Music as a language – why has nobody thought of this before?
That’s a sentiment that every founder craves hearing, the tech start-up equivalent of hitting the jackpot – and ROLI, the music technology innovator based in Dalston, East London, spiritual home of the hipster, has certainly done just that.
ROLI describe themselves as “a leading music technology start-up whose mission is to extend the joy of music creation to everyone”, and the company has already raised nearly $50m of investment from the likes of the Foundry Group, Balderton Capital, Founders Fund, and, perhaps crucially, Universal Music Group.
This lot, in other words, are a serious start-up proposition, recently described by Music Tech magazine as “the most important company in music technology right now.”
ROLI created the multi-award winning Seaboard RISE, a keyboard of sounds, not letters (RRP £649, or £999 for the superior ‘49’ version – twice as many keys as the cheaper ‘25’), and the Seaboard Grand, which looks like what a piano might have looked like if it had been invented by Steve Jobs and designed by Jony Ive, and indeed it works seamlessly with a MacBook to create versatile, synthesiser style sounds (£1,599 or £5,888 for a limited first edition – could be worth a few million one day). Stevie Wonder uses one, and so does Meghan Trainor. Check out the below video:
But the product to get most excited about is the one that has just been launched, and the one that musician Grimes (aka 27 year old pop sensation Claire Boucher) says “will democratize music production”, and “is the most powerful mobile production tool I’ve ever used”.
Well, its two products actually – BLOCKS, and NOISE. ROLI calls BLOCKS “a modular music studio that opens up the world of music-making for everyone.” Get ready for some truly diabolical music, at least until the more talented musicians get to grips with this kit. Think Mike Tyson on a Segway.
“Each individual Block offers unique capabilities that enable people to create music in simple but far-reaching ways. The Blocks connect together to create customizable kits that suit any budget, skill level, and musical style. With a click of magnetic connectors, music-makers can now build their own instruments as they go.”
So says the PR blurb, and you can see why the Lego comparison is being made. ROLI have launched 3 of these BLOCKS today; the Lightpad Block, with its “tactile, glowing surface that lets people shape music through presses, glides and other natural gestures”, and the Live and Loop blocks, which both make it easy to perform and produce in real time.
But before you can begin producing and performing you will also need NOISE; NOISE is a free music app for iPhone (but not Android, interestingly) available from the App store now. NOISE uses Bluetooth (remember Bluetooth? Great idea, nobody found a use for it…until now) to connect to BLOCKS, acting as the whole system’s sound engine as well as a standalone app.
Got it? Good!
If we are making it sound a little like you’ll need to have completed a PhD in confusing musical terminology and a post-grad in sheer musical brilliance to use these appliances, this isn’t the case. Remember how hard it was to get people to understand what apps were and how they worked? Well, they seemed to catch on OK in the end.
Here’s Founder and CEO of ROLI Roland Lamb making it all much clearer;
“Many areas of life have been transformed by the digital. Music, though, remains a universal language that everyone understands, but only a few can speak. BLOCKS will change that, and enable people around the world to experience the joy of music-making for the first time.”
You could say that ROLI is the product of a big bet made by some influential investors around the genesis of “the next big thing”, or you could say that it is a visionary, totally disruptive product that is going to warm the world’s hearts in the same way that Apple did. It doesn’t really matter which way round – can anyone say which way round it was with Apple themselves?
And, of course, it is being backed by the world’s largest company, who have been hunting for a visionary product for some time.
Perhaps they have found one.
The Lightpad Block retails at $179 and is available at ROLI.com and, rather excitingly, at Apple stores all over the world. The Live Block and Loop Block are $79 and ditto, they are available anywhere you see a Turing’s Apple above the door.
That is a jaw-dropping achievement by a Haggerston / Dalston (is Dalston in Haggerston…is Haggerston in Dalston) based start-up. But nobody should be surprised.
Look out for the “signature soundpacks” being released by RZA, Steve Aoki and Grimes for NOISE makers. Each come with 16 sounds, and can be purchased in-app. And let’s all start to get excited. A 2 headed guitar (i.e. a charmingly harmless gimmick) this product most certainly ain’t. Not with these kinds of backers.