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  • ROLI's Seaboard Rise Keyboard

    By Team HC |

    ROLI's Seaboard Rise Keyboard

    A different kind of MIDI controller for a different kind of musician may lead to composing outside the box…and outside the studio.


    by Matthew Mann





    A different kind of MIDI controller for a different kind of musician may lead to composing outside the box…and outside the studio.

    Since Dave Smith and Roland went public with the MIDI specification back in 1983, MIDI controllers of various shapes, sizes, and interface types have been released to varying reactions from musicians and spectators alike. From the studio workhorse Yamaha KX88 - released in 1983 - to the Tenori-On in 2005 and the many guitar, wind, alternate and pad controllers (like the Launchpad Pro), MIDI controllers have graced stages and studios all over the world and have become a mainstay for all kinds of musicians.

    In 2009, a small company called ROLI announced a new take on the keyboard controller called the Seaboard Grand. Its silicon surface “keywaves” provided a new playing field in the MIDI controller arena. Instead of just note on and off like traditional keyboard controllers, these keywaves allowed the performer to use 5D touch to slide, tap, dig and wiggle their fingers over the Seaboard’s surface - controlling functions like vibrato, filter, resonance and more. The result was a much more expressive instrument than previously possible.

    Additionally, the Grand featured Equator – a custom-designed, onboard software synthesizer – that exploited the Grand’s multidimensional interface to create fantastically expressive sounds. However, at nearly $9,000 the Grand was, unfortunately, out of the financial reach of most musicians. In response, ROLI released the 25-key Seaboard Rise – a much less expensive keyboard controller without the onboard sound engine, but still including Equator as a computer-based virtual synth. Of course, it only had 25 keywaves, so for those wanting a full-fledged performance controller, it might not have been enough.

    At NAMM 2016, ROLI announced the release of the RISE 49, which expanded the original Seaboard RISE to 49 keys. Let’s take a look at what makes the Seaboard so special, and see how the RISE 49 could change the way keyboard players make music. Really.



    First off, the Seaboard RISE 49 is definitely sexy! It features an all-black anodized aluminum body that’s very solid. I was surprised at the weight considering that it’s only 23mm thick. Of course while heavy, it weighs much less than my Roland Fantom G6…so, it’s still a win. The keywaves are dark gray and the whole thing begs to be touched.

    The Seaboard is a polyphonic multidimensional instrument. According to ROLI, the five dimensions of touch are:

    • Strike – The velocity and force of your finger making contact with the keywave
      • Sends MIDI note-on and velocity (0-127) messages
    • Press – The continue pressure applied to the keywave after the initial strike
      • Sends poly or channel pressure (aftertouch)
    • Glide – Horizontal movements from side to side on a keywave, and along the ribbons
      • Sends pitch bend
    • Slide – Vertical movements up and down the keywave
      • Sends MIDI CC 74 (brightness/cutoff frequency)
    • Lift – The speed of liftoff from a keywave
      • Sends note-off and release velocity (0-127) messages

    Each of the dimensions is assigned as listed above, but Glide and Lift can both be assigned freely to any parameters.


    The keywaves are of a unique design. Each keywave is a “peak” and between each peak is a “valley.” The valleys delineate one keywave from the next. The white keys are black; and what would be the black keys are black with a white stripe down the middle. The whole surface is squishy and allows you to dig in with your fingers. The surface is smooth and slick and allows your fingers to glide across the keywaves and the pitch strips above and below the keywaves. These pitch strips are similar to the ribbon controllers found on certain other synths and allow you to slide notes up or down into other notes using your fingers. It’s like a pitch bend wheel, but much more expressive and natural.


    In addition to the 5D touch of the keywaves, there are three backlit Touch Faders (Glide Touch, Slide Touch, Press Touch) that tailor the responsiveness of the keywaves. These work in real time, and create an even more expressive environment. You can adjust the depth of the generated sound through sideways movements on the keywaves (Glide Touch), movements up and down each keywave (Slide Touch), and pressure on the keywaves (Press Touch). Modifying these faders during performance completely transforms the sounds you can make on the Seaboard. There’s also a backlit X-Y pad so you can add more modulation possibilities to your performance.




    What’s cool here is that, not only can you use the 5D touch of the RISE, but there’s also a MIDI mode which transforms the three faders and X-Y pad into MIDI performance controls. You can assign each of them to any MIDI CC controllers to customize your experience. I found this mode especially useful with other virtual instruments, including the ones built into various DAWs. The RISE’s power button doubles as the Mode button and lights in a different color depending on the chosen mode.

    You might have noticed that the Seaboard RISE 49 has only 49 keywaves. I’ve never been a big fan of anything having less than 61 keys…so I never found myself buying a 25 or 49 key controller (other than my trusty Yamaha KX5 keytar). I think ROLI must have known there are dinosaurs (err…people) like me out there, because they included Octave +/- buttons on the front panel. Yay!



    On the Seaboard’s left side is an assignable ¼-inch pedal input. You’ll also find USB A and C connections for carrying power, MIDI data, and connecting to mobile devices. Finally, there’s a power adapter input. The RISE 49 does not come with an adapter. This is strictly for third party power adapters; however, it DOES operate on rechargeable batteries! The batteries last up to 8 hours on a charge and – here’s the best part – can be recharged from your computer. This was a nice surprise, but it does take about seven hours to get a full charge, so plan ahead if you opt not to buy an adapter.



