‘Stepping Out of the Slate’ is the name of the Yamaha Design Laboratory’s new experiment in bringing physical shape to sound. The Japanese multinational has a hand in many industries, but it started off making organs and pianos at the tail-end of the 19th century. Modern audiences will be familiar with its range of synthesizers and other pro audio products, and it has consistently and reliably innovated across a wide variety of fields.

TurntT, from Yamaha Design Laboratory’s ’Stepping out of the Slate’ concept project
TurntT, a concept project that blends the digital and analogue musical worlds

This suite of compact desktop objects is grouped together under the title ‘Stepping Out of the Slate,’ implying a deliberately different relationship to how we consume and interact with music. Yamaha’s Design Laboratory has outposts 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. 

RhythmBot, from Yamaha Design Laboratory’s ’Stepping out of the Slate’ concept project

For this project, the team wanted to break out of the confines of the standard smartphone music app, typically a streaming service that does away with almost all physical connections between music and our ears. ‘We believe there is still a longing for more substantive and tactile interaction that cannot be achieved with touch panel operation,’ the team writes. 

Winder, from Yamaha Design Studio’s ’Stepping out of the Slate’ concept project

Applying the essential tactile qualities of musical instruments and audio equipment, the designers were looking for ways of conveying ‘joy, beauty, discovery, and confidence’ through simple, almost low-tech means. The result is a suite of four physical devices, minimal objects pared back to the physical presences they have lost through their translation into an app. 

MusicLight, from Yamaha Design Studio’s ’Stepping out of the Slate’ concept project

The functional prototypes include TurnT, a virtual turntable, Winder, a minimal music box, MusicLight, an interactive candle, and RhythmBot, a group of four diminutive robots that accompany musicians. Pitched at a variety of scenarios, the devices tap into a growing new fascination with simple objects that have a very focused set of smarts. Past examples include Little Signals, the ambient home sensor project by Map Project Office and Google, and Deutsche Telekom Design & Customer Experience and Layer’s Connectivity Concept.

 

TurnT

TurntT, from Yamaha Design Studio’s ’Stepping out of the Slate’ concept project

Place your smartphone on top of this diminutive replica of a platter-less record player, dial up the app and place the needle at the start of the ‘disc’ on screen. ‘The step of carefully placing the stylus on to the record will bring back the nostalgia as well as the solemn respect to the music you are about to play.’

 

Winder

Winder, from Yamaha Design Studio’s ’Stepping out of the Slate’ concept project

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

 

MusicLight

MusicLight, from Yamaha Design Studio’s ’Stepping out of the Slate’ concept project

One for the diehard romantics, MusicLight is effectively a switch operated by a flame. Ignite to listen; like Winder, playback via smartphone is subtly modulated by the flicker of the flame. Once the flame goes out, ‘the music fades away with an afterglow.’ 

 

RhythmBot

RhythmBot, from Yamaha Design Studio’s ’Stepping out of the Slate’ concept project

The four members of the RhythmBot band each play a single acoustic sound – a maraca, bells, a tiny cymbal, and a wooden block. Together, they form an evolutionary kind of metronome that can be hooked up to a smartphone to generate varied rhythmic accompaniments. §