Review

Seaboard 30 day Update

Well,  I have had the Seaboard for a month now!  After the initial exploration of finding out how it worked, what its range of expression is, etc, I have now settled down to just using it.  At the moment, my focus is mostly on playing it.  I still have not begun crafting unique sounds for it.  Sound design is usually time-consuming and right now, my time is better spent on actually playing it, and getting the necessary work done in Max for the organ console functions I’m building for the DSO.

It is a very expressive keyboard.  I am getting much more even responses from it as my fingers are growing accustomed to the surface. It is now rare to get notes that stick out due to excessive velocity.  My work on the DSO is typically in 2-4 parts, and rarely a solo line.  The Seaboard offers the ability to use poly-pressure to accent voices in a chord, or swell held notes, etc.  I still have much to learn in this regard.

It is clear that the Seaboard works as a very expressive solo instrument.  Can I match Edmund Eagen’s Continuum work?  Not yet, not even close.  The continuum has three dimensions of real-time control, and Eagen is a master sound designer.  His custom Continuum sounds are quite well done.  The reality is that the Seaboard should be capable of equal expression.  The missing third dimension of control can easily be supplied by a pedal input.  As time progresses and these get into more musicians hands, I’m sure we will see increasingly expressive work come out.  For myself, the musicality of Eagen’s work is a target for what I get out of the Seaboard.

I think that the primary benefit of the Seaboard as an alternate controller is in the familiar tonal spacing and organization of the keyboard.  For pure solo expression, I suspect a Continuum is more direct, and the half-size version is more than adequate for soloing.  As tempo increases, per-note expressiveness decreases – one’s finger is just not in contact with the surface as much.  It is little wonder than many of the demonstrations of these controllers feature slower tempos where one can really “work” the notes.  Those are the kinds of pieces that show the unique capabilities of these instruments.

So, after a month, I am mostly in playing mode.  First comes the playing, then maximizing expressiveness, then application to musical context.  This will continue to be a rewarding journey.

New VAX from Infinite Response!

Long-time readers (and occasional Google searcher for VAX77 related sites) know that I have one of the original VAX77’s from Infinite Response.  It has been a wonderful keyboard, and is the most expressive piano-action keyboard I’ve played.  With the high-resolution MIDI it is a joy to play Pianoteq and other pianos on it.  It is the standard keyboard at my desk for composing music.  When gigging out, the folding feature has been nothing short of brilliant – the whole keyboard fits in a suitcase sized rolling case and weighs less than 50lbs – a far cry from a full workstation!

 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1200817609/vax-midi-keyboard-controller

 

 

A bit over a year ago, the folk at Infinite Response stopped updating their website and left it with a note saying  that they were shifting to researching a way to lower the cost and improve the VAX and stopped taking orders.  A few weeks ago, a banner said that there would soon be a Kickstarter, and indeed, it is here!

From the video, it does look like they’ve made a better keyboard, and have a simple, reliable sensing mechanism.  They have also hit a great price point, with 88-note versions available for as low as $700 on the Kickstarter.  They have a special “limited-edition” white that is only available during the Kickstarter window.  When I bought my VAX77, I elected for the fire-engine red model, though apparently, they sold very, very few of them and ultimately only sold black.  I figured that all keyboards (except Nords…) are black, why not get red?

Should I get one?  Probably not.  My VAX77 is in perfect working condition, and is still a joy to play.  I don’t really need another piano-style controller.  If you are in the market for one, you should check this out.  I’m sure if the key action is improved from a VAX77, it will be a very special action to play.  I like what I have much better than any weighted action I’ve played on a workstation or digital piano.

Working with the MIDIFighters

The primary way of modifying the color and behavior of the MIDIfighters is through a small software utility DJ TechTools calls “mfUtiliy”.

How to work with Midifighters

How to work with Midifighters

Using this tool, I can easily set the default “on” and “off” colors for each button, on each of the 4 layers.   The “off” colors are the outside ring, the “on” colors are the button center.  The actual buttons are solid black plastic and do not light up, this is just a GUI thing.

