Is The Seaboard Grand The Future Of Keyboards?


This NPR interview features Roland Lamb, the creator of the new ROLI Seaboard Grand musical instrument.

Lamb describes the Seaboard as “a futuristic version of the piano.”

Instead of individual keys, there are two rows of rounded bumps that look like hot dogs sliced in half, made of grey silicone. The Seaboard’s rubbery surface lets you control the intensity of each individual note.

“You can press harder or softer to control the volume, to simulate the volume swell of a stringed instrument,” notes Roli employee Heen-Wah Wai.

The interview offers Lamb’s perspective on why new keyboard instruments are necessary:

For now, instruments like the Seaboard Grand are relatively expensive options, and will probably find only a niche audience, as a result.

But the availability of devices like the Seaboard Grand highlight the limitations of standard synth controllers. Why control state-of-the-art synths with 600 year-old keyboard designs?

Check out the interview and let us know what you think!

49 thoughts on “Is The Seaboard Grand The Future Of Keyboards?

  1. sometimes “new” things aren’t all they are cracked up to be…

    look at the shamwow… ever see or hear of it lately?

    they come and go, only the true ones have staying power…

    or they find a way to ride 3rd party vendors…

    1. Point taken, but hahaha, the Sham-Wow! 🙂

      You do realize that product is just a clever way to TV market a normal chamois cloth (“shammy”) I can remember my dad drying the family car with in the 1970s, right?

  2. A lovely dream-controller, but it raises two simple questions: How will it facilitate playing traditional music? If used strictly in the electronic realm, how will you bridge the gap between your physical playing and the resulting sound, such that an average audience will get the point of the piece? In both cases, the esoteric nature of the Seaboard Grand will be its one real obstacle. I use two smaller keyboard controllers and like them, so I’m not opposed to the idea. I’m just wondering how enough people could take this up to make a meaningful impact on the idea of alternate instrumentation.

  3. There is no “future of keyboards”; the piano keyboard is an instrument unto itself. Just as the Eigenharp is not a replacement for a Saxophone MIDI controller (which is a thing that exists, much to my surprise), the Seaboard is not a replacement for a MIDI keyboard. What it is is new and exciting way of interacting with MIDI, something that is most welcome; to call it a replacement for a keyboard does a disservice to both.

    PS (hopefully I’m not out of line here): I’ve noticed a number of inflammatory “link-bait” articles like this one of late (IE the “film composer claims synthesizers are killing music”, “Sasha says EDM is for douchebags”, articles, et al). It would be nice to see Synthtopia continue to focus on synthesizers and not providing stimulus for comment-section arguments.

  4. yeah, and while we’re at it i’m sure this “revolutionary tech” will cost an arm
    and a leg. Have you seen many Continuums or Eigenharps live? I doubt it because they cost so damnably much that only some of the already-on-the-payroll gigging/working composers or musicians can afford them. Or if you happen to have an insanely rich parents who want to support your musicianship. No regular musician can ever afford these things if they don’t save for many years, take a loan or rob someone. Simply put it’s just too expensive for what it might do (it’s rare to even have a firsthand experience about any of these instruments) I can appreciate the effort and the thought but for now i’ll just wait.

    1. I was about to post almost the same thing until I saw your comment… Lol

      Yup… Those controllers you mentioned are awesome. I wish I had access to a Haaken Board…

      The price is just too high to be adopted by the masses. Also, those things will never be recognized as “true instruments” by the establishment until there are enough accomplished players at the academic level to standardize the regimental and compositional aspects of them.

      Hey… It took classical composers a long time to make the modern subtractive synthesizer only partially accepted by academia as a thing…

      Until someone makes something similar at competitive price and is used by “respected” musicians and composers, there is no hope of dethroning the keyboard.

      1. Why do you say things that obviously you know nothing about?
        The so called “Academia” and modern classical composers used electronic sound synthesis even before a synthesizer was a synthesizer, when it was just a function generator that was used for measuring purposes.. check out the history of electronic music and focus on composers such as Stockhausen and Koening (you might learn something).
        And I am talking about the 50’s now yes?
        Pop music \ culture only discovered the “subtractive synth” after the success of the “Switched-On Bach” album (and yet again – classical music!)…

        Just for your general knowledge – since 1986 the Royal Conservatoire of the Hague (a big name in the modern classical music world) has a Sonology department that teaches composition by highly advanced electronic means.

        1. Those artists/composers were on the fringe at the time. Re-read my comment, and don’t assume I know nothing of early electronic music.

          1. I re-read your comment and I still think that your statement –

            “Hey… It took classical composers a long time to make the modern subtractive synthesizer only partially accepted by academia as a thing…”

            – comes from lack of knowledge.
            I am not trying to antagonize you
            I just corrected you.

            BTW subtractive synthesis is already a thing from the past…. especially in the “Academia”.
            Check out:
            – Wave-field synthesis
            – Stochastic synthesis
            – Spectral modeling synthesis

        2. actually sonology was the first computer music department in Europe,
          that is what it was known for.
          koenig did most of his modular synth pieces in cologne if i am not mistaken….
          They still use the modular synths though…

          1. It is true that the the Theremin was invented in the 20’s but composers at the time composed for it as it were another “classical” instrument.

