Even the brilliant mind of Beethoven never could’ve imagined the Seaboard Grand. This futuristic-looking electronic keyboard replaces the piano or keyboard’s traditional keys with continuous-touch “keywaves” that let musicians select an infinite number of absolute pitches and manipulate them in a dizzying number of ways. Design company Roli created the Grand, which has been explained as a ‘fretless piano.’
“Sound on a piano is very pixelated, in separate discrete elements, and if you tie all those together it can feel continuous,” said creator Roland Lamb to Wired. “But other instruments, like a violin, are high resolution, because the sound is continuous and changing.”
The Grand, which uses a soft-touch, pressure-sensitive interface, is played like a piano. Because of its infinite pitches, the instrument has the ability to vibrate, bend and modulate tones just by using the keys themselves. Move your finger left on a key? It’ll ‘bend’ downwards. Move it right? The pitch will rise. The Seaboard also has the ability to sound like other instruments.
At the core of the Seaboard Grand is the company’s proprietary sensor platform called the Sea Interface. 40 engineers from Lamb’s company, Roli, have constructed this platform, a process which has been particularly difficult because the sensors lay on an undulating — instead of flat — surface. As a result, it’s certainly not cheap. Three different versions are available, the 37-keywave Seaboard Grand Studio is $2,000, the 61-keywave Grand Stage, $3,000, and the brand-new 88-keywave Grand Limited First Edition will cost you a whopping $8,888 (nothing arbitrary about that price), though all still fall well short of what it would take to purchase even a used Steinway Grand piano.
Yet, legendary Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer (and Jamie Cullum, who shot a promotional video, above, for it) believe the Grand will unleash musicians’ creativity in fresh new ways. “It behaves much more the way you imagine as a human being you would want to interact with your notes,” said Zimmer to CNN. “It doesn’t have that stiff ‘plunky’ thing that a piano has. It automatically has a sort of sensuality to it… Look, if Debussy or Ravel had had one of these I think their music would have been X-rated.”