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Monk and Beethoven Be Damned, ‘The Seaboard’ Synth (feat. Jamie Cullum) Revolutionizes the Piano

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Jan 14, 2014 07:50 PM EST

It was said by one of the most famous and influential jazz pianists of the century. Thelonious Monk said that he wanted to find the "space" between the black and white keys on the piano.

As a musician, the process of expanding your musical creations beyond the fathomable, tangible limits of the instrument can take a lifetime.

As a guitar player, the instrument can feel very limited. To satiate my thirst for the largest and most otherworldly sounds possible, I purchased a series of foot-pedals and switches to enter a new arena of sound-bending and guitar-morphing.

After a six-hour binge with my new toys, reciting jazz and old timey folk standards with this new modern twist, I looked at my keyboard tipped on its side against my wall and thought: "Someone should change that up."

Like Walter Wendy Carlos did to Beethoven.

Thus, the music gods have answered my prayers, lending me [via NPR] my first look at a marvelous new invention...The Seaboard.

Made of silicon and rubber, The Seaboard may provide the space Thelonious Monk dreamed of immersing himself in.

The Seaboard levels an entirely new playing field in regards to composition and sound production. One can play the instrument as a piano, lightly touching it with his or her fingers to not interfere with its sound waves.

But once you dig in--and I mean literally dig your fingers in--the result would make even artists like Bon Iver rethink their musical approach.

The "synthesizer" reacts to the fingers of the player as they dig into the rubber inlays. In experimenting with the instrument, someone like modern-leading pianist Jamie Cullum would move his hands back and forth to recreate the vibrations normally found on a computer--the Monk's ghost in the inert machine.

The staggering result when playing this contraption may revamp the face of many modern live performances. Maybe we will see less of the play-button-pushing disc jockeys and more full band instrumentation that feature, yes, The Seaboard.

But look out conventional players, your position may be usurped with the very organic and real sounding instruments installed on this futuristic piano.

"If you close your eyes, you can imagine each key has a kind of bow in it and has that kind of orchestral feel," says Roland Lamb, creator of The Seaboard. "And each key can be controlled separately, so it gives the effect of five or six people with cellos playing different notes at different volumes."

While The Seaboard may change the game, some pianists find the lack of keys to be unsettling. Hopefully someday soon--and with a $4,500 grant--I can have a go at this instrument of the future.

Until then, I repent and retreat to my six strings and Pro Tools plug-ins...for both Monk and Beethoven.

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TagsBeethoven, Roland Lamb, Jamie Cullum, The Seaboard, Bon Iver, NPR, Thelonious Monk