I find the Midifighter 3D very powerful, because I am never more than one button away from any other bank, so it really is 64 buttons in an 8×8″ cube.  There is extensive integration with Traktor DJ software and Ableton, but I ignore all of that.  The mfUtility application sets up the base unit, and then my Max code can change the LED ring to the “on” color for me, and maintain it until I clear the stop or coupler manually.

mfUtility is also used to flash the firmware.  I had a problem with my Midfighter Twister the first time I used the application.  It suggested that an update was needed, so I dutifully pushed the button.  It downloaded new firmware, and erased the flash, and then failed to load the new image onto the device.  This bricked the unit, and it was completely non-responsive to all recovery efforts.  DJ TechTools RMA’d it without question and sent a FedEx envelope for the return, which was a nice touch.  They have been a pleasure to communicate with after the sale and quite helpful.  As with all things computer, if you don’t know what a firmware update is going to buy you, it may not be worth doing!

The unit has a bunch of very flashy animations that can happen when you push a button.  I suppose they would video well for the DJ booth shot videos. For my application, the button animations are simply distracting, so I turned them all off.  I will devise a color scheme to mark buttons for stops, combinations, couplers, MIDI panic, etc.

The guide for using MIDI note-on messages with the MIDIfighter 3D seems to be here, but my unit with current firmware does not match that guide at all.   Contacting DJ Tech Tools, I was told to download the guide from their Spectra.  This guide exactly matches my unit, and allows me to do what I want to do.  This chart from the manual has the correct velocities.

Correct Midifighter MIDI Assignment

Correct Midifighter MIDI Assignment

For me, the basic workflow is to use the mfUtility software to set the default “off” state of the buttons in each layer to the lighter version of a color.  Then I use Max to set the “On” color to the brightest value for that color when I push the button.  In this way, the color-coding of stops will always be apparent whether latched on or off.  This will be important for manually changing registration on the fly.

The mfUtility software is basic and has been a mixed experience for me.  On my OSX 10.9.4 laptop, it works fine with my Midifighter 3D.  On my OSX 10.9.4 Mac Pro, it insists that my Midifighter 3D has old firmware and refuses to work without flashing the device.  After my negative experience with bricking my Twister, I’m not about to let it touch what works fine on my laptop.  Once I get my devices fully setup, I doubt I will have much ongoing need, so this is teething issues, I suspect.

So, I think my summary is that I like the hardware, but the software utility is not inspiring confidence.  Several of the controls don’t seem to do what the manual says (at least until you get the right manual).  That said, they seem like a reliable controller in the physical domain, and I will be using Max to make them what I desire in the MIDI domain.  They very reliably sent and receive MIDI, and really, that is all I need them to do.  I know the firmware is mostly made for DJ’s running DJ software, so there may be subtleties there that I am just not hip to, and reasons why my experience has been what it is.  I suspect that most use these on factory defaults with DJ software.  I just want it to be a box of knobs or a box of buttons as appropriate.

MIDI Knobs and Buttons

Every musician who makes music with a computer has a use for knobs and buttons.  Computer keyboards are made for text entry, not controlling parameters or signaling desired activity.  When one goes looking for knobs and buttons, there are LOTS of choices.  The large MI companies make dizzying amount of cheap plastic controllers with keys, knobs, faders and buttons.   While plentifully cheap, they are often not that durable, and exude “cheap” instead of nice.  The best controls are often on much more expensive “controller keyboards”.  But what if one already has lots of keyboards (I do…), and just needs a compact bank of knobs or buttons?  And I want it to be nice – not $1000 nice, but better than $50 nice.

I don’t know what caused me to think it, but I thought “DJ’s!”  DJ’s need durable controllers – someone must make something for DJ’s to perform on!  I quickly found Livid Instruments – very nice stuff, but almost too feature-rich.  All of their devices did more than I needed (and cost more too).  Then I found DJ Tech Tools, a local San Francisco company.

