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Friday, 15 March 2013

A New Generation of Instruments - WeAreRoli.com


Roli is an up-and-coming company with an innovative instrument on their table.

This is a familiar yet unique musical instrument which they have named it The Seaboard.
The Seaboard has the familiar layout of a keyboard instrument, but it has added controls that from the demo videos, seem to involve pressure as well as touch. There is a ribbon controller near the base of the player's palm that allows for smooth bending of pitch. The indication of pressure and touch capabilities seems to also hint at the possibility of being able to control expression, vibrato amount and vibrato speed as well. The official site says that the performance can affect the timbre of the instrument as well.

One of the team members helping to shape the product is Jordan Rudess (head of music experience), who is an established and outstanding keyboard player who is also a member of 2 outstanding bands in the music scene.

Here are 2 demos featured on their official page:

From the comments from YouTubers I see mixed reactions. Many commented on the style of music that was played, or the sounds that are used in the demo. I feel all these comments are besides the point.

If you are doing any composing, sequencing or music arrangement with a keyboard/computer set-up, you would know about the expressive limitations of your regular midi-keyboard. With just the playing keys as controllers, we can only control the note, the velocity and aftertouch (channel / note) in some cases. In an attempt to achieve deeper control and expression in our playing, the industry has come up with additional controllers like breath, expression pedals, joysticks, pitch and modulation wheels, touch-pads or even gestural and optical sensors. Virtual instruments implement key-switching to trigger a change in the timbre and performance in the sounds.

As you can see, The Seaboard does not have external wheels/joysticks. It only has a ribbon strip besides the 'keys'. Yet it looks like it can control pitch bending, expression, timbre, all from the keys without the aid of external input widgets. The Seaboard looks like it is able to empower a keyboard player to new dimensions of expression in his/her playing, breaking the current limitations of only velocity and after-touch. I am hoping this keyboard has midi utilities to remap whatever input it's getting into various different continuous controllers messages. This would make it an extremely versatile input device for performing artists on stage and composers working in the studio.

The Seaboard is now available for pre-orders.

Engadget did an article about the Seaboard, with a 7 minute video of the creator giving a hands-on demonstration explaining what the instrument is made up of and a little bit of demystifying of the technology behind it:
http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/12/roli-seaboard-piano/

Here is another article on The Seaboard from MusicTech:
http://www.musictech.net/2013/03/roli-seaboard-grand-unveiled/

I do hope it takes off, and I look forward to seeing more of such instruments that can help us create more expressive music, which should be what an instrument is about.