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No doubt you've been wondering what the ROLI Seaboard RISE has to offer over a regular keyboard type controller, as have we, so we were keen to take a look a the ROLI Seaboard Rise 49 - it's a keyboard controller with no moving parts. The entire keyboard surface is a single piece of ROLI's SEA technology touch gel/foam/stuff which can generate pressure and positional information. This means that you can transmit: note data, velocity, pressure, slide, glide and note off velocity.
It does require a significant amount of MIDI bandwidth - with the entire keyboard using 15 channels of MIDI data with pitch bend per note and polyphonic aftertouch for up to 10 fingers.
The hardware is a single piece of anodised aluminium with connectivity for USB (to computer/ipad), power and a USB host port - this only supplies power to an iPad or suchlike when external power is plugged in though. There's also a sustain pedal input.
Additionally, there's an on board rechargeable battery (10hrs of playing) making the Seaboard RISE a wireless option, when used with the on board Bluetooth MIDI connection. This can be paired with your iOS device, laptop or desktop - OS X 10.10 and above.
What you also get is the Equator software synth, which is designed to team up with the 5D touch data and is actually a pretty impressive sound source - 2 sample Oscillators, two regular multi-wave OSC, five envelopes, two LFOs and multi-effects. It really does sound good and is extremely well stocked with sounds that demonstrate what you can do with 5D touch.
To play, you will need to adjust your style somewhat, the RISE is extremely sensitive and does not suit a heavy playing style. The positional data slide (up and down each key) and Glide (left and right movement) can be dialled back using the ROLI Dashboard - you can edit the curves for each, plus there are three sliders for sensitivity - these can be dialled back to ensure you don't go too far wrong for certain playing or while you are still getting your technique sorted.
Additionally, there's an X/Y pad for sending more control data - which is nicely implemented in many patches for Equator.
A second mode, MIDI Control mode turns these faders and X/Y into assignable controllers - also accessed via ROLI Dashboard.
The last two controls are program change - this world for the Equator for flipping through patches (not sending regular prog changes though) and octave up down.
To begin with, its a curious experience to play the RISE, though you can adapt quickly, what I found was that the amount of movement per finger does mean that your hands do get stretched and a bit of a workout. You find that you want to move certain fingers in rather contorted shapes, especially when playing polyphonic stuff. For mono sounds, its much easier on the hands as you can switch fingers and slide above of below the keys - the entire surface does register position, so you could ignore the black/white layout and play the strips above and below the keys if you wish.
But the results are actually very inspiring - I found that modulating individual notes in a chord and slight movement could yield a lot of great results, though you should be aware it does mean that you can play out of tune too.
If you want to just hook this up to regular DAW based instruments - drums etc - this is entirely possible - channelising the MIDI will accomplish this and its sensitive enough to play beats - I used NI Battery with no problems.
Obviously to access your more familiar, non 5D/MPE enable instruments will require more complex MIDI routings, and for MIDI hardware, you will need to route out the USB or Bluetooth MIDI in to the real world - for instance, the Roland JD-XA will accept poly aftertouch, so you could in theory use that.
While the ROLI package is pretty slick, I think if you are looking for traditional Master keyboard type functionality (splits/layers/zones) this is not going to provide that. You do need to be hooked up to a computer at present to benefit from the full experience. I also think that it might benefit from an additional mode - where the main keys supply regular note and pressure data, but perhaps low C could be use to transmit pitch bend and slide (up down the key) for more traditional playing styles but giving plenty of expression.
Overall, I was impressed with the ROLI Seaboard RISE 49 - its not going to be for everyone, but the level of expression is actually quite addictive and something that when you go back to the regular keyboard you find you miss. It allows for much more organic connection with sounds - especially when using Equator. Play a one note orchestra or soundscape patch, in a regular software synth sure its great, but there's a disconnect from it, with the RISE you feel more at one with a sound. I also hooked up the Moog Model 15 modular app using the Bluetooth MIDI and found that again, it became more alive, a more visceral experience.
Sure, this is not a cheap option and there are still not all that many destinations for this kind of expression, but when you do play with it, there's a whole new area of creative expression available that I think many people would find highly compelling.
The ROLI Seaboard Rise 49 is available now for £950/$1199, with Equator for Mac and PC, the Seaboard RISE (25 key) is £585/$799.