Aside from going digital in the late ‘70s and then the rise of cheap electronic Casio keyboards in the ‘80s (blasting Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up in demo mode) the piano went mostly unchanged until 2013 when Roli first revealed its squishy-keyed Seaboard Rise. Nine years later, Roli is introducing version 2 that addresses some of the challenges of playing the unique instrument.
For those who’ve never had a chance to try the Seaboard Rise in person, describing what its keyboard feels like under finger isn’t easy. Instead of individual keys to press, players are presented with a solid panel of squishy rubber featuring subtle hills and valleys that can be pressed to play notes. But where the Seaboard Rise distinguished itself from other electronic keyboards is that the playing surface reacted to gestures, so the movements of fingers, either up and down each key, sliding from one to the next, or even wiggling back and forth (vibrato), produced unique sounds and effects and allowed for performances that simply weren’t possible with a piano or a synth.
Unlike a piano or a synth, however, the keys on the Seaboard Rise are less defined, which can prove challenging for musicians used to tickling the ivories. For the Seaboard Rise 2, Roli has upgraded the instrument’s Keywave playing surface with what it calls “precision frets” which are thin raised ridges, like what you’d find along the neck of a guitar, which are designed to help performers get a better feel of where their fingers are on a key, even when they’re not looking directly down at them, and to help ensure a finger doesn’t accidentally slip off one of the raised keys.
Other upgrades on the new Seaboard Rise 2 include an upgraded software bundle with Equator2, Ableton Live Lite, as well as Roli Studio, and a “burnished platinum blue aluminum chassis” designed to improve the instrument’s durability and premium appearance, as well as the addition of a more modern USB-C port which can be used for power as well as MIDI connectivity.
The Seaboard Rise 2 is available for pre-order starting today through Roli’s website for $1,400, although the company warns the instrument will have limited availability throughout 2022, presumably because of the ongoing supply chain issues that have been affecting the production of consumer electronics.