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ROLI Seaboard RISE wants to update the MIDI keyboard for the 21st century

The Seaboard Rise uses gesture-controlled modulation to add a more fluid feel to the traditional keyboard

Tablets like the iPad have transformed how people make music with computers, but touchscreens and on-screen keyboards can only take you so far; musicians will tell you there’s nothing quite like the feedback you get from a physical keyboard, even if the centuries-old design doesn’t exactly gel with modern music. ROLI’s Seaboard Rise is a more up-to-date take on the keyboard, which should appeal to music producers that are more interested in dubstep than debussy.

When you play a note on a traditional keyboard, the sound decays rapidly. You could play the Seaboard like this if you wanted, but you can also modulate each sound in real-time using gestures. For instance, wiggling your finger on a note will trigger a vibrato effect, while sliding a finger along the smooth surface above the keys naturally triggers a sliding scale effect. 

The sensor-loaded surface has raised bumps that act like traditional piano keys, but the treated silicon compound has an organic feel to better suit the fluidity of the sound it produces. Multi instrumentalists can probably jump straight on the Seaboard Rise and start playing, as skills should transfer over naturally from more traditional instruments. Guitarists and piano players will need to make some adjustment in order to grasp the new features, however.

The Rise is a portable version of the original Seaboard Grand. This compact version has a two-octave, 25-key layout that’s small enough to throw in a bag and take with you to performances, and with an internal battery good for eight hours of playing and Bluetooth wireless connectivity, you won’t need to stay tied to your laptop while you play either. A touch panel on the left side gives you fine control over its effects without reprogramming your software.

Because the Rise is much like a MIDI controller, in that you can use it to play virtually any instrument, using its effects to mimic a guitar, double bass or other stringed instrument. It’s compatible with a range of hardware and software synthesisers, along with big-name digital audio workstations across Windows and OS X. A copy of Equator, ROLI’s custom-build software synthesiser, is included in the box. It was specifically designed for controllers like the Rise, and lets you assign the five different gesture controls (strike, press, glide, slide and lift) to different effects.The Seaboard Rise is available to order direct from Roli, with prices starting at £600. That’s expensive enough to put off bedroom producers, but the intuitive features will likely appeal to performers.

Alternatively, if you want to try out the ROLI’s music technology for free, you can download the company’s NOISE app right now on the Apple App Store. This turns your iPhone screen into a full-blown music machine, featuring 25 key waves, 25 sounds and five faders for tweaking the responsiveness of the touch display. You’ll need an iPhone 5 or later to take advantage of it, but there are also extra features for iPhone 6S users, as NOISE been fully optimised for 3D Touch.

This essentially replicates the Seaboard Rise’s strike, press, glide, slide and lift controls, giving you a miniature version of ROLI’s keyboard right in the palm of your hand. The NOISE app can also be used in conjunction with the Seaboard Rise and other MIDI controllers as a sound engine, allowing you to control your sounds wirelessly from your iPhone. It’s one of the first apps to enable Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression (MPE), too, so it can be used with any MPE-compatible controller. Watch the video below to see it in action.