Tracktion started out life as an alternative music-making program under the auspices of Mackie. It was (and is) affordable, easy to use, and aimed at the needs of music producers who think in terms of grooves, clips, loops - repeatable quanta of music, essentially. The company has long since been independent, and also markets the excellent soft synths Biotek and Waverazor. Tracktion itself has evolved into Tracktion Waveform, a full-featured digital audio workstation that, for a stand-alone price of $99, offers enough power to compete with the big boys.
The series of Seaboard instruments from ROLI has been gaining, um, traction over the past couple of years as an alternative to the conventional musical keyboard. While they retain a 12-note layout, their textured "KeyWave" surface access high-resolution sensor technology that provides for a range of expressive gestures that go beyond regular black-and-white keyboards. These include not just velocity and after-pressure, but side-to-side finger movement to create anything from subtle vibrato to more dramatic portamento pitch sweeps (ROLI calls this motion "Glide"), release velocity ("Lift" in ROLI parlance), and on the Seaboard Rise and Block keyboards, Y-axis finger position along a key ("Slide"). Most importantly, they allow each expressive motion ("dimension of touch") on a polyphonic, per-note basis. That means a practiced Seaboard player could be, for example, modulating different filter cutoffs on different notes within the same chord; applying vibrato to one note while leaving the other static; and much more. Seeing what a player such as prog icon Jordan Rudess or ROLI's demo guy Marco Parisi can do with one of these instruments is just insane.
What do these two things have to do with each other? Well, all this expressiveness is implemented via a standard called MIDI Polyphonic Expression - MPE for short. It's a clever means of using the existing MIDI spec (yes, the one that's been around since 1983) over multiple MIDI channels at the same time in order to achieve the per-note messaging. Of course, this means your soft synth or host program has to know how to listen to MPE on the receiving end, and the latest version of Tracktion Waveform happens to be adept at doing so. This greatly expands the range of virtual instruments you can fully exploit through a Seaboard.
That's why ROLI is now bundling Tracktion Waveform with all Seaboard instruments, which are:
- Seaboard Grand: The first Seaboard and the only one that includes an internal, hardware-powered version of ROLI's Equator soft synth. Being first, however, it lacks the "Slide" Y-axis sensing of the latter two instruments. (Fun fact: it's the one Ryan Gosling played in the movie La La Land.)
- Seaboard Rise: The second-generation Seaboard, which added the Slide dimension as well as sensitivity sliders and an X/Y touchpad to the left of the Keywave surface.
- Seaboard Block: A mini-Seaboard for use with ROLI's modular Blocks controllers, which include multi-use lightpads, transport controls, and other useful modules. The hook is that the same magnetic connectors that let various Blocks snap together physically also let them communicate electronically. This lets users create "Lego"-like setups customized for how they produce music.
So, the pitch is, buy a Seaboard and get Tracktion Waveform thrown in at no extra cost. ROLI posted this video explaining how multi-note expressive data can be played in from a Seaboard Block and then precisely edited within Tracktion Waveform.