March 10, 2013

Squishy Keys: The Roli Seaboard

I have a frequently occurring dream where I'm playing piano, except that the keys are all spaced out oddly, or they're flat, or absurdly large, or just in some absurd configuration that makes zero sense to me. I always seem to rock at it though.

Well, a (British?) company named Roli has made at least part of my dream come true with a product called the Seaboard.

 It appears to be a keyboard/synthesizer/control surface that plays notes like a normal keyboard but also responds to touch to give feedback in the form of volume, pitch (including pitch bending) and timbre. The "keys" are all rounded and squishy to give what the developers believe will be a natural and intuitive response to the user's touch.

I think it looks pretty awesome. There's a feature on some keyboards, including my Nord, called "Aftertouch" where you can press the key down more firmly get vibrato or pitch bend, or whatever else you want, but at least on mine you have to press the key so hard that it becomes difficult to use. I'm not totally sure that they needed to make rounded, soft keys to achieve this goal and I wonder at the play-ability of the surface. It's obviously aimed toward keyboard players, but the idea of playing on what looks like a silicone surface really turns me off. I also wonder if skills that apply to the keyboard as it currently stands will be transferable to this instrument. There are certain techniques that pianists and keyboardists use to affect articulation and dynamics that this instrument likely wouldn't respond to due to a lack of hammers and key action.

It still looks really awesome though, and the application of its technology outside of the realm of keyboards is equally exciting. It basically looks like a instrument from the future with all black keys (which is fine, the "black" keys stand out simply by being raised), no buttons, and a super slim profile. My guess is that it's pretty light as well.

 I'd love to get my hands on one when it comes out, but my guess is that it will be expensive. They're doing a limited run of 88 of these (I see what you did there) which you can pre-order starting in April. There's nothing on the website about when larger shipping will start.

Here's another video where a nerdy British Mr. Rogers and another guy demo the instrument in a terrifying hexagon room. And hey, he does a glissando!

Found via Gizmodo

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