ROLI says that its Rise 2 MPE controller is “as expressive as an entire orchestra,” and has created a performance of Hans Zimmer movie themes to prove it

We hear a lot of talk about how MPE controllers enable you to add more expression to your playing, but is this actually true?

ROLI certainly believes so; in fact, the company reckons that its Rise 2 controller is “as expressive as an entire orchestra,” and tasked resident “MPE maestro” Heen Wai with creating a medley of some of Hans Zimmer’s most famous movie themes in order to prove it.

In the video above, you can see and hear Wai performing passages from Pirates Of The Caribbean, Dune, The Dark Knight, Sherlock Holmes, Gladiator and Interstellar. Lead sounds are performed using Audio Modeling’s Swam Cello and Violin Leads, while the backing track was composed using the Orchestral Ensembles soundpack for ROLI’s own Equator2 synth and Kontakt factory library percussion.

Given ROLI’s initial claim, the question, of course, is whether Wai’s performance delivers orchestra-like levels of expressivity. The jury’s out on that one, and it’s debatable whether this is the video that will convince MPE sceptics that they need to get on board with it.

However, there are certainly moments of playing here that wouldn’t be possible using a standard MIDI keyboard, so MPE advocates may view the video as grist to their mill, too.

MPE stands for MIDI Polyphonic Expression, and is a digital protocol that enables more nuanced and acoustic-like control of electronic instruments, replicating the modulation and articulation applied to individual notes by guitarists or string players. The Rise 2 is the latest iteration of ROLI’s Seaboard range, and is notable for its squidgy keybed.

Another notable recent MPE controller release is Expressive E’s Osmose, which gives you expressive control from a standard piano-like keyboard.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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