Seaboard Grand - Touchy, Feely, Multi-Dimensional Controller

US Ribbed for extra expression      05/03/13

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Introducing the Seaboard from ROLI on Vimeo.

Here's something a little different, the ROLI Seaboard GRAND - its a controller with note, polyphonic pressure,polyphonic X and Y position control ouput too. The look is a monolithic design with a sort of spongy, single piece, ribbed keyboard layout.

We had a preview of it yesterday, where we were shown how expressive it can be.  London based ROLI are making some bold claims about the Seaboard and have grand plans - but it does have a familiar theme - its not dissimilar to the Haken Continuum in that it outputs massive amounts of expressive data. And we've seen this concept before albeit in a more bizzarre form - remember the Eigenharp anyone?

The Seaboard however does have a more familiar keyboard layout and is therefore easier to play - although it does take a little getting used to - the left right pitch modulation means sloppy playing will be rewarded with sloppy pitching as I found to my embarrassment in a short hands on session yesterday. But it is possible to get the feel for it with a little practice as we were shown by the demonstrator.

The 88 note Seaboard GRAND gets its first public outing at SXSW where it will get no doubt get a jolly good poking from Mr J Rudess - we know he is a massive fan of the Continuum so is no stranger to the dark arts of poly pitch bend. But there is an interesting question - what exactly can you play with the Seaboard? Not many instruments are able to accept poly aftertouch, let alone poly pitch bend and other data. ROLI are working on that, the solution is threefold:

They are working with big name software instrument developers to enable multi-instance voicing - some plugs have the ability to be multi-timbral this would give you voices all on the same sound (or not if you prefer) to allow individual pitch bend manipulation of individual voices etc.

Additionally, they are working on a custom translation layer that will let you interface the Seaboard with your own software instrument choices. Thirdly there are plans to include an on board synthesis engine to allow stand alone operation. Details are not forthcoming though so we can't guess at the DSP power or synthesis types we are likely to see.

What we witnessed was certainly expressive and while mainly limited to acoustic type emulation - I can see a great potential there for expressive playing of electronic instruments too - indeed it would be great to see a CV interface for this to control modular analog gear - the resolution and expression could be put to good use there.

The first run of Seaboard GRAND models are available to preorder from April 2013 - we understand that there are a few of the electronic glitterati showing interest - but you'll have to be quick, there are only 88 being made of this flagship model.

We hope that for the rest of us, this technology will filter down to a more mainstream, affordable version.


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