Yesterday was an exciting day here at Casa Satori, as ROLI announced the newest addition to the Seaboard family: the Seaboard RISE.
I haven’t seen one in person yet; almost everything I know comes from ROLI’s press releases, the information shared during the livestream intro party, and a couple posts that quickly went online – particularly Peter Kirn’s piece for Create Digital Music.
So please consider this to be preliminary information; there’s a high probability I’ll screw up somewhere along the line. ROLI has said they’ll be releasing more details in the coming days and weeks, so I’ll incorporate that information into this and other posts as it arrives. If I do mess up, the responsibility/blame rests entirely with me.
The Seaboard RISE delivers the expressive capabilities of the Seaboard GRAND – along with some new tricks – at a significantly reduced price point: $799 (£599). Come the holidays, there are sure to be many of these filling Christmas stockings – or, of course, whatever other holiday-related gift receptacles your cultural traditions endorse. 🙂
Designed to be readily portable, the RISE is smaller and lighter than its GRAND cousins, and has an internal battery that is said to provide 12 hours of blissfully unplugged use. (An AC power supply is also provided for convenience during your stay-at-home sessions.) This lack of a requirement for a power cord will go hand-in-hand with its Bluetooth MIDI capability, allowing one completely wireless freedom.
You’ll need that connectivity, as the Seaboard RISE is a MIDI controller with no internal synth functionality of its own; it’s bundled with a new version of Equator for RISE that will run on Mac OS X and Windows. Think of that; with just the RISE and a laptop, you’ll be set to make music anywhere you feel like carrying it.
[9.11.15 – While iOS is indeed mentioned in ROLI’s system requirements for the RISE, the potential role of iOS is still (to my knowledge) not yet announced; I’ve deleted an earlier reference to an iOS variant of Equator. See – I warned you I’d screw up.]
With that same MIDI over Bluetooth capability (or a USB cable) you’ll be able to use the RISE as a controller for pretty much any of the other soft synths you own, though few of them (at this point) will be able to make full use of all the RISE’s controller capabilities. (Give the non-ROLI software devs time to catch up; they’ll get with the program.)
And what a controller it is: twenty-five keywaves, each capable of delivering the expressive gestures of the GRAND models, as well as two additional gestures: Slide and Lift. “Slide” refers to Y-axis movement on a key wave – moving your finger up and down the length of an individual key. (You can see this in ROLI’s video, used to introduce a flutter-tongue effect to a flute sound.) “Lift” refers to events triggered when you remove your finger from a key.
There’s also a series of sliders and a pad that allow you to tweak the sensitivity of the various controllers in real time; beginning players can even zero them out to “piano mode,” where the keywaves act as simple on/off switches, much like a traditional keyboard. There will be new versions of both Equator (as mentioned) and the ROLI Dashboard in order to accommodate these new features.
Let’s talk a little about those keywaves. It seems clear from the video and photos that they’re not exactly full-size, and this can raise the hackles of people who (like me) have a very difficult time with the miniaturized keys that come on some smaller MIDI controllers and synths.
So (inquisitive fellow that I am) I spent some time with the spec measurements and a screen-grabbed photo of the RISE, trying to get a handle on exactly how large these new keywaves actually are.
To make a long story short, I was very pleasantly surprised: while the keys are indeed somewhat shorter in length than a traditional keyboard (approx. 12.5 cm, vs. 15 cm on my Yamaha piano) the width of a full octave appears to be virtually identical to the 16.5 cm octave width of my Yamaha grand. This is huge!
This means there should be none of that awful scrunching feeling you get from a typical mini-keyboard; chord shapes and intervals will feel identical to a full-sized keyboard, as they’re the same width. That’s great news, and really not surprising to me, given ROLI’s obsessive attention to design and user experience.
It’s also no surprise that – given the portability of the beast – ROLI includes a sturdy case you’ll use to protect your investment while on the go. It appears to be made of exactly the same poly-foam material used for the Seaboard GRAND cases.
