• $1.29

Controllers and software for 21st Century songwriters

ROLI, creator of expressive high-end controllers like the Seaboard RISE (reviewed February 2016), hasn’t rested on its laurels. With the BLOCKS ecosystem, the technologies developed for the original Seaboards have been scaled down in size and price to a format that anyone can enjoy. BLOCKS provides ways to get into music making in an expandable and flexible way, with points for portability, approachable pricing, and—most important of all—the tremendous expressive power that ROLI pioneered with the Seaboards, a technology it calls 5D Touch.

Three of the “five dimensions of touch” that ROLI refers to are well-known to anyone who’s played with MIDI controller keyboards. ROLI calls them Strike (velocity, how hard a key is hit), Press (aftertouch, pressure on a key after it’s been played), and Lift (release velocity, how quickly a key is let go). In addition to these, ROLI adds Glide (horizontal movement after playing a note) and Slide (vertical movement). In effect, every place you touch on a 5D Touch instrument is like a pressure-sensitive joystick!

Playing one of these surfaces is a very tactile and rewarding process: you can bend notes, shape timbre, and control loudness and effects, all without ever reaching for a pitch bender, mod wheel, or control surface. It’s all under your fingers, and you can articulate each note individually—instead of bending or modulating all notes at once, you can bend only one note like you can on a pedal steel guitar, or add depth to particular voices inside a chord just by...