When we first brought you news of a new instrument prototype from London-based ROLI back in March, there was talk of a limited production run of just 88 instruments following later in the year. That time has now arrived, but ROLI has announced not one, but three new Seaboard GRAND instruments. The flagship 88-key GRAND is joined by a 61-key GRAND Stage, and a 37-key GRAND Studio.
Invented by company founder, and graduate of Harvard University and the Royal College of Art, Roland Lamb, the Seaboard GRAND essentially turns a piano keyboard into one continuous touch surface, extending the expressive range beyond what's possible with a conventional keyboard. Its raised "keys" flex under a player's touch for pressure-sensitive volume and timbre adjustment and dynamic pitch modulation.
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"The surface of the keywaves is smooth to the touch and I would say that it is very satisfying and responsive," ROLI's Corey Harrower tells Gizmag. "The bounceback and natural tensility are almost skin-like to the touch and the sensitivity afforded allows even a physical gesture as subtle as a caress to be sonically meaningful. It provides a natural response to force, which makes it much more intuitive to use than traditional after touch keyboards: the harder you press, the louder the volume, but you actually feel the differences in pressure through the natural response of the material."
Touch-sensitive ribbons run along the top and bottom of the interface for precise pitch control, and there's a continuous rotary SoundDial top center that's edged by an LED status light and allows the player to move between the instrument's default presets. Mac-only (OS X 10.7 or above) Seaboard GRAND software can be used to modify existing presets or create new ones from scratch, which can then be uploaded to the SoundDial via USB connection. The software also allows players to fine tune the response settings of the touch interface. A Windows version is currently in development.
The instrument features an onboard audio synthesis engine called Equator that allows the GRAND to generate its own sounds, which can be heard via headphones plugged into the 3.5 mm audio jack or through an external amp.
"Equator is a sound engine that combines traditional synthesis and sampling techniques," says Harrower. "The team responsible for building Equator has previously worked at Novation or Arturia, and the sound design team has worked for Steinberg, U-He, Camel Audio, Buchla, Kurzweil or Novation."
The Seaboard GRAND family
The 51.7 x 13.3 x 1 in (1,313 x 338 x 25.7 mm), 22 lb (10 kg) flagship Seaboard GRAND will be restricted to a production run of just 88 instruments. Its hand-finished casing and bespoke stand are made from anodized aluminum, and the 88 keywaves on the upper surface range from A0 to C8. The rear panel is home to three 0.25-in continuous pedal inputs, two 0.25-in balanced audio out jacks, USB type A and type B ports, a headphone jack, volume wheel, and 9 - 12 V DC input. The Seaboard can also act as a MIDI controller via USB-to-MIDI, or a controller for something called MDC.
"We have implemented our own protocol, MDC, which stand for Multi-Dimensional Controllers," explains Harrower. "This protocol is an extension of MIDI that uses the SysEx bandwidth to enable multi-dimensional expressions. Within MDC, we use 21 bits to encode control values (e.g. pitch bend, after touch) to go beyond the 7-bit resolution of MIDI. We are working with music software developers on the compatibility with MDC."
The limited first edition Seaboard GRAND took first prize when it was demonstrated at the 2013 SXSW Music Accelerator in Austin, Texas earlier this year, and recently made its public performance debut at London's Royal Albert Hall. It's priced at US$8,888.88.
The 36.9 x 13.3 x 1 in (937 x 338 x 25.7 mm), 15.4 lb (7 kg) 61 keywave Seaboard GRAND Stage sports the same rear panel ins and outs as the 88 keywave model, and is currently available for an introductory price of $2,999 until November 15, after which the price will go up to $4,500.
The 37 keywave Seaboard GRAND Studio has dimensions of 23.9 x 13.3 x 1 in (608 x 338 x 25.7 mm), and tips the scales at 11 lb (5 kg). Apart from one less 0.25-in continuous pedal input, the rear panel is the same as the other two models. This model has an introductory price tag of $1,999 until November 15, after which the price will go up to $3,000.
All members of the Seaboard GRAND family will be assembled and shipped from ROLI's Dalston workshop and studio in the north east of London.
The video below shows an atmospheric example of what's possible with the Seaboard GRAND.