Creative genius debuts his newest musical toy...
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Maywa Denki is a Japanese musical art toy company. "What are musical art toys?" you may be wondering. Well, on the one hand they're revolutionary gadgets while on the other they're fun toys that play music and inspire creativity. Their flagship item was the Knockman, a small wind-up toy that provided its own percussion rhythm by beating its head. It's hard to explain or describe the company much more than that, but you can check out their website for more info (maywadenki.com/english/00main_e_content.html).
Maywa Denki's latest innovation is the Otamatone. It resembles an 11 inch tall musical note and comes in either black or white. The "tail" at the top rotates, and the bottom bulb is made of soft plastic and has two painted eyes above a horizontal slit. At the back of the base are two selective controls: volume (off/low/high) and octave (low/medium/high). That pretty much describes what it looks like, but what does it do? It plays music, of course!
To promote the Otamatone in the United States, its creator (and one half of the Maywa Denki team) Tosa Novmichi appeared at the Giant Robot store in Santa Monica, CA. His signing actually took place in the Giant Robot's sister storefront across the street, possibly because the staff expected a small turnout. To say they were wrong is an understatement. As the event was about to start the tiny shop suddenly filled to overflowing with excited customers, all clamoring to buy their Otamatones for Novmichi to sign. Just before 5 o'clock the official sales began, and all of us eagerly snatched up our instruments for purchase. Novmichi, shy when he's not performing, stayed out of the way and actually took pictures of us as we waited an interminably long time to make our purchases!
Novmichi, for his part, appeared in his usual pale blue Maywa Denki jumpsuit complete with rotary phone novelty watch and thick glasses. He was very pleased to see the enthusiastic turnout, and was more than happy to sign Otamatones and pose for pictures with the fans. His signature (which you can see the picture above) consists of a self-portrait, a smiling Otamatone, the date, and "Maywa Denki." For his performance, in addition to the Otamatone, Novmichi brought one of his unique musical inventions, the snapping percussion backpack rig. Unfortunately I was unable to stay for the entire performance, but you can catch the highlights on Giant Robot’s video of the event [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phmIBvp7mSM"]HERE[/ame].
The Otamatone is packaged vertically in a sturdy plastic bubble attached to a tall cardback. Groovy blue and yellow dominate the package, and the toy's name is prominently displayed in English at the top. The back of the card has basic instructions with accompanying photos – that's the Otamatone's creator Tosa Novmichi himself! Even if you can't read Japanese, the Otamatone is easy to figure out. Inside that large card you’ll find two pages of further pictorial instructions, along with sheet music for a frog song.
Turn on the Otamatone and select an octave (the medium setting is pretty versatile). Then press anywhere on the control surface running the length of the neck to produce a note. Sliding your finger along the neck will modulate up and down in a manner very similar to a slide whistle or trombone. Squeezing the Otamatone's "cheeks" opens its mouth, which further changes the sound and can be used to emphasize notes.
Like the slide whistle or harmonica, the Otamatone is easy to pick up and play, but difficult to master. There are no markings to designate "home keys" or specific notes, so you need to practice to be able to feel the music. To that end, the Otamatone comes with sample sheet music so you can learn a traditional Japanese frog song. Simply lay your Otamatone in the outline and play the notes as indicated. The song isn't very exciting, but you get the idea.
Otamatones are available only through importers, so don't expect to see them at your local toy store. At around $50 they're not cheap, but then again that's not an outrageous price to pay for a really neat gadget that is fun to play. It's art, it's a toy, and it's music – it's the Otamatone! For more information (and some truly remarkable Otamatone performances on video) you can visit the official site at otamatone.com.
To see and hear the Otamatone in action, check out our videos below!
MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB
- Pictures and Review by Scott Rubin