Now, anyone that knows me would not be likely to say that I am very oriented to the EDM/DJ culture.  I listen to it from time to time, but Kebu is more my thing than Skrillex for sure!  I’ve never used Traktor or Serato, and have only the vaguest notion of how they work.   What I know is gleaned from skimming the DJ Tech Tools site!  But, the fine beat-makers and cool people over there also make some hardware.   They make it durable, simple, and compact.

I bought my “box of knobs” several months ago and use it with my orchestral samples to draw in automation curves for MIDI CC numbers.  Works perfectly, and slots in price-wise at just over $200 – Goldilocks “just right”.  It is a quality unit and feels solid and “all of a piece”.  They call this box the “Midi Fighter Twister“, I believe.  It has three buttons on each side of it in order to integrate with DJ software, but I can’t comment on any of that.  It sits on my desk and is a box of nice MIDI knobs. It is bus powered via USB, and no drivers are required.  Usefully, each knob can also be pushed as a MIDI button.   16 high-quality and good feeling knobs + 16 MIDI buttons in an 8″x8” package easily fits on my desk or perched on a blank spot on a keyboard.  As you rotate a knob, the lights show roughly where the knob is at.  Their mfUtility software can be used to change the color swatch under the knob so you can assign colors to functions, etc.  The knobs are fairly long-throw to get to MIDI 127, so they enable quite fine control over parameters, which is exactly how it should be on a controller.

A box of knobs

A box of knobs

As I’m working on the Digital Synthesis Organ (DSO), I was thinking about how I wanted to change sounds.  I thought about buying organ thumb pistons and doing custom MIDI wiring work, in a custom Lucite “mini-console” but I realized that if I was going to memorize piston numbers, I could just as easily work with a button matrix.  Enter the “MIDI Fighter 3D” – DJ Tech Tool’s box-of-buttons.

Box of Buttons!

Box of Buttons!

This is a powerful controller.  It is just as well-made as its knobby cousin.  Both have a grippy rubber surround and a quality feel.  This one has 16 arcade buttons, each surrounded by an LED ring.  There is software that lets me assign the color of the ring and then a 2nd color to indicate a press of the button.  You can also see in the picture that there are four “bank” buttons on the unit, turning the 16 buttons into 64.

This is perfect for the DSO – The controller is small, light, looks cool, and the color rings will be quite useful to me.  I can have colors represent different functions, sound families, divisional vs. global presets, etc.  The ability to show which buttons are “latched” will be visual indication of which stops are pulled on the DSO.  The black rubber finish looks perfect next to the Seaboard, and there is clean visual integration from a stage perspective.  With two of these doing stop control on my left, and the Abelton push on my right, it should look properly spaceship like.  It will certainly NOT look like a traditional organ console!

The MIDI Fighter 3D is also motion sensitive and senses tilt and roll.  Mine will likely live its life right next to the Seaboard on the DSO stand, but if the promo videos are any indication, apparently DJs can dance around with them, triggering sounds and such.  I demonstrated my DJ dance for my teenage kids, but they were not impressed, so I guess we’ll cancel that part of the first DSO concert and stick to the playing.

DJ Tech Tools ships each unit with one of their right-angle MIDI cables.  They are nice, but only 6′ long, which I’m sure is fine in a DJ booth.  6′ is way too short for running up and down keyboard stands, but if you need short cables, they are quite nice.  Also, they make something called “Chroma Caps” that can replace all the knobs on the knobby unit with colors of one’s choosing.  If you have dedicated knobs to functions, this could be a good “mod” to your setup.

