2015 Gear Of The Year Award winner, Roli, announced the acquisition of FXpansion, a sound and software developer, known primarily for their BFD acoustic drum software product, now in its third incarnation. While the buyout may seem like a strange purchase for the innovative keyboard manufacturer, even though they do have a software synthesizer product, it does appear a bit clearer if you look at what may be next for Roli.
“ROLI will continue development of FXpansion products, as it integrates technologies to create musical instruments of the future”
The subtitle of Roli’s press release (above) offers a clue on where the UK-based company may be heading. Now this is pure speculation at this point, but from this declaration, it’s not hard to connect the dots as to what musical instruments of the future may look like to Roli.
One of the areas, that’s just ripe for the picking, considering Roli’s dynamic keyboard controller, is a new electronic drum controller. Electronic drums are a vibrant market, and there have been several technological advancements in the last few years, however, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to take things to the next level, something that Roli has accomplished with their awesome Seaboard keyboard controller. For example, when Korg released the physical-modeling WaveDrum in the mid-nineties, the industry finally had a controller that understood hand drum technique, an industry first. Instead of just note on/off and velocity, the WaveDrum understood not only when you hit it, and how hard, but where it was struck, what sound was produced when you hit it (think slap versus mid-drum bass thunk) and several other factors that went into physically modelling the sound in real-time. The only caveat, which stands to this day, is that the WaveDrum could not transmit this data via MIDI for future replication and/or manipulation via a sequencer. Thus, the WaveDrum remained somewhat of an expensive cult instrument, and even though you can buy different sound-set “flavors” of the instrument today, it remains limited in this regard.
Roli, with its “Five Dimensions Of Expression,” is the quintessential candidate to take the potential of the WaveDrum and provide exactly what’s been missing — the ability to record expressive performances via MIDI. The Seaboard brilliantly demonstrated this attribute (see our Roli Seaboard review —Ed), but Roli most likely needed a quality sound library for their drum product — enter FXpansion.
With FXpansion, not only does Roli obtain a solid drum platform for their new controller, but they also obtain Strobe, a synth product for the Seaboard, something that controller could use to add to its value and expand its user-base. However, Geist, FXpansion’s Beat production center, should not be overlooked as well. A Roli Drum controller could be the connective tissue between BSD, Geist and other products to create more a complete ecosystem for the electronic percussionist or composers who want to effortlessly add more intricate, yet realistic nuances to their productions.
“The combined [Roli/FXpansion] team will integrate its technologies, as Roli creates a new class of digital instruments that are more expressive and versatile than anything before it.”
The above quote from Roli’s press release reveals another clue that the company is hard at work on a new controller, which may be better positioned to leverage Roli’s expanding portfolio of technologies, which they claim is “already more diverse than any other in the music technology space” and includes Equator, the software synthesizer; Noise, the free app that turns iPhones into musical instruments; Blend, the social platform for music collaboration; and JUCE, the C++ coding framework for audio developers.
Roli will continue to support and develop FXpansion’s family of products which also includes the aforementioned Geist, and a range of sound effect plug-ins such as Maul and Bloom. FXpansion products will continue to be sold in their current form. Customer support and product maintenance will be available on all of the current channels. Anticipated updates — including the release of BFD 3.2 and Cypher2 — are said to be progressing.
All FXpansion team members will join Roli, where they will take on new roles as they continue to develop FXpansion’s products. Angus Hewlett will become Head of Sound Synthesis and Lead Software Engineer. Rhiannon Bankston-Thomas, FXpansion’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, will become Roli’s Head of Software Program Management. Skot McDonald, Chief Technology Officer, will become Roli’s Lead Software and Research Engineer.