The ones who work with the electronic arts must know the Peter Pan of the digital culture: the Japanese Toshio Iwai. The Japanese, who looks always very upset, nearly an icon of the first generation of digital artists, at the level of a Tim Burton’s story, still surprises with his refined and brilliant inventions.

Recently at the Sonarama he staggers everybody thanks to one of his devices, which is as usual “simply” extraordinary. The instrument is called Teneri-On and it was the protagonist of one of the most beautiful performances in the last edition of the Sonar in Barcelona . Teneri-On (that in Japanese means “something in the hands”) is an interactive musical instrument, which is able to create sounds and sound effects. It is composed by a tablet/interface with 16×16 buttons and it is very easy and comfortable to use. It is sufficient to press the buttons directly on the display to create music and lights and to compose exceptional and vibrant visual tunes. It is a real synaesthetic piece of cake.

It’s impossible to describe with words the beauty of the Spanish performance; yet we can wait to have Teneri-On directly in our hands. It seems indeed that the Yamaha, the company who financed the prototype, doesn’t hesitate to put the magic instrument on the market.


But we get to know him better. Who is Toshio Iwai, a radical dandy of the Japanese multimedia art? We can begin from some biographic remarks. Iwai was born in the far 1962 in Aichi in Japan . He is nearly a child prodigy and he is always working with inventions, projects, engines, gears and bulbs. It isn’t random that he excelled at the College (Fine Arts of the Tsukuba University ) for the originality of his first installations.

Iwai is extraordinary attracted by the first pre-kinematical machines: from animated books to the magical lanterns and other visual illusions, which anticipate the cinematographic techniques. His first inventions combine the logic of this “motion picture” archaeology to the new technologies. Time stratum is one of the most beautiful examples.

Since 1986 he uses the computer to create visual sound systems. Two works of great suggestion are the evidence: Music Insect (1990) and Piano As Media Image (1995).


In Music Insect the artist combines music and image to create abstract “visual insects”, which react to the coloured pixels of the computer screen. The user can assign each insect a range of colours and sounds, to create images and tunes. In Piano As Media Image, on the contrary, the artist turns a piano, a mechanical instrument which creates sounds, into a media of images. The user, only sitting in front of the instrument, prompts the projection of a carpet of images, created by the piano keyboard.

It isn’t random that Iwai, a great lover of the sound, won in 1994 the Interactive Art prize at the Prix Ars Electronica in Linz , cooperating with a great Japanese musician Sakamoto. But Iwai, an eternal child, is known by the great audience as from the nineties, thanks to his “virtual sets” realized for the Einstein TV television broadcast and for the Ugo Ugo Lhuga kidvid. Just the children will crown him with success and indeed he will gain more notoriety as the creator of the videogames for Nintendo.

His Electroplankton, presented at the international videogames fair, the E3 in Los Angeles , by David Hollands, became a cult videogame not only for the videogames lovers but also for the artists, the musicians and the video makers.


Electroplankton isn’t any conventional videogames but rather, as the artist defines it, a “toy” that is able to be interactive. As in the Iwai’s style there are in the game particular creatures, the sense of the childish amazement, as well as magic visual and loud vibrations. With Electroplankton it is possible to create images and music: the effect is similar to an electronic interactive carillon. The interaction occurs only touching the images on the display. In short, it is a real jewel: it is one of the few examples of interactive art distributed on a large scale.

For the one who is interested, the price is only 30 euro and it is possible to visit his web site to get the idea of the project or only to enter in the Iwai’s magic world. And it is a great journey, and it is worth.

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