      2. I remember working minimum wage and eating ramen for a year to afford my first synth.

        I know gigging guitarists that don’t make a lot but paid $4000 for a custom hand made guitar, and it was worth it.

        There are also violinists, middle class folks, who pay $30,000 for a half-decent antique violin, and thousands for a bow.

        Lots of regular folks play bassoons, an OK starter one might run $5000 used.

        Instruments like bassoons are hand made in small lots.

        Same as the Continuum, and Eigenharp, which are considerably more complicated, yet still are individually hand made. And cost less.

        People complain because they simply do not understand that if you are not making 50,000 or more of something electronic in an asian slave factory, but instead are making them by hand, it is going to cost a lot, and is going to take far greater skill than making something like a world class violin.

        The whiners and complainers can’t be stopped though. It’s what they do. They certainly don’t spend their time writing compelling music.

  5. XYZ MIDI / OSC controllers are the future! Especially ones that are a bit cheaper (soundplane) and offer poly after touch (qunexus).

  6. Just like the QWERTY keyboard and the musical keyboard, some things are here to stay. They may not be the best way to control things, but they are the way of the masses. I can’t see piano teachers being replaced with Seaboard teachers.

    1. Lol! 😀

      well, if a keyboardist had a few spherical controllers, he could
      say he had some balls. You know… to help with the guitar envy!

  7. the difference between guitarist and keyboard players is that guitarist are always trying to upgrade their skills while keyboard players are always trying to upgrade some tech.

    1. That’s quite a comical statement, the term ‘cock rock’ is used to describe guitar bands.
      If upgrading skills, means sounding like, Jeff Beck, Steve Vai etc then that is a laugh.
      There is some bizzare and utter unmusical shite that comes out of such ‘artists’ no wonder
      millions of us across the globe , have been drawn to crude raw electronic music, from Detroit,
      Chicago,Germany,Manchester etc
      keep music fucked up!!

  8. “Why control state-of-the-art synths with 600 year-old keyboard designs?”
    I don’t know. Why swing a wooden or aluminum stick at a baseball? Why not abandon that old paradigm and have baseball batters fire baseballs out of an air cannon? It would be more accurate and I’m sure more exciting. Or how about using a big elastic shield instead of a bat that bounces the ball back toward the field? Anything but that old bat. Why play state-of-the-art baseball with 150-year-old bat designs?
    And the biggest and most obvious complaint voiced by so many others, how can this be the next big thing if only 2-3% of musicians can afford it, in an age when simple aftertouch is left off most MIDI keyboards in order to keep them within a price range that the other 98% can appreciate?

  9. Why control state-of-the-art synths with 600 year-old keyboard designs?
    The midi control I use is fairly upto date and really has no resemblance to a six hundred year old piano. That line is comical and basically infers says we are all a bit stupid and missing this great gear . Belongs with the Eigenharp, the tenori etc.

  10. this is likely to be priced outside the bracket of 99% of musicians, it will fail to catch on I can absolutely guarantee it. It will be a niche product, if it was going to go mass market the idea would have probably been bought out by one of the BIGS and turned into something marketable / affordable already. FAIL.

    1. The pricing is up on the website… (Click on the pre order button to see)

      $1999 for the 37 key version

      $2999 for the 61 key version

      $8888.88 for the 88 key version (limited to a 88 production run)

  11. I have seen a couple demos of it and to even call it a keyboard is an insult to pianists like myself. It is a controller that might have some use with dedicated sounds that respond properly. Other than that they might sell one or two. What a joke.

  12. You can’t really “take the piano to its limit” as it’s not a hardware you can really tweak in that sense – sure the harpsichord evolved into the piano and that evolved into the melotron, but only the sound changed not the technical way music was composed or played. A chord was played the same on all three and sounded harmonically the same. So really the imagination of the musician is the key here how and to what end an instrument is used. Letting your cat walk all over the piano keys can be considered music as well and using the instrument differently. But you’re not taking the instrument to its limit, only to your imagination’s. Its limit was taken to when you pressed down either hard or soft one key and held down the sustain or staccato pedal. A game changer would be if you could have both the hard and soft sound at the same time. as well as a different way to press the key to get that sound. Maybe a bad example but I’m just brainstorming.

  13. Right, because no synth or MIDI controller prior to this thing could bend notes. Yay. And no synth or MIDI controller prior to this thing is able to use finger pressure as volume control. Fail.

  14. On a more general note, I like technology as much as the next musician, but what’s the deal with trying to make every instrument sound like every other instrument? “Keyboards” that sound like upright basses and electric guitars, guitars that can trigger sweeping orchestral pads, sampling the human voice and tweaking it until it sounds like a synthesizer, etc.

  15. At 2-3K, i personally see this entirely within the resonable price range for a musical instrument. Its only expensive if you want to compare it to the latest Novation plastic controller thingy, which is a totally unfair comparason. I own a MalletKat, which sells for even more than this. Im not rich. My parents didnt help. I work for a living, saved up for almost a year, and bought the thing new with no credit, costing well more than i make in a month. Musical instuments are expensive, but somehow regular old musicians find a means to own them all the time.

