ROLI Seaboard instrument unveiled

The Seaboard is a newly unveiled instrument from London-based design start-up ROLI, which the developer describes as 'reimagining' the piano.

Although it's clearly based around a classic keyboard layout, the Seaboard is actually a unique proposition. Its surface is made of a layer of soft silicon laid across multiple sensors that allow for completely polyphonic pitchbending, aftertouch and vibrato-style expression.

We recently got to test out a prototype, which we found to offer a genuinely different playing experience. Although the layout of the instrument is familiar it feels very unusual to play (office consensus - and this isn't a criticism - is that the silicon keyboard feels like a large pack of uncooked Frankfurter sausages). It would require a decent amount of practice to get the best out of the device, though.

The benefits of the highly sensitive interface are obvious, however. We tried playing the device controlling Logic's built-in guitar and bass sounds and the Seaboard's expression and pitchbend capabilities brought the samples to life in a way that simply isn't possible with a standard MIDI controller.

The version of the Seaboard we got our hands on merely worked as a MIDI controller, but we're told the final version will include a full range of built-in sounds.

For now, ROLI will soon be taking pre-orders for a limited run of high-end, hand-built Seaboard GRANDs. We've been told, however, that a more affordable mass-market version should follow. The company assures us that there has been significant interest from a number of well-known players. For one, Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess is set to demo the device at next week's SXSW.

For more info, check out the press release below or go to the ROLI website.

ROLI Seaboard GRAND press-release:

Design­led technology start­up ROLI introduces the Seaboard GRAND, a radically new kind of musical instrument and digital controller that reimagines the most iconic of musical instruments - the piano.

An evolution of the piano keyboard, the Seaboard has a soft three­dimensional surface that enables unprecedented real­time, intuitive control of the fundamental characteristics of sound: pitch, volume, and timbre.

Piano and keyboard players can instantly transfer their skills to the Seaboard and begin exploring its new capacities.

The Seaboard is the first electronic instrument to enable control of a wide variety of parameters through traditional techniques for expressiveness and virtuosity.

As a controller, the Seaboard allows players to manipulate sound like never before. It authentically simulates a plethora of other instruments - guitar note bends, subtle string and horn swells, and much more are expressively created in seconds instead of hours.

Both as an instrument and as a controller the Seaboard creates a world of entirely new sonic possibilities, and provides a new bridge between acoustic and electronic approaches to music.

The Seaboard was invented by RCA Design Products graduate Roland Lamb. In 2011, ROLI - the company he founded - won a place in the Design London incubator, and secured grant funding from the UK Technology Strategy Board. ROLI now employs 16 engineers, designers, and musicians in its warehouse studio/workshop in Dalston. Advisory Board members include the designer and architect Ron Arad.

The Seaboard is powered by the patent­pending SEA Interface, ROLI's disruptive platform sensor technology. SEA Interfaces are highly precise, information­rich, and pressure­sensitive, and can be built in any form factor. They enable seamless transitions between discrete and continuous input, and capture three­dimensional gestures while simultaneously providing the user with tactile feedback.

ROLI is currently developing further applications in music, personal computing, robotics, medical devices, gaming, and vehicular and machine control.

The Seaboard GRAND will be featured in 2013's South by Southwest music conference, where it has been selected to participate in the Music Accelerator, a showcase of the best new start­up companies.

Celebrated keyboard player Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater will be premiering the Seaboard with an exclusive performance to demonstrate its versatility and musicality.

A limited edition of 88 Seaboard GRANDs will be available for pre­order worldwide starting in April 2013. Each Seaboard GRAND will be hand­assembled to order in the ROLI studio in the heart of Dalston, East London, and, in recognition of its provenance, each will be named after a particular note on the piano keyboard, from A0 to C8.

Si Truss

I'm Editor-in-Chief of Music Technology, working with Future Music, Computer Music, Electronic Musician and MusicRadar. I've been messing around with music tech in various forms for over two decades. I've also spent the last 10 years forgetting how to play guitar. Find me in the chillout room at raves complaining that it's past my bedtime.