Last year, expressive digital instrument pioneers Roli released the Seaboard Rise, a portable version of its continuous touch surface Seaboard Grand keyboard. Now the company has taken the Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression MIDI technology at the heart of those instruments – which allows players to control parameters like pitch, timbre and volume within each note – and cooked it into a highly portable, modular music studio system called Roli Blocks.
The Blocks system is described by Roli as a Lego-like music creation system designed for everyone to use. Central to the modular music studio is a free iOS app called Noise, which acts as the sound engine and interfaces with the Block modules over Bluetooth. The app comes with a library of sounds and recording capabilities, as well as scale, chord and arpeggio modes, and created music is output via the smart device's audio circuitry.
The Noise app works with the system's main module, something called the Lightpad Block. Like the Seaboard Rise, this module offers five dimensions of touch interaction. The 94 x 94 mm (3.7 x 3.7 in) pressure-sensitive silicone upper surface responds to the player sliding, striking, gliding, pressing or lifting off their fingers, with wireless lag between module and smart device reported at a responsive 30 milliseconds.
Beneath the urethane-coated pad are 225 multicolor LEDs to light the way or provide a funky backdrop to creative endeavors. The touch surface can be used to create drum beats, synthesized harmonies, orchestral masterpieces or virtual guitar solos, and a Learn Mode teaches newbies the basics of gesture-based music creation.
Roli reckons that users should get 4 hours of play time from each 2 hour charge of the Lightpad's internal battery. The built-in USB-C port is used for both charging and for MIDI out. The playing surface can be expanded further by adding on extra Lightpad Blocks, which click together via magnetic connectors that also send data between modules "so each Block knows how it's configured with other Blocks."
Two other Block modules have been revealed, which are used to activate performance or production features using physical buttons on the anodized aluminum top. Players can instantaneously switch octaves, select different scales, play chords or activate arpeggios using controls on the Live Block, while the Loop Block caters for the recording and playback of sequences, and there are buttons for beat-matching, setting tempo and controlling volume. The integrated battery in each module charges via connection to the Lightpad Block.
The Blocks system is due to ship this month. The Lightpad Block retails at US$179, and the Live Block and Loop Block modules are priced at $79 each. You can see and hear the modular music studio in action in the video below.
Product page: Roli Blocks