Shaper: Roland Lamb

Show aired on 28th April 2018


Roland Lamb

Roland Lamb grew up in rural New Hampshire, USA. His father is a jazz pianist and Roland started playing the piano when he was a toddler. It was whilst attending Summerhill School that he started his first business, a jazz cafe for other students. At 18, Roland moved to Japan to live in a Zen monastery. He later travelled the world for several years working as a visual artist and a jazz musician. In addition to English, he speaks fluent Chinese and Japanese. A passion for cross-cultural thought is said to have resulted in his return to the USA, where in 2008 he attained a Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Philosophy from Harvard University, focusing on Classical Chinese and Sanskrit philosophy, and graduating with summa cum laude. Roland then moved to London to attend the Royal College of Art, where in 2010 he earned an MA with distinction and later in 2014 a PhD, both in Design Products. Prior to founding ROLI, Roland was a Faculty Member at the Vermont Governor’s Institute of the Arts. ROLI is a company that develops and manufactures musical instruments that interact with the user. The company’s main products are: the Seaboard, a digital keyboard that replaces black and white keys of a piano with a pliable, touch responsive surface; and Blocks, a modular percussion controller that can plug into a mobile phone and other Blocks to increase capability.

Follow Roland on Twitter @RolandLamb.

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“I grew up in a rural environment and was home schooled, so a lot of my time was playing in the woods, reading books and playing piano. My father plays but I was largely self-taught.”

“I had the idea that I could reinvent the piano. I thought what if I could play the sound of all instruments from the piano, or use very intuitive gestures to control pitch bend and the timbre of the notes just like you would when you slide along the neck of a bass or you pull a string on a guitar.”

“I started learning about the engineering, the design and the material science. I built prototype after prototype and at first they didn’t work, but I would then over dub the sounds and create videos to make it look like I was playing. Eventually I figured the electrical engineering out, but they sounded like a horror film sound track at first.”

“I played professionally a bit and piano was the instrument I was good at. I started out interested in jazz and blues, and my father is very into Fats Waller, so in an act of great rebellion I became interested in Bebop.”

“In business if you can build something, sell it and make money, with that you can do whatever you want. You have freedom in terms of how you organise the business, what you build and why.”

“If we could take technology and bring expressive music into the digital age then we can empower more people to make music. A larger social mission and the opportunity to have that bigger impact is key.”

“Many people try to learn with traditional instruments but feel frustrated. We deliver a way to make music which is equally expressive and makes it much easier learn and play – surely that’s a great thing?”

“We want to empower everyone to make music and we think that the mobile, software and digital revolution that we’ve seen will come to music.  The key is that digital music can’t just sound like electronic music.”