Believe me, it’s nothing at all like the fragile, common packing foam that fractures easily, leaving tiny white bean-bag nubbins static-clinging to your carpet; it’s actually tough, mil-spec material I’d never seen before, and I still haven’t gotten over how unusual it is. It’s light as a feather, yet seemingly indestructible. Whoever ROLI’s materials whiz may be, they know their stuff. As long as your Seaboard is inside this case, it will be safe. My Seaboard GRAND shipped from the UK in just its case and a simple thin cardboard box, with no additional padding or support; none was needed.
Here’s a list of ROLI’s specs for the Seaboard RISE; I suggest you visit their site and other music blogs for additional information I’ve likely missed.
Seaboard RISE 25 Features
Seamless hardware-software integration
Beautifully crafted using premium materials
Sleek, intuitive design accessible to music-makers of all technical levels
Completely wireless with MIDI over Bluetooth
Bundled with Equator, the world’s first purpose-built, multi-dimensional software synthesiser
Seaboard RISE 25 Technical specifications
505 mm x 210 mm x 22.9 mm / 2.8 kg
(19.88 in x 8.27 in x 0.9 in / 6.17 lbs)
Continuous pedal input (1/4″ jack)
USB B port (MIDI out and power)
USB A port (for charging peripherals)
18 W Internal battery with 12-hour playability
Full MIDI compatibility over USB and Bluetooth
OS X 10.8+ / Windows 7+ / iOS 7+
Intel Core i5 2.5GHz or faster recommended
4 GB RAM minimum / 8 GB RAM recommended
2 GB available disk space for Equator installation
USB 2.0+ port for USB compatibility
I love my full-size Seaboard GRAND – but I’m still eager to get my hands on one of the new RISEs, and look forward to October 9th when they begin shipping on a first-come, first-served basis. As I mentioned, ROLI expects to be releasing more information in the days and weeks to come, and I have the feeling that there’s still more to learn about their plans for the new baby.
When I first received a hint that there was something new on the way (yes, I won’t deny it – I’ve got a double agent on the inside) I found myself using the same word – “egalitarian” – over and over when trying to describe ROLI’s aspirations with the Seaboard RISE. Part of it is in the new price point, which clearly makes this new expressive technology accessible to a greatly expanded range of people.
Part of it is evident in the beautiful intro video, which still knocks me out after a few dozen repeated viewings. There’s something about the range of ages and expertise, the rainbow of skin tones and genders that speaks of an aspirational view of the future (and present, should we be so lucky); it reminds me of the crew on the bridge of the Enterprise, and that’s very, very cool.
Is it possible to include altruism as part of a business plan? Is that a laughable concept, or can it be both smart and profitable?
Given that I’m not a member of the press, I’m not obligated to be disinterested or impartial; in my own way, I’ve already invested in ROLI via the Seaboard GRAND, and I won’t pretend to be unbiased. I happen to believe that ROLI’s instruments have the potential be the first alternative controllers to become household words, and that the introduction of the Seaboard RISE is the beginning of an expansion into wider public awareness.
I bought my first Apple computer (an Apple II+) back in 1979. Just two years earlier, Ken Olson (then president of Digital Equipment Corp.) famously said “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Since then, we’ve seen an exponential increase in the acceptance rate of new technologies; while I admit ROLI’s Seaboards are a long shot to ever overtake “the new iPhone,” there’s something unstoppable about the proverbial good idea whose time has come.
When I first shared the intro video with a friend yesterday, his verbatim reaction was “My God, my daughter would love one of those.” Watch what happens this holiday season and in the coming year, before characterizing the Seaboard RISE as a niche-interest device.
Musicians and proto-musicians of all stripes will see this as a chance to play an instrument that had once seemed out of their reach; audiences everywhere will see this strange new tool that looks like a stealth aircraft, as well as the performers who utilize it in myriad different ways. I know from experience that pretty much anyone who touches a Seaboard wants one; the arrival of the Seaboard RISE means that many more people will be able to make that aspiration a reality, and that’s a wonderful thing.
(Thanks to ROLI’s Communications department, for taking time on a very busy day to give me access to the great Seaboard RISE photos you see throughout this post.)