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Why I created LUMI

By Roland Lamb

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Roland Lamb, CEO and founder of ROLI, discusses the invention of LUMI. Back ROLI's newest instrument on Kickstarter today..


I'm incredibly excited that today we are launching LUMI. Since I founded ROLI, we’ve been on a mission to bring the joy of music making and learning to everyone, and this is a big milestone in our realisation of that vision. Some folks who have been following ROLI may be surprised that we are launching a new kind of keyboard, so I wanted to share the story about where LUMI came from.

One of my earliest memories is playing the piano.

I had an unusual upbringing - my parents attended and met at an alternative school called Summerhill where children were free to learn how and when they saw fit. Perhaps as an extension of this experience, my three sisters, younger brother and I were home-schooled in rural NH. We didn't have a TV in the house, and so one of the most advanced forms of technology at home was the piano, an old Steinway upright that had been in the family for a couple generations. My father would play every day, singing early jazz classics, occasionally as duets with my mother.

I also found the piano to be magical and began exploring it as soon as I could reach the keys. I clearly remember discovering that the black notes sound good together - what I learned much later is a pentatonic scale. I also found that a few of the white keys (like and F and a C) would sound good with them, and I would improvise across these combinations, excited by the emotion I could communicate, and the feeling of a world of possibilities in front of me.

I can still picture our sunlit living room, little dust particles floating through the beams of lights, and the joy of discovering melody and harmony for the first time. Those first moments of emotional connection with an instrument, and a space where I could be free to be myself and express myself propelled me on a path to becoming a musician.

From there I practiced and practiced, took lessons, eventually also attending Summerhill myself where I started a Jazz Café so I could have my own practice room. In time I became a professional jazz musician, and tried (and basically failed) to learn a wide variety of other instruments.

Years later, I returned to the piano and created the Seaboard, in part for myself as an advanced musician, to push the boundaries of expression, to find new voices and voicing. Ultimately, I wanted to find what my musical hero, Thelonius Monk, described as ‘the space between the black and white notes’.

The Seaboard is an incredible instrument, and I get to have the special pleasure of both playing an instrument that I invented, and hearing from Seaboardists from around the world on a daily basis about their musical inventions using it. I believe that it's the most sonically versatile and expressive instrument ever created (well, I am the inventor ☺ )!

Nevertheless, it is no secret that the Seaboard is difficult to play really well, and it makes sense – the breadth and depth of possibilities that the Seaboard offers demands a lot of skill and precision from its players. Over the last few years I’ve met with lots of people who have told me that the they felt inspired by the design and innovation of the Seaboard and BLOCKS, but wanted a solution that would be approachable for an absolute beginner.

So I again went back to the piano keyboard, my first love, to ask not only how do we make it easier to learn, but more fundamentally, how do we become inspired to musically play?

The more that we deconstructed the keyboard and the learning process, the more firmly we came to believe that the problem is that instruments themselves aren’t able to meet people where they are on in their learning journey.

When I was a kid, I found the secret of the black keys because they happened to be easy to visually differentiate from the white keys. With LUMI, by beautifully illuminating each key with rich colors, we can help beginners, learners, and even seasoned musicians to see and explore music in new ways.

At a personal level, I guess, I created LUMI to share that initial inspiration I felt as a child, that emotional connection which set me on my own musical journey. To discover the spaces between the notes, first you have to begin to understand the notes themselves. And to want to understand the notes, you have to love them—the instrument must touch you.

Perhaps there is a child in all of us with a dream about being musical - about expressing one's emotions in an authentic way. For most of us we've been taught we don't have the talent, or aren't creative. We've been told to conform in all kinds of ways, and perhaps, if we have a little rebellion left in us we express it through the music we listen to.

But why shouldn't all people have the tools of expression at their fingertips? Is freedom of expression not a basic human right? Isn't there a great deal of darkness that comes from all the feelings that remain unexpressed, and cannot be channelled in more positive ways?

LUMI is here to bring the light of music to everyone.

And I thank everyone, all of our supporters and creators, our team members and our partners who have worked incredibly hard to bring LUMI to life.

Learn more about how we created LUMI:

Why are we launching LUMI on Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is a unique way to reach out to millions of people who are interested in emerging technologies, but who might not know about ROLI. LUMI is designed for everyone who wants to learn and play music — so it's important that we spread the news to people who haven't played an instrument before. Kickstarter is also a great place to begin to build this new community, and get feedback on what we're making, so we can create the best experience possible.

What does this mean for the Seaboard and BLOCKS?

We’re still fully committed to supporting the Seaboard, BLOCKS and the ROLI software range. The team is continuing to improve our existing instruments and create new ways for more advanced producers and musicians to make expressive music. There are plenty of exciting updates on the way, so stay tuned!

And don’t forget, LUMI Keys works with BLOCKS — and is also one of the