ableton 8 and the upcoming Max for Live, you'll be able to customise the interactivity of your chosen controller.

Lastly, if money's no object, check out the Jazzmutant Lemur. :) Just saying.
posted by Magnakai at 8:18 PM on May 29, 2009

The Tenori-on is neato, but like everyone is saying, it is basically an instrument while the monome is more of a controller. I've seen Daedelus perform with a just monome and a Powerbook and hold a room entranced.

Does your boyfriend have an iPhone? There are a couple of "tenori-on lite" music toys (I've played with one called TonePad) and there is an in-development iPhone monome app called Haplome that looks like it could be useful.
posted by sleeping bear at 9:16 PM on May 29, 2009

i have both. the tenori-on is an incredible instrument, but the owner of a monome could program his/her own tenori-on simulator for it in one of many languages.

there are some bugs in the tenori that yamaha has been ignoring. they make it extremely unreliable, so i don't recommend it right now. otherwise it's tons of fun on its own, whereas the monome isn't fun unless tethered to a computer.

there's also a monome simulator for the iPhone and it's pretty good.

i agree with magnakai that he should get the APC 40. that's the coolest thing around right now for the ableton user.
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 3:48 AM on May 30, 2009

Response by poster: This got more and better answers than I expected for a question that requires such specific geeky knowledge. Oh, AskMefi, you always come through.

I should have probably mentioned what gear he already has; a Korg Kaossilator and the Korg Kaoss Pad/KP3. He was leaning toward the Tenori-on because it's like the ultra-deluxe version of the Kaossilator; a plug and play beepy little toy that looks cool and confuses people, something that a grandma could use and is ready to go, anywhere, anytime.

Then he went back to favoring the Monome, then the Tenori-on, then the Monome...until he figured out that he could run a Monome emulator, Kaonome, on his KP3. It's most def a bit more in depth and realistic than the iPhone app (thanks for the recommendations, by the way, he does have an iPhone), and hopefully it will help him make his mind up while giving him something to play with while he saves up the thousand or so dollars needed to make his gear dreams come true.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:50 AM on June 1, 2009

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