The idea of a musical keyboard dates back to antiquity, before being finessed throughout the Middle Ages through the invention and development of the organ. The percussive pianoforte, invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in the early 18th century, took its modern form in the 1880s, when the German-American manufacturer Steinway introduced the now-familiar 88-note keyboard. And that was effectively that, with the form factor staying the same into the modern era, even if shapes, sizes, and mechanisms were sometimes switched around.  

Roli Seaboard Rise 2 electric keyboard

A musician playing an analogue instrument can convey limitless levels of expression through their technique. In comparison, even the most sophisticated digital keyboard can only replicate the velocity of each keystroke.

In 2009, the philosopher-turned-designer Roland Lamb invented the Seaboard. Lamb was studying at the RCA at the time, and his prototypes evolved into the Seaboard Rise, manufactured by his company Roli and introduced in 2015.

Roli Seaboard Rise 2 electric keyboard

Lamb, a keen jazz pianist, translated the traditional piano keyboard into a truly new instrument through a combination of material innovations and additional sensors. Shaped from a continuous silicone surface, each ‘note’ on the Seaboard Rise is not simply played, but capable of being manipulated in real time, with pitch, volume, and timbre coming to life under your fingertips.

The Seaboard Rise offered a quiet revolution in electronic music. Musicians as varied as Drake and Ed Sheeran have recorded with it, and the design won an IF Design Gold award in 2016, while Lamb received the 2014 Swarovski Emerging Talent award at the 2014 London Design Medals.

Roli Seaboard Rise 2 electric keyboard held by musician Will.i.am
Will.i.am is one of the Seaboard’s biggest advocates

Now Roli has launched Seaboard Rise 2, which takes the original concept to another level with new technology, connectivity, and materials. The Rise 2 features a re-engineered playing surface, with a more tactile material that’s easier to navigate thanks to raised ‘frets’ on each key.

The keyboard’s chassis is now platinum-blue aluminium, giving the Rise 2 more stage presence than its predecessor, and there’s much better compatibility thanks to USB-C and a dedicated MIDI Port. 

Seaboard Rise 2 by ROLI digital keyboard

The original Seaboard used MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) to bring expressionist playing to every note, and this important musical standard has now been officially adopted worldwide, meaning more and more software will be able to accommodate it. Right now, the best software synthesiser for the job is Roli’s own Equator2, which comes bundled with the keyboard.

‘Rise 2 is easier to play, more durable and a more beautiful, expressive experience than ever before,’ Lamb says. ‘After ten years of development, it marks the transition of the Seaboard and expressive electronic instruments from a fledgling, peripheral project to an increasingly central part of how digital music is made. We’re deeply excited for the Seaboard community to continue to grow and thrive.’ §