It’s just the piano for Ten Forward or the recreation deck of Heart of Gold. It’s made of a single piece of molded Japanese oak. It’s paired with floating drone speakers for real immersive sound. (You read that right. Flying drones.) It’s the instrument money can’t buy: Roland’s 50th Anniversary Concept Piano.
The instrument, shown at CES, is the latest collab between Roland and famed Japanese furniture maker Karimoku. Karimoku’s showroom is a short hop away from Roland’s own Hamamatsu HQ, and in addition to pairing up on one-off concepts, the two have made instruments you can buy – the Kiyola Piano series.
This particular piano goes further out – way further out. So yeah, the 2020 GPX-F1 concept already looked as much like a spaceship as a piano. But the 50th Anniversary Concept actually does have bits that fly – plus some pretty advanced woodworking tech, while we’re at it. Not to stereotype Japan, but it is something that’s hard to imagine anywhere else, grafting together Edo-period woodworking and flying drones.
- One-piece molded body, Japanese oak wood exterior
- Latest Roland sound system plus –
- “A keyboard touch more natural and responsive than ever before” – which may indicate a new keybed. (Roland has in the past migrated new actions from high-end models and concepts into the mainline.)
These concepts offer some ideas, too, that connect to a long history of fancy digital features for Roland’s digital pianos – even interactive features that predated widespread Internet connectivity, let alone devices like the iPad.
This time, those features are built into a touch-panel table embedded in the lid, which also lets you try piano lessons and streaming tutorials (from Roland Cloud, natch), and … video conferencing. Shame we didn’t have these earlier in the pandemic, so we could Zoom through our piano lids.
I’ll leave it to you to imagine what it’s like having drone speakers flying around you. Sounds strange? It’s even stranger than you think:
- (Fixed, non-drone) adjustable 14-speaker array, 360-degree speaker system
- Low-latency wireless drone speakers, “which float above the piano for an enhanced sound quality and eye-catching experience” and
- The player can control positioning of the drones as they play
The 360-degree speakers actually make some sense – more in the link below. These are basically 14-speaker array “sound balls” – maybe better described as polyhedra (since they have edges) – here designed to fit the shape of the cabinet.
Somehow the drone tech is built around the existing Roland PureAcoustic Ambience technology, so there’s some digital modeling of how the speakers would work. I have no doubt Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi would have loved this whole product design. It’s got all the hallmarks of the no-apologies, completely futuristic approach to imagining how to make digital tech expand what even acoustic traditions can do. Some of the modeling and low-latency Bluetooth (they built their own protocol) does sound like something we’ll see in a Roland product, though maybe floating speakers, not so much.
One other unexpected design cue: Erik Satie:
The instrument was initially inspired by Eric [sic] Satie’s idea of “Furniture Music,” or music that becomes like furniture in a space.
More details, and a deep dive on how this was designed:
The Future Never Ends: The History of Roland Pianos (this now looks familiar to me, having contributed to the piano chapters for Bjooks’ title Inspire the Music for Roland’s 50th)
Pianos you actually can buy at Roland