If you need either knobs or buttons for your MIDI rig, I’d highly recommend these controllers.  They are priced fairly and do a great job without having to pay for stuff that you may not need.  If you need more, by all means look at the beautiful Livid Instruments stuff.  It is great to see the industry maturing to the point that we are getting “nice” MIDI controllers and not just “lowest cost” stuff.  For electronic musicians – these are part of our instruments – they should feel good, perform well, and be satisfying like the rest of our rig.  You won’t go wrong with their stuff, and after you buy, you’ll get newsletters keeping you current with what is happening in DJ world.  It is amazing how big the musical world is, and for me that represent a view into a totally different world.

 

Update 1/15/2015 – The folk at DJ TechTools pointed out to me that the Twister has buttons along each side of the unit that can be set up to bank the knobs.  So, just like the 3D, it turns into 64 knobs and 64 buttons!  Very powerful.  I was happy with 16!

Overall Roli Experience notes – 1 week in

After the first week with the Seaboard, I am quite happy with my purchase.

  • The Seaboard is very high quality.  The Seaboard’s exterior is carefully milled aluminum, all the surfaces are well finished, and there are very elegant details like the engraving at the back of the unit. Oh, and it only weighs 15 lbs!  It is very easy to transport!
  • The Seaboard fully delivers the promise of making a lot of expression available in an approachable package for keyboard players. Having the notes laid out in a familiar fashion, with excellent tactile feedback for navigation is perfect for me.  It splits the difference between traditional controllers and unique instruments like the Haaken Continuum or Eigenharp, which inhabit their own space entirely.  This middle ground feels perfect to me as a player.
  • Roli has been very responsive to questions that I’ve had, and I have had quality interaction via Skype with their support team.  They are working hard to make the Seaboard better and are clearly listening to their early users.  They have been a pleasure to do business with from my first demo at Roger Linn’s house to post-sale support.  A quality outfit.

 

Playing the Roli Seaboard Grand

Playing the Roli Seaboard is a very different than a piano, though the layout is similar.  I’ve touched on several of these differences over the past several days.  Today, I want to concentrate on the actual playing technique and how that compares to other keyboard instruments.

In my initial explorations, I had a lot of trouble with note velocity and evenness, especially on anything that seems piano-like in the base sound set.  So, I switched over to one of my sampled pianos and started experimenting with MIDI Monitor running on-screen.

I had two initial issues.  First, my fingers seemed uneven enough, that I could not play scales or running passages smoothly volume-wise.  Pianos samples are VERY velocity sensitive, and what I could play easily on a weighted controller was uneven on the Seaboard.  It is much more sensitive.  I found that my index finger has a tendency to hit harder than any other finger.  Most synth sounds are not especially velocity sensitive, and so it goes unnoticed there.  My largest problem was sudden MIDI 127’s that jumped out of the texture.  I also noticed that I had very little control over where the aftertouch data started, and I was often starting with aftertouch values larger than the note-on event.   I did figure all this out, as you’ll read below.

The second issue has to do with playing semitones.  Semitones are obviously a core part of music – there are two in every major or minor scale.  The Seaboard manual gives a basic overview of finger techniques for vibrato, pitch-bend, etc and includes a special note regarding semitones:

“Currently the Seaboard cannot play two adjacent semitones simultaneously such as C and C#. They will only bend or jump from one to other depending on how they are played and the pitch bend settings in SGS.”

You can, of course, play them sequentially (as in a scale) and you can play minor 9ths to your heart’s content.  You can play major seconds and every other interval, but not minor seconds.  It isn’t that big a deal, since this interval is normally avoided in tonal music.  Where I have tripped up is in scale playing.  Both I and another pianist friend get pitch bent notes when executing fast scales. It affects legato work in scale passages.  To avoid the pitch bend, I have to cleanly articulate the notes.  It can be minimized with practice and correct technique, but it is there, and in this way the Seaboard is quite different from any other keyboard I own.  Legato scales in a pianistic sense are not fully possible in the same way as other controllers.  The Seaboard demands something close to what organists would describe as “ordinary touch” or ‘articulated legato” , which is a slightly detached legato – not staccato or accented – but not slurred together either.

