Back in March 2013, UK-based startup Roli introduced a new kind of expressive musical instrument called the Seaboard Grand. From a distance, it had the look of a digital piano, but getting closer revealed a playing surface that looked like a plastic keyboard cover had melted over the keys after being left in the hot sun for too long. The whole of this SEA interface was actually one continuous, pressure-sensitive playing area with pitch, volume and timbre controlled by strikes, presses, glides and slides. The company has been working to improve its Keywaves expression technology ever since, and has now revealed a new portable member of the Seaboard controller family called the Rise.
Roli says that the Rise is the first expressive MIDI device to offer musicians an easy-to-use multi-platform synth, the first with a built-in user control panel and the first with Bluetooth wireless freedom and an integrated battery. It's been designed to support multiple operating platforms and to be compatible with popular Digital Audio Workstation suites and software/hardware synthesizers. And, like the Linnstrument, the Seaboard Rise allows for real-time sound modulation and expression using subtle (or not so subtle) finger movements and gestures.
"It's the world's first truly accessible expressive controller," Roli's CEO Roland Lamb said at last week's Rise launch event. "It is a next-generation gestural instrument. You can start in piano mode and then use gestures to dynamically modulate sound in real time."
Unlike the rather exclusively priced Seaboard Grand, each of which is hand-built, the Rise has been developed for mass production. This is reported to result in Keywaves that are slightly shallower in nature, and with a different texture. But it also makes the MPE (Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression) instrument/controller available to buy for a retail price of US$799, putting it within the reach of beginners and professionals alike.
The 19.88 x 8.27 x 0.9 in (505 x 210 x 22.86 mm), 6.17 lb (2.8 kg) Rise has a playing area featuring 25 Keywaves, with a bank of controls to the left (including touch-enabled sliders/faders, a 4-way pad with X/Y control, forward/backward buttons and a volume rocker).
An integrated USB B port down the left edge caters for MIDI over USB functionality. If you'd rather not be restricted to cabled performance, MIDI-over-Bluetooth, combined with a built-in battery, will cater for wireless creativity, though we've no word on exactly how long a player will be able to stray from a wall outlet before needing to provide USB power or plug in the optional 9-12V 2A DC supply. There's also an input for a sustain or expression pedal.
The Seaboard Rise is currently up for pre-order, ahead of global availability next month. It will come with Roli's software synth Equator, designed to support the five expressive playing dimensions of the instrument and allow players to set up the playing surface to respond to unique gestural commands or hand shapes.
Though there is a short intro video available, the 13 minute Rise launch event performance by Marco Parisi, Heen-Wah Wai, and Gerald Peter in the video below better demonstrates the device's expressive capabilities.
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