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Roli's Seaboard Rise MIDI controller offers a whole new way to make music

British music tech startup Roli wants to redefine the way you think about playing a keyboard. We checked in with Roli at Getgeeked New York, part of CE Week, to find out more about its signature device, the Seaboard RISE midi controller. It offers gesture-based controls called “5D Touch,” which gives musicians an expanded musical toolkit and more control than your average keyboard.

“Our goal is to expand the bandwidth of interaction between humans and technology,” Roli operations coordinator Danny Siger said. “That sounds lofty, but what really we want to do is enable music creators to be more powerful and more expressive.”

Both the 25 and 49 models of the Rise look just enough like a standard keyboard to let you know you could play it the old-fashioned way, while being unambiguous about the fact that it is something else. Rather than keys, the Rise features a large silicone “keywave” pad with sensors to detect precise movements. (There are bumps in the silicone to emulate standard keys.) In addition to pressing a key, which Roli refers to as striking, players can press and hold a spot on the board, wiggle their fingers on a key horizontally, or slide their finger up and down an individual key to create different variations on individual tones.

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“We created a brand-new musical instrument,” Siger said, “[but] we didn’t necessarily create the way to play it. It’s kind of like moving from an acoustic guitar to an electric guitar. People develop new capabilities and abilities because of that interface change. You didn’t know that a guitar could do what Jimi Hendrix did with a guitar until he did it on the guitar: It’s been amazing to see people create new types of play for this.”

The Rise has custom sound-editing software to specifically edit the distinctive components of its compositions. It is also compatible with a host of sound-editing software platforms and audio workstations. It also supports a mobile emulator app, which allows users to design music remotely and transfer it to the Rise when you’re back in front of it.

The Seaboard RISE is available now.