Yamaha Design Laboratory Interactive Musical Devices

Yamaha Design Laboratory creates experimental interactive musical devices

Yamaha Design Laboratory explores the potential of app-driven music creation and playback with a collection of four concept devices to enhance the audio experience

Stepping Out of the Slate is the name of Yamaha Design Laboratory’s new experiment to bring physicality to sound. The Japanese multinational is present in many industries, but it started manufacturing organs and pianos at the end of the 19th century. Modern audiences will be familiar with its line of synthesizers and other professional audio products, and it has consistently and reliably innovated in a wide variety of areas.

TurntT, a concept project that mixes the digital and analog musical worlds

This suite of compact desktop objects is grouped under the title “Standing off the Slate”, implying a deliberately different relationship to the way we consume and interact with music. Yamaha’s design lab has branches in Tokyo and Los Angeles, and regularly works alongside colleges like ECAL in Switzerland, as well as the various divisions that bear the Yamaha name.

For this project, the team wanted to break out of the confines of the standard smartphone music app, typically a streaming service that removes nearly all physical connections between music and our ears. “We believe there is still a desire for more substantial, tactile interaction that cannot be achieved with touchscreen operation,” the team writes.

Applying the essential tactile qualities of musical instruments and audio equipment, designers sought ways to convey “joy, beauty, discovery and confidence” in simple, almost low-tech ways. The result is a suite of four physical devices, minimal objects reduced to the physical presences they lost when translated into an application.

Working prototypes include TurnT, a virtual turntable, Winder, a minimal music box, MusicLight, an interactive candle, and RhythmBot, a group of four small robots that accompany musicians. Presented in a variety of scenarios, the devices tap into a growing new fascination with simple objects with a set of highly focused intelligences. Past examples include Little Signals, the home ambient sensor project from Map Project Office and Google, and Deutsche Telekom Design & Customer Experience and Layer’s Connectivity Concept.


Place your smartphone on this small replica of a platterless record player, dial the app and place the needle at the beginning of the “record” on the screen. “The step of carefully placing the stylus on the record will bring back nostalgia as well as solemn reverence to the music you are about to play.”


Winder is a mono-functional music box, a wooden hexagon with a key to wind up the mechanism. The unwinding clockwork mechanism is linked via Bluetooth to a smartphone music app, with subtle variations in playback speed generated by the beating of the spring. Each listening is therefore unique.


One for diehard romantics, MusicLight is actually a flame-operated switch. Switch on to listen; like Winder, reading via smartphone is subtly modulated by the flickering of the flame. Once the flame is extinguished, “the music fades with an afterglow”.


The four members of the RhythmBot group each play a single acoustic sound – a maraca, bells, a small cymbal and a block of wood. Together, they form a kind of evolving metronome that can be connected to a smartphone to generate varied rhythmic accompaniments. §

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