The Roli Seaboard: a new generation of keys

"Increase the bandwidth of interaction between people and technology" is how the London based start-up brand, Roli, likes to describes itself. As a keyboardist I have often struggled with my own personal demons questioning the validity and emotional communication of my performance. Specifically as an organist, humanizing playing through phrasing was key to an emotional translation of the music. With the advent of the ribbon control and pitch bend we have been able to add a little more color to synth performance, especially in the realm of keyboardists like Janne Wirman or Jordan Rudess where the norm is pinched harmonics, flowing sweep picking, and string bending from a guitar--this has often left me questioning the use of modulator wheels and ribbons as "humanizing" and rather consider it the guitarification of keys (blastphemy! *shakes fist dramatically*). This Roli Seaboard has soothed my fears with it's fret-less (pun totally intended) capabilities. This is not your daddy's pitch bend.
Myself with Jordan Rudess at NAMM

The Roli Seaboard is a totally new kind of instrument. A keyboard is the basis for the shape however the keys are formed in waves of silicon and are soft to the touch. It has a ribbon control built into the bottom and the top of the keyboard and the sensitivity in the keys for velocity control as well as dynamic movement of the keys to control vibrato and the intuition to bend individual keys into one another. Jordan Rudess really hit home when he said that it takes the movements that keyboardists have already been expressing with no response and giving the player the feedback that they're already hearing in their minds. The Seaboard manifests the phantom expressions keyboardists crave.

Jordan Rudess, Marco Parisi, and Eren Basbug showed off some of the capabilities of the Seaboard including the velocity control as you can hear in the bass sounds (slapping of strings) or in the saxophone (slightly overblown reeds). I have taken a rough video but many more are available on the Roli website where you can see some of the capabilities of this midi controller.

Playing this keyboard will take a little getting used to. I found rubbing my fingers into the keys to be a touch awkward and also key placement seems to be a little wider than I'm used to so I believe developing speed will take some practice. Despite any initial physical bumbling I found the capabilities of this keyboard to be near endless and definitely worth the time to master. As a midi controller, the possibilities are are immeasurable when you have so many parameters for custom samples to be tweaked into perfection, but it also comes with it's own set of software and synth presets for instant standards and gratification (guitar, piano, strings, sax).

The price point is set between $1999-2999 for the regular edition Roli's with one Special Edition Grand set at $8,888,88 (why that number specifically? I have no clue). A bit pricey for something that could potentially end up as a novelty item in the corner of your studio, yes, but for the right person I think this keyboard could be a main staple in their studio or for live performance.

Have you seen this keyboard around yet? Maybe tested it out yourself? Let me know your initial reaction below in the comments!

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