Roli Song­maker kit

TechLife Australia - - WELCOME - [ HARRY DOMANSKI ]

WHILE ROLI FIRST in­tro­duced it­self to the world with the se­ri­ously premium Se­aboard con­troller, the launch of its more af­ford­able Blocks range aims to bring its unique mul­ti­di­men­sional flavour of mu­sic con­trol to the masses. The Song­maker Kit com­bines three of the mod­u­lar, wire­less block con­trollers – the Se­aboard, Loop, and Light­pad M Block – along­side a travel case for the trio and a host of mu­sic soft­ware to get you go­ing. This in­cludes the full ver­sion of the com­pany’s flag­ship Equa­tor soft­ware syn­the­siser, which was ex­plic­itly de­signed for the Se­aboard’s 5D con­trol scheme, along with the light­weight Player ver­sions of Strobe2 and Cypher2 soft-synths from part­ner com­pany FX-Pan­sion. When put along­side the other Lite or trial ver­sions of bun­dled soft­ware, the Song­maker Kit is tremen­dous value for those start­ing out with noth­ing in the way of mu­sic-mak­ing gear, but mu­si­cians with ex­ist­ing hard­ware and soft­ware might find that there’s some over­lap.

For those un­fa­mil­iar, the essence of Roli’s prod­ucts is to of­fer hard­ware that con­trols soft­ware in­stru­ments via MIDI, but with con­sid­er­ably greater de­grees of ex­pres­siv­ity when com­pared with more cus­tom­ary con­trollers. For the Se­aboard block, this means you’ll have a squishy sil­i­con ver­sion of an oth­er­wise-fa­mil­iar key­board, al­low­ing you to play notes and con­trol fur­ther pa­ram­e­ters of the soft­ware in­stru­ment via five pres­sure- sen­si­tive ges­tures – strike, press, glide, slide, and lift. This will al­ter your sound de­pend­ing on how hard you ini­tially hit the key, how much you press it down af­ter­wards, how much you slide your fin­ger up or down the key, and how quickly you pull your fin­ger off. You can also seam­lessly glide be­tween notes to smoothly al­ter their pitch or ap­ply a vi­brato ef­fect. The Light­pad is a sim­i­larly seam­less take on the oth­er­wise rigid con­ven­tion of beat pads, al­though the de­grees of ex­pres­siv­ity are some­what re­duced and less use­ful.

While the in­ten­tion of this kit is to get peo­ple up and run­ning from scratch, the con­nec­tiv­ity and setup is a lit­tle on the con­vo­luted side. Thank­fully, there’s a “Learn” sec­tion on Roli’s web­site that ex­plains things fairly com­pre­hen­sively and the sup­port team is very help­ful, but some di­rec­tion out of the box would go a long way. There are also some com­pat­i­bil­ity lim­i­ta­tions if you’re us­ing Win­dows (no MIDI via Blue­tooth, USB only) and An­droid is en­tirely un­sup­ported at the time of writ­ing – this in­cludes the Pixel 2, de­spite the mar­ket­ing men­tion­ing oth­er­wise.

How­ever, once the kit is run­ning as it should, it truly is a uniquely cre­ative ex­pe­ri­ence in the world of com­puter mu­sic. Hav­ing ap­proached syn­the­sis after spend­ing decades on gui­tar, this re­viewer found Roli’s con­trollers al­most as lib­er­at­ing and fluid as a gui­tar could be, al­though the oc­ca­sional mis-trig­ger can dis­pel the magic. The units are sturdy, the bat­tery life im­pres­sive, the de­sign lan­guage is sleek and stylish, and the con­cept is cre­ative, but ul­ti­mately the big­gest chal­lenge Roli faces is its tar­get au­di­ence. With the premium pric­ing, dif­fi­cult setup, and deep func­tion­al­ity, it be­comes a lit­tle harder to rec­om­mend to com­plete be­gin­ners, al­though mu­si­cians with­out con­trollers or soft­ware synths will get the most value out of the bun­dle. We didn’t find the Light-pad or Loop blocks as com­pelling as the Se­aboard Block, which you can score along­side a full ver­sion of Equa­tor for around $350 less, but if you’re look­ing at get­ting your­self any­thing else from the hard­ware and soft­ware pack­age, the Song­maker Kit is still the way to go.

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