ROLI is a London-based music technology company known for its high tech musical instruments, particularly the Seaboard. It was founded by American-born musician and entrepreneur Roland Lamb in 2009. Its instruments have been used by musicians including Grimes, A. R. Rahman, and Hans Zimmer.
Pianist Roland Lamb founded ROLI in 2009 while a graduate student at London's Royal College of Art. His first prototype of the Seaboard was a response to the design limitations of the piano keyboard as a mechanical interface. As a jazz pianist, he wanted to create on a piano keyboard the effects of pitch and timbre that are often associated with string and brass instruments. His concept of the pliable, continuous "keywave surface" was the technological foundation of the Seaboard and the firm's related instruments.
The company is based in Dalston, London, with offices also in New York and Los Angeles. It sells its products in over 40 countries worldwide. It has acquired the following companies: JUCE, FXpansion, and Blend.
ROLI's first instrument, the ROLI Seaboard, is a synthesizer controller based on the piano keyboard. The instrument has a continuous surface of pliable silicone rather than the discrete keys of a piano. This lets a musician play "in between" the keys of a standard piano. A player can bend the pitch of a note by making vibrato-like sideways movements, deepen a sound by pressing into the surface, and in other ways manipulate sound through touch.
The instrument is available in two versions: The Seaboard GRAND is a premium synthesizer with a pliable, compliant, touch-sensitive "keywave surface" and an embedded sound engine" It appeared in the Oscar-winning film "La La Land." The Seaboard Rise is a USB and Bluetooth powered MIDI controller with a similar keyboard, but smaller in size and with additional functions.
In 2016, Roli launched a modular system called BLOCKS. The lineup currently consists of two playing surfaces and three control blocks. The first playing surface, the Lightpad Block, was a square device that combined a Seaboard-like surface with a grid of LEDs, allowing the user to switch between various pad layouts. A revised version, the Lightpad M, was released in 2017 with improvements having been made to the device's pressure sensitivity. Alongside the Lightpad M, Roli also offers a Seaboard Block, which is a miniaturized 24 key version of the Rise. Connections between Blocks are made through magnetic ports that transfer both power and MIDI data between them, while a connection to a computer or mobile device takes the form of Bluetooth or USB.
The newest member of the blocks modular system is called LUMI, which was funded during a Kickstarter campaign in 2019. Roli's target of £100,000 was reached within under two hours. While the LUMI does not have a pliable, continuous surface like the other blocks playing surfaces, it does have 24 keys similar to a standard piano keyboard, with each of them RGB illuminated.
The company created the "Noise" app and the Equator software synthesizer. It has also acquired a number of companies including the virtual instruments maker FXpansion and the social music-sharing platform Blend. Roli held the rights to the C++ audio coding framework JUCE from 2014, but sold them to iLok software owner PACE in 2020.
NOISE is a music-making app for iOS and Android devices and is also the software system for "Roli Blocks"
Equator is a software synthesizer for MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) and the go-to sound engine for the "Seaboard Grand", "Seaboard Rise" And "ROLI Blocks" on a desktop computer. It works on both Mac OS and Windows. Additional expressive sounds and modulation tools can be loaded into the software synthesizer via the internet.
In 2014 the ROLI Seaboard GRAND was awarded with the 'Design of the Year' award from the Design Museum of London, and the Swarovski Emerging Talent Medal presented at the Celebration of Design Awards at the London Design Festival.
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