  16. This looks like it’d be really fun to play a certain type of sound with it. It’s not meant to replace a piano style keyboard but to be an additional controller for someone who wants finger pressure etc to dynamically control a sound. Keyboards have aftertouch but I’ve never used a keyboard with aftertouch that got even close to what it’s like to push+pluck a string and using vibrato with the other hand while slightly muting another string, etc. Personally, I really like my keyboard controllers super vanilla and even go as far as to turn off legato so I can get a super choppy rhythmic playing style on regular keys and then use things like the archangel or animoog when i want more expressive type playing as they don’t even have keys to push but it’s more of a sliding type feel. This is why this will never replace the piano keyboard. It doesn’t feel like a piano keyboard and shouldn’t be compared to one. It’s like saying electric guitars and delay pedals make acoustic guitars obsolete.

  17. What’s the difference between this and a Haken Continuum, also a XYZ touch/pressure sensitive controller, and a lot less expensive for the 88 key version?

  18. When $2999 can buy you a hefty music computer with a few plugs or a higher-end keyboard workstation, the cost-benefit ratio doesn’t hold up well. My acid test, which has yet to be passed, is Can it shred? Can you name an Eigenharp soloist so hot, they’re defining the instrument? Any Continuum players who have bonded with the thing and given it a major voice? Where’s the Eigen-person to do for that instrument what Adrian Belew did for Roland guitar synths?

    I have no doubt that there is a tidy handful of people who can play these things in an evocative manner. I’ve seen a few who were impressive. However, the drop-off point is that so many are aching for an imagined “next level of expression” when too few make full use of what’s already available. I’m not stubbornly opposed to these ideas. I just find them a bit dubious when they can come across as a search for novelty more than a tool for addressing a real musical need. You shouldn’t necessarily play “Crimson and Clover” in 12-tone tuning just because your new synth will do that. 😛

  19. It’s simple. You save, buy a Haken fingerboard, then practice your arse off for 3-4 years to play with correct intonation/pitch. then you gig.
    Time is the problem, It’s not a quick easy thing to learn a new instrument .

  20. Quite a lot of hate being thrown around. I agree it may not be the future of keyboards, too expensive, limited functionality with software/hardware etc. However i like to think in time someone will play with one and say “hey thats a cool expressive way of controlling sound!” Then maybe build a small x/y pad using similar materials. These products aren’t the incredible leap forward in music, they are the little steps that help to evolve the way we interact with all the cool toys we buy. Sure, you and I the average joe may never own one, but people who really like it may buy one. They will probably love it too. Then turn out some cool music.

    I specifically aim this little rant at Neptune Yer Guitar. It’s not about trying to make keyboards sound like other instruments. Its about changing the way you interact with them to get a different result that works best for the sound designer.

    “Right, because no synth or MIDI controller prior to this thing could bend notes. Yay. And no synth or MIDI controller prior to this thing is able to use finger pressure as volume control. Fail.” – Neptune Yer Guitar

    Right and i guess just because a sine wave can be generated on a PC we should throw away all our synths . Better yet lets standardise all synths to sound like Moogs. Excuse my sarcasm i do not mean to offend but i believe your looking at new technology the wrong way or that you are conveying your opinion the wrong way. Even though other controllers have similar functions, it doesn’t diminish the worth of this particular keyboard. It looks like something i would like to touch and play with. Honestly i think thats kinda cool and will look forward to how this style of keyboard performs and evolves. If it is terrible then ‘oh well’ and maybe someone will improve it in the future.

    TL;DR – Be more optimistic about new technology and focus less on the ‘bad points’ i.e. price, functionality etc. and more so on the cool new ideas being implemented into the technology (like new ways of expression and adding the human touch to sound.)

  21. I wrote fail at the end because of the headline: “Is The Seaboard Grand The Future Of Keyboards?” Also, in the NPR piece, the guy they are interviewing is practically gushing at the mouth because he can bend notes and because the volume of the keys responds to the amount of pressure he issues. That’s suppose to be the “future of keyboards”?

    I’m sure it’s a nice instrument and I would gladly utilize one if it was asked of me in a session. I was simply commenting on the NPR piece and the self-importance of the Seaboard’s creator. Do my comments make sense now?

    As for making instruments sound like other instruments, which has held up better over time, Hendrix on “Band Of Gypsys” utilizing only three pedals (wah, octavia and uni-vibe) or the countless recordings of guitar virtuosos in the 80’s making their guitar sound like simulated flute, simulated synth and simulated space-sitar? (I’m referring to people like Holdsworth, DiMeola and Metheney’s recording featuring the Roland guitar synth.) Not even the professional musicians or “musos” that I know listen to ANY of the latter.

    I rest my case.

  22. Plenty of musicians I know listen to Holdsworth, Di Meola, and Metheny.

    Are you crazy? They are all much more musical and incredible than Hendrix. He’s held up better because his music is better able to be digested by the masses.

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