It should be said that the software that comes with the Seaboard allows one to turn pitch bend off and pitch is just as distinct as on a piano – no in-between.  In a studio setting, this would eliminate most issues, I think.  Depending on the patch and the application, the Seaboard can be set up to turn velocity and pitch-bend off completely.  For me, I purchased the Seaboard specifically for live performance, so I won’t be using these modes.  There is no fast way to change this on-the-fly, and to me, the point of the Seaboard is expressivity!  So, mine will operate with pitch bend and velocity on all the time.

So, for me, this has led to understanding how to play the Seaboard as a Seaboard, not as a piano, or an organ.  This is a very important point.  This is a new instrument.  It has similarities to other instruments. But it is not those things.  It is its own thing and needs to be approached as such.  This is reasonable – all the new expressivity comes with new technique to be learned.  With that said, how can one achieve velocity and aftertouch control and come to terms with the semi-tone behavior of this surface?  I have found that the concepts of “Prepared Touch” and “Articulate Legato” are key to controlling the Seaboard.

Prepared touch is when my fingers are lightly in contact with the surface prior to playing.  This eliminates the finger-drop and powerful wrist rotations that are a part of traditional piano technique.  Starting with my fingers resting gently on the keys and not lifting them from the surface, I obtain very controllable middle values from MIDI 15 to about 70.  I can’t really get above 80 from a standing start on the surface.  If I add a tiny finger drop, I am consistently in the 90-110 range, and any hand/arm weight and 127 is easily generated.  This is very different than a piano, where it is normal to use finger, wrist, and arm movement to operate the mechanism.  It is simply too much force for the Seaboard.  There are no moving parts, no hammer to swing, no friction from dozens of wooden parts.

From a practical perspective, the places where I still “slip into piano mode” are around leaps, arpeggios, and finger crossings involving wrist rotation.  Piano technique is designed to put power into these motions, and it is simply not needed on the Seaboard.  I am sure that as I continue to play on the Seaboard, my finger drop will improve so it can seamlessly transition from a fully prepared touch to a small finger-drop, and then seamlessly into a motion that engages the wrist and small amount of forearm.

Articulate legato is the best way I have found to approach the Seaboard from an articulation perspective.  A pianistic legato slurs the notes together, and at speed,   there is a slight overlap of the keys due to the distance they have to travel to produce a note.  That ever-so-slight overlapping will produce a pitch-bend on consecutive semitones when played on the Seaboard, which is generally not what is desired.  The notes need a very slight separation.  This is exactly how pipe organs were played for hundreds of years.  Bach would have considered it “ordinary touch”.  When playing in a large reverberant space, each note had to have its own start and stop for the counterpoint to be intelligible in the wash of reverb.  The Seaboard wants that same articulation.  When done this way, melodic lines are connected and smooth.

If playing the Baroque clavichord was common, I suspect the Seaboard technique would be completely intuitive to most players.  Given that it has been a few hundred years since clavichord playing was anything other than an oddity, we are going to have to use more contemporary analogies.  For me, this appears to be a hybrid of prepared touch and articulate legato, with small bits taken from organ and others from piano.  From organ, keeping the fingers lightly resting on the keys, and not lifting the fingers to play forms the basis of prepared touch – the standard way of playing pp through mf volumes on the Seaboard.  Piano technique adds a small finger drop to generate forte, and the wrist and arm need only the smallest engagement to generate full fortissimo velocities.  For scalar melodic passages, articulate legato is the normal way of shaping note length that always works on the Seaboard.  Where the desire is to pitch-bend freely between notes, add vibrato, etc, the Seaboard is on its own terms, and the surface readily accommodates those with slides, wiggles, etc.  Finger substitution and other techniques to correctly position the hand and wrist all transfer fairly directly.

