Tenori-On, the crazy light-up handheld synthesizer from Yamaha we've been geeked about for months, officially launched in the US tonight. It won't be on sale until May 1, but we got our hands on one and simply put, we were amazed. Resident Giz musician Jonny Lam (Brian's little brother) hit the event with us, and was playing music in minutes. What's interesting is how you can play this thing according to sound, but also, visual cues:

The Tenori-On is a synthesizer on a 16x16 grid that caters to the novice as easily as the expert. Every button on the grid represents a note. Chords are created by hitting multiple notes in one line, and full pieces are made by placing notes on several lines, which play left to right in sequential order. In addition, each button represents a different sound or instrument, for a total of 256 different built-in noises. Furthermore, samples can be loaded on the unit to make unique creations, and there are several other customization options. The Tenori-On records up to 16 tracks, and files are saved in a format which can be loaded on other Tenori-Ons or edited with MIDI software.

Artists at the event told us that the visual aspects of the device are just important as the musical aspects. Some said they attempt to make songs in a traditional sense, but others were more content to base their sounds on designs and shapes. The Tenori-On can work as a completely visual instrument.

It will retail for $1200 when it goes on sale May 1. Good luck getting your hands on one, because production is extremely limited; Yamaha is testing the US market and only plans on a 1000 piece run for the entire year, available only through the Tenori-On website. We'll have a review unit in soon and tell you about our extended experience with the instrument then. [Tenori-On]