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.
As I continue to learn how to play the Seaboard, the ability to play the black-key-notes in-between the white keys continues to provide interesting results. I notice the possibilities especially when playing consecutive thirds. In a key like E with plenty of black key notes, the hand hardly has to move. There is no need to move up and down off the black keys, and the simple shift of a finger or thumb can grab the next note.
So far, I have had no trouble switching back and forth between a regular piano keyboard and the Seaboard. On the Seaboard, I am approaching it as a new instrument with its own technique, and so, I am making maximum use of the new black key location. My goal is a leas-motion, effortless technique, and the Seaboard has new possibilities in this regard.
As I continue playing the Seaboard, I’m sure that I will continue to uncover interesting possibilities.
I’ve briefly mentioned it in context of the DSO project I am working on, but the Seaboard (and the rest of the PMC’s) all have one performance characteristic in common. It is possible to obtain a very expressive vibratro by rocking side-to-side on a note like one would on a guitar or violin. Keyboard stands currently on the market have one thing in common. They were designed to support a heavy keyboard in which the playing force is strictly vertical. When you put the Seaboard or one of the PMC’s on a solid desk, all is well. My main studio desk is quite heavy and built to support a lot of weight and gear.
When I put the Seaboard on a A-frame stand, slides and vibrato cause it to shake quite a lot. Enough that I’m sure it is not long-term sustainable. You can tell it wasn’t made to work this way. I suspect that table-style stands will do better – especially any with cross-bracing. I think I have an X-stand around here somewhere that I can try, but I really don’t prefer them. My main stand for live playing is a K&M “Spider Pro”. It looks great on stage and has a minimal footprint, but still has room for pedals. So, I got that out to see what happens with the Seaboard as a 2nd tier.
The arms of the stand are not cross-braced against lateral loading, so the lower tier definitely wiggles a bit when doing vibrato. Slides don’t seem to disturb it much. It isn’t enough that I’m at all concerned about my lower board falling off or damaging the stand. The force travels down the vertical riser and causes the lower board to vibrate sympathetically. It would not inhibit playing chords on the lower while soloing on the Seaboard, but you do feel it moving. Physics at work. I think I’m set for the playing that I would do in this manner. I like this stand because it is TALL – tall enough for a 6’6″ guy to stand comfortably. X-stands are LOW and don’t work for me, so I’m happy this will suffice.
The DSO will get a custom stand, and so I’m not thinking about it there. In that application the stand will be overbuilt with the goal of a stable, motion-free platform like the Haken Continuum stand. Portability will suffer compared to this K&M stand.
It is interesting to me that the whole “keyboard stand” industry has only had to think about vertical loads, and now there is a whole crop of devices that present vertical and lateral loads. Over the next several years, if these controllers take off, we’ll see a revamp of what a keyboard stand needs to do – particularly 2nd tiers where many keyboard players would put a PMC. Not everyone will choose one as their primary instrument, but want them as an alternate or expressive solo board. For these uses, the typical flimsy 2nd-tier brackets are not going to work well, and people will not want their expensive weighted controllers rocking about on lightweight aluminum stands. We’ll probably see cross-bracing manually added to stands, and then the manufacturers will get involved in creating better finished solutions.
Interestingly, this is an area that early users who commit to a PMC as their primary instrument will likely find great solutions in one of the table-style stands readily available for musicians and DJs. The dual use case is a bit more complex.
Here’s my first video on the Roli Seaboard. My goal was to explain the surface from the perspective of a keyboard player trained on more traditional instruments, and give my reaction to the surface having played it for close to two weeks.
It is still early days for me with this instrument, and I expect my skill and perspective to continue to develop as the year progresses. Every day I get new insight into what is possible with the instrument, and I have yet to begun to seriously explore crafting sounds for it.
The journey promises to be rich and rewarding. Just in working on some simple 4-part chorale playing, the fingering possibilities are immediately interesting. Having the ability to play the black keys “in-between” the white keys is transformative for playing consecutive thirds and other intervals – hand motion can be greatly reduced. The Seaboard actually makes a more efficient technique possible, not only in terms of effort, but in terms of less motion. Virtuosity on the Seaboard will be much further down the road, but there is an “effortless” technique peeking out from beneath the sleek exterior that I am anxious to develop.