    ROLI’s Dashboard for RISE is a software application that helps manage RISE settings, such as:

    • Channel Mode: MPE (Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression) “On” or “Off,” Single, or Multi
    • Channel Range: 1-10 for Multi-Channel Mode
    • MIDI Channel: 1-16 for Single-Channel Mode
    • Settings for five dimensions of touch: Strike, Press, Glide, Slide and Lift
    • MIDI Mode Settings: Assignable MIDI CCs for Touch Faders and X-Y Touchpad
    • Pedal Settings: Assignable MIDI CC
    • Connection Status Indicator: USB or Bluetooth

    The Dashboard also allows you to download and send firmware and software updates to the Seaboard.

    Yes, I did say the Seaboard RISE 49 has Bluetooth…so you can connect to any computer or smartphone that features Bluetooth connectivity. And why would you want to connect to a smartphone with the Seaboard? ROLI released NOISE – a free app for the iPhone 6s that takes advantage of its 3D touch to give you a multidimensional synth you can carry in your pocket. It’s based on Equator and sounds fantastic! And because the Seaboard RISE 49 sends MIDI over Bluetooth, you can connect wirelessly and play NOISE from the Seaboard. NOISE also works with the iPhone 5 and 6, but it’s been optimized to work with the 6s. At the moment, NOISE supports only OSX…a sad thing indeed for Windows and Android users. Hopefully, ROLI will fix that soon. I also had luck connecting to a couple of other music-making apps on my iPhone 6, so there’s potential for much more portability and versatility from this combination.

    In addition to Dashboard, after registering on ROLI’s website you can receive Seaboard’s driver package, which includes Equator. This is a big download (2.5 GB), but is fairly quick and painless to install and comes in three flavors: OS X, 64-bit Windows, and 32-bit Windows.

    Equator is ROLI’s cross-platform, multidimensional, hybrid synth and sound engine specially designed for RISE. It takes full advantage of the RISE’s 5D touch surface and “unlocks the full expressive potential of the Seaboard,” says Roland Lamb – creator of the Seaboard and founder of ROLI. I can tell you that Equator is a beast of a synth that includes several forms of sound creation from wavetable oscillators to FM synthesis to sample playback. It sounds amazing – especially when paired with the Seaboard, because performance nuances translate so well to the sounds. I admit I was a bit giddy as I played through the presets for the first time…they sound incredible! My only complaint is that Equator is pretty heavy on the processor, so using it in your DAW will put some strain on your system. In recording with Equator, I often had to render tracks in Studio One 3 to maintain the DAW’s performance.

    Oh, and I almost forgot to mention there are Left/Right buttons on the RISE 49 that allow you to scroll up down through the Equator presets without having to touch your computer. This is a very nice addition that keeps you focused on what’s important…your performance.


    IN USE

    I must admit that using a Seaboard takes a little practice. Adjusting the sensitivity with the touch sliders becomes a necessity as you get used to the feel of the RISE. I thought I was just a lousy keyboard player, but I had my good friend, Angelo (www.angelorapan.com) try it out, too…and even he struggled with it at first. Once you get used to it, though, it’s really fun to play. Experimentation is the key to unlocking RISE’s potential and establishing your relationship with it. Yes, it’s a relationship. Once you get a feel for how it operates and how your movements translate through the keywaves and pitch strips, you get really close to the RISE very quickly. It’s sometimes tricky to make it do what you want in terms of slides and vibrato wiggles, but with practice these techniques are very satisfying.

    I do have one performance-related complaint. I said earlier that the Seaboard is sexy, and it is; however, the black keys are difficult to see on a dark stage. I found myself struggling to find my place on more than one occasion. I imagine once you know the RISE intimately, it’s probably easier to find your way around by feel. Until then, I have a little LED clip-on lamp that solves that issue for me. It would be nice if there was some way to light the keys, but I’m assuming it isn’t possible due to the nature and/or placement of the sensors in the keys. Anyway, it’s a minor complaint. The RISE garners lots of attention from people who want to know “what the heck” I’m playing and, of course when people see it, everyone wants to touch the keys. It’s fun to see their reactions, but it’s rough when you have only a couple of minutes to get a drink and take a bathroom break between sets.



    One thing I recommend, whether you plan to use the Seaboard RISE outside the studio or not, is the Flip Case. This accessory encases the RISE’s body in a tough shell while leaving the ports open for connectivity. The lid of the case is foldable and, when open, makes a great stand for your mobile phone or even your laptop…or even for the RISE itself if you need a little more angle. This case isn’t an absolute necessity, but it’s certainly worth considering to protect your investment from dust and possible spills. They also come in different colors to attract attention to you and your RISE (as if it needed any help attracting attention).



    * Expressive surface lends itself to experimentation.

    * Rechargeable batteries and Bluetooth connection for on-the-go, wireless play.

    * Customizable control faders and XY pad for endless expressiveness.

    * Fun!



    * Black keys make it hard to see on a dark stage.

    * No Windows/Android version of NOISE app.


    Not sure if it’s a Pro or Con:

    Incredibly, extremely addictive!




    ROLI Seaboard RISE 49




    Buy from:

    B & H


    Musician's Friend

    Guitar Center









    Matthew Mann (Editor, Studio-One Expert) graduated Berklee College of Music with a Master Certificate, Music Production. Matt has been in bands and run studios for over a decade. He had a 3 year stint as a Sales Associate at GC Pro and has more recently been working in technical writing. As the picture shows, Matt rarely takes himself too seriously.


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