In our latest instalment of ROLI Meets, we get to know Sam Gutman — the New Jersey-based keyboardist and sound designer currently touring the globe with Ms. Lauryn Hill. After coming to our attention with his own YouTube videos showcasing the Seaboard behind the scenes, we invited him to London ahead of Reggae Rotterdam to hear about the unique ways he’s used Seaboard RISE 2 to add sound design to one of the most distinctive and influential hip-hop groups in the world.
Weaving together his deep-rooted guitar background with the cutting-edge allure of advanced sound design and synthesis, Sam Gutman is a dynamic force. Launching his musical journey with energetic riffs on the guitar at a young age, Sam's appetite for diverse genres led him through the worlds of prog, jazz, metal, and pop punk.
Now, a dedicated member of the 'Lauryn Hill Orchestra' and a pivotal contributor to the band's evolving sound, Sam travels the world, with his Seaboard by his side. Yet, it’s not just about the big stages and the bright lights. Whether he's grounding himself with improvisational sessions before a massive festival or diving into the expressive depths of the Seaboard in a quiet moment, Sam embodies the spirit of a true musician: forever curious, always evolving, and perpetually in love with the art of sound.
Watch the video below, and go backstage with Sam and the Seaboard on tour.
A journey from guitar to Seaboard
It all began with a simple rendition of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" on a guitar for Sam. This early exposure to the world of music saw him delving into genres as varied as prog, jazz, metal, and pop punk. But, in a surprising twist at the Berkeley College of Music, Sam switched from guitar to keyboards. This seemingly unexpected transition set him on a course toward sound design and the multifaceted realm of synthesis.
Redefining musical interaction
Sam’s encounter with ROLI's Seaboard isn’t recent. Familiar with the brand for years, his actual tryst began when he sought a tool to deliver more expressive synth and orchestral patches. RISE 2 emerged as the answer. "Playing the Seaboard RISE with Lauryn Hill has opened up things. There's only so deep you can go on normal keyboards because the keyboard isn't really an inherently expressive instrument."
In Sam’s eyes, Seaboard is the keyboard’s answer to fretless instruments, making it more approachable to conventional keyboard players. With its potential for microtonal adjustments and slides, the unique 5 Dimensions of Touch of the Seaboard’s surface bridges the divide between digital and acoustic expressions — allowing him to add atmosphere on the fly.
The Ms. Lauryn Hill connection
Sam's rendezvous with the legendary Lauryn Hill began in quarantine. Using his time to dive deep into creative exploits, he started ambient synth live streams. And it was these sessions that led him to substitute for a friend in Lauryn Hill's band.
Joining the ensemble brought forth challenges, but of a different kind. Rather than the complexities of the intricate riffs and time signatures of Metal and Rock music, Sam found himself needing to be adept at sound design on the spot:
“With Lauryn Hill, it's a totally different challenge. It's a feeling — learning how to play ahead of the beat, or on the beat, or behind the beat. Things like learning how to sound design, and being able to pull up any sound that's required quickly. Ms. Hill will pull up Vangelis, or some crazy modular synth stuff, or her ringtone, or something like that. She'll be like, “make that sound”. I'll just have to do it on the spot, which is very engaging and exciting.”
It was here that the Seaboard RISE 2’s unique expressiveness came to the fore, making it an essential component of his rig.
Seaboard RISE 2: Beyond just a musical tool
The Seaboard is no ordinary instrument. With RISE 2 and Equator2, Sam found a solution for delivering string and synth sounds that evolve seamlessly, providing a tactile depth unattainable with regular keyboards.
But it's not just about the sounds. The MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) capability of the instrument ensures that musicians can focus on playing with both hands, allowing them to add modulation, effects and expression through natural playing gestures intead of having to use their other hand to control knobs and faders on the hardware or on their computer while on stage performing. Sam notes: "The thing that speaks to me the most about MPE is that it's the marriage of sound design and playing. Doing it with a gesture actually frees up my other hand to play rather than sound design."
A musician’s delight
The reception of Seaboard RISE 2 in professional spaces has been overwhelmingly positive. Beyond its intriguing look and feel, its potential to contribute to a broader sound spectrum makes it a valuable addition to any ensemble. "Everybody thinks it's cool. Everybody wants to touch it. Everybody wants to know what's inside of it. Even if you're not making music with it, people just like to squish it."
On a practical note, Sam praises RISE 2 for its portability and durability. Its compact design ensures it is travel-friendly, while its robust construction promises longevity.
Embrace the new wave of musical expression
Sam’s journey with the Seaboard RISE 2 is a testament to how modern instruments can redefine traditional music-making approaches. His advice for new Seaboard users? "Get into the fact that for the first time, playing the keyboard is this experience that's connected to your body in the same way that playing a stringed instrument or a wind instrument is."
For both professional and hobbyist music makers, Seaboard RISE 2 promises to be not just a tool, but a partner in the musical journey.
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Discover RISE 2 now. Dive in, explore, and let your creativity soar.