The summary is that, like all fine instruments, the Seaboard requires subtle control and practice to master.  It is capable of far more expression than I can currently control in a performance-ready context.  That is to be expected given that I don’t have a clavichord in my studio.  I remain of the opinion that it is as capable of expression as a stringed instrument like the cello., only with the added benefits of polyphony, greater compass, ability to change sounds, etc.  When I wish to emulate a piano, I will use my Infinte Response VAX-77 keyboard, which is wonderful in that context.  I am not a big Hammond player, but if I was, I’d use something with a waterfall keyed.  For all else, the Seaboard is capable of doing amazing things, and I look forward to refining and developing a fully expressive and controllable technique on the Roli Seaboard.

Roli Seaboard Day Five

I was curious about exactly what the Seaboard sends for MIDI data, so I launched a MIDI monitor app that I use.

Analyzing data from the MIDI Monitor application, a couple of interesting things pop out.  Here’s the start of a note:

15:11:43.034 From Seaboard GRAND Note On 5 C4 21

15:11:43.035 From Seaboard GRAND Pitch Wheel 5 0

15:11:43.054 From Seaboard GRAND Aftertouch 5 C4 69

15:11:43.061 From Seaboard GRAND Aftertouch 5 C4 71

15:11:43.068 From Seaboard GRAND Aftertouch 5 C4 73

There is the note on, and an immediate Pitch Bend = 0 message, I presume to make sure that the value is zero’d from any previous playing of that note or controller on this channel – smart and necessary.  Aftertouch is sent continuously beginning 20ms after the Note On event, with a 7ms sampling rate.  Pitch Bend seems to be sampled at 13ms.

15:16:58.592 From Seaboard GRAND Pitch Wheel 2 -138

15:16:58.605 From Seaboard GRAND Pitch Wheel 2 -212

15:16:58.618 From Seaboard GRAND Pitch Wheel 2 -234

15:16:58.631 From Seaboard GRAND Pitch Wheel 2 -180

15:16:58.644 From Seaboard GRAND Pitch Wheel 2 -42

While I doubt this is of any practical use, the main thing I’ve learned from playing with this is that the Seaboard is constantly sending data, at a very fast rate, and I don’t have to press very hard to generate meaningful after touch data.  This is nothing like the almost worthless “Channel Pressure” on most synths.  It is immediate, sensitive, and controllable.  There is also no need for hard “pushing” pressure – it is quite subtle, and therefore important to understand so as not to exert undue pressure and tire the arms.  Even my Infinite Response VAX-77, one of the few keyboards in history to generate polyphonic aftertouch has a definite extra “push” needed to access the aftertouch.  The Seaboard doest not.  If you play a note, you are generating aftertouch data seamlessly and easily, with far more control.

Roli Seaboard Day Four

I realized that the “pitch centers” I mentioned yesterday act much the same as “frets” on a guitar. The reality is that they are larger and easier to hit than the fingerings for a violin, for example.  They are much smaller than the total area of a white key on the piano, but not strange for other instruments.

I regularly find my fingers between the black keys – much more so than on a piano.

I like the secure feeling of the space between the black and white keys for playing the white keys with fingers 2-5.  My thumb easily rests on the white key “ridge” that is at the bottom of the keyboard.

I am not finding myself using the “extra” black key that lives between the white key ridges, but it works great for sliding into that half-step.  I am certain that with time this will be musically useful.  This is one of those extra things that just didn’t exist until the Seaboard came along.

I like touching it.  It feels good under fingers. It is a surface that encourages me to play delicately, but yet responds to aggressive input.  I naturally gravitate toward a prepared touch, effortless technique with the Seaboard that feels good. I will turn my attention to the software and studio integration points shortly, but it must be said that the keyboard works ergonomically better than any I have ever owned.  It is enough like a piano that those of us with that orientation can easily adapt, and yet, it is different in new ways that matter tremendously to the musician desirous of maximum expressive potential.

