by Courtesy Yamaha Corporation of Japan

A 16×16 matrix of LED buttons forms both the controller and display

Electronic musicians have a new ax to wield: the Tenori-on. Meaning “sound in your palm” in Japanese, the eight-inch-square instrument lets would-be techno artists make beats and sequences by sliding and tapping their fingers around the touch-sensitive surface-kind of like finger painting.

Matrixes of LED buttons cover the front and back surfaces and light up as you touch them, so you can visualize the music while you’re composing. You can program music in several ways: “Bounce” mode, for example, lets you draw a wave pattern over the surface to bring up a series of notes with a beat that corresponds to the wave’s width. Other modes let you assign individual sounds to each key (hold the key down to create a repeating audio loop). You use the jog dial and integrated LCD to switch input modes, tweak sounds, and adjust tempos.

Tracks can get pretty complex, with up to 16 layers of loops. And if you get bored with the 253 built-in sounds (covering 10 octaves, with plenty of percussion voices), you can add your own by hooking up a MIDI digital keyboard or transferring audio samples from your computer using an SD card. If your buddy or bandmate also has a Tenori-on, you can connect the instruments for synchronized jam sessions.

Yamaha is test-launching the Tenori-on in the U.K. today at for about $1,200. If it sells well there, you might be able to get one in the U.S. sometime next year.