At Last, Playing

It’s been over a week since the Seaboard arrived, but this isn’t the first time I’ve started to write about it. The words don’t come easily – or there are just too many of them, all coming at once and getting stuck in the pipe – either way, there’s a lot to express and it’s been hard to know where to begin.

Seaboard beauty shot

How about this: I’m amazed. Stunned. Overwhelmed. Dog paddling in the deep end of the pool. Everything I try is brand new to me, and when I start to think I’ve reached terra firma, I switch sounds and the ground recedes beneath my feet again. This isn’t a journey from point A to point B; this universe is curved – or maybe rippled. Each time I step away from the point of origin, I find myself back where I began but facing a different direction, and traveling just a little farther each time. So my progress isn’t linear; it’s more like a disc whose diameter gradually expands. Does that make any sense at all?

figure a

figure b

Probably not! Nor does the fact that despite sounding like this would be frustrating, I’m actually exhilarated. Over fifty years of playing keyboards and relying on muscle memory to do the work for me has given way to being present in the moment of playing each note – and remaining present even after the note has begun – because selecting the note is just the beginning. You can continue to actually play the note, just as a cellist or sax player or trumpeter would.

A side-to-side motion on the keywave surface can produce vibrato; rolling a finger up or down can bend the note from one to the next; changing the pressure as you hold the note can change the volume or alter the tone color, depending on what parameters the Seaboard is modulating in whatever synth is being played.

Right now, ROLI’s own synthesis system for the Seaboard – called Equator – is still being refined, and doesn’t currently ship with the instrument. (No complaint – it’s all part of the territory when you’re one of the early ones… !) So for the time being, I’ve been experimenting with using the Seaboard to control a number of soft synths I have running on the laptop in my living room, where the Seaboard is residing for the moment. Very soon, I’ll be moving it into my studio, where I’ll have access to my hardware synthesizers and the more powerful soft synths on my primary computer, such as Omnisphere.

When it comes to technique, the Seaboard is not a one-style-fits-all instrument; it’s absolutely essential to understand that different sounds/instruments/synthesizers require different playing styles. A percussive sound – something like a bright piano – demands a completely different touch than a bowed instrument like a cello would.

That’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the eventual arrival of the Equator software; the ability to edit and recall individual keywave response curves will be crucial to customizing the Seaboard for use with a range of different synthesizers and soft synths. As things are now, it’s (frankly) a blessing to be able to get used to playing the Seaboard without diving deep into customizing its response for individual patches and sounds. Still, when that ability arrives, it will be essential for personalizing and maximizing the Seaboard’s expressive capabilities.

Seaboard beauty shot

Lost in these technical considerations is one fundamental fact: playing the Seaboard is fun. Ridiculously so. It’s also surprisingly sensual, in ways that are difficult to express in words that don’t make people start to giggle.

Little Key Wave 7

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