Roli Seaboard Grand – Day Three

Another significant benefit compared to an acoustic piano is that the effort to make a sound does not change from front to back of the keybed.  A piano or synth keyed is hinged or balanced and some point behind the playing surface.  In a grand, this is a ways off, giving lots of leverage and control.  On  a cheap mini-synth, the hinge is right past the rear edge of the key.  As the leverage decreases close to the back edge of the key, it is harder and harder to play.

The Seaboard is not like this.  There is no hinge, only a continuous and uniform playing surface.  It is as easy to play at the top, bottom, or anywhere in between.  This makes hand positions that would simply not work on a fixed keyboard easy.  The Seaboard’s surface is far more ergonomic in this regard.  The natural attitude of the hand always works, and no compensation has to be made for rigid keys that have varying leverage across their length.

There are also a lot of subtle things that one notices after spending time with the instrument.  There is  an easily-felt “pocket” where the raised edge of the “white key” traditions into the depression between the black keys.  It doesn’t look flat in the picture, but feels flat to the touch, and is identified as the intersection of three points.  This is an easy aim point, and very secure from a pitch perspective.  Similarly, on the white keys that are at the “edges” of a group of black keys, there is a small ridge that runs alongside the black key.  This is the pitch center for that white key, and is easily felt.

IMG_0562

Seaboard Touch Points

 

 

The Seaboard navigates well by feel.  The surface feels good and the pitch centers fall to finger well.  This is an ideal keyboard to work on prepared-touch methods.

i have begun to work out how to rotate correctly for arpeggio work without changing the pressure on the thumb or pivot finger.  It seemed that it didn’t work at first, but it is definitely possible to maintain pitch and volume while moving about.

Roli Seaboard Grand – Day Two

I am starting to find evenness when moving around.  Initially, I would get suddenly louder sounds when moving around.  The piano does not care if you push unevenly or apply unnecessary force.  The Seaboard responds to all this.  It is a subtle instrument, and demands careful attention to detail when playing multiple voices.  Simple two-part moving lines can be beautiful and expressive.

I think that Bach’s Solo Cello works would be excellent expressive practice for the LH.

It is possible to maintain much better wrist position than with an acoustic piano.  By using the whole playing surface, the hand and fingers can naturally fall where ever they need to be without requiring much forearm adjustment.  It is so much easier and more accurate to play between the black keys, and this transforms the ease of fingering many things.

Finger substitution can be done on a single key, even while maintaining an expressive swell.

Playing LH bass is fun and natural.  It feels right, not flat like a piano, but lively like playing a bass or a guitar.  This is a big change.  The notes respond and have variation without feeling “machine-gun” similar.

The key surface feels nice.  It has a slight texture that you can barely feel, but yet it is as easy to slide as to stay exactly in one position.

It is easiest to see the playing surface with side-light rather than overhead light.  Flat overhead light removes the shadows from the surface and makes it hard to see what is what.  Side-light cast shadows and brings the surface texture out.

Playing octaves can be very fast.  There is not as much motion needed to get up and down from the black keys, and you can play the very front of the black keys.  This makes it into one motion, without the forward-and-back feeling of playing an acoustic piano.  So far, I am getting best results by targeting the space right between the black keys – it is easier than targeting the ridge of the white keys.

The keyboard is getting easer and easier to navigate by feel.

I think the key for patches is to go for expressivity first and sheer number as a very secondary concern.  It is capable of a lot of variation with good programming and that is clearly something to take advantage of.

The folks at Roli have done us all a great service by not explaining the Seaboard fully.  There is so much to explore and figure out!  It is a pleasure to just spend time with it, exploring, tweaking, playing, and noticing what else could be done with it.

I am very pleased with the surface, but the satisfaction goes deeper than “I like it” or “it is cool” to “this is meaningful.  It makes something possible that was missing.”  It is a profound instrument and a significant change for synthesis.  This is the surface that keyboard synthesizers need to “come alive”.  Simple velocity sensitivity with channel aftertouch and a mod wheel are simply inadequate as performance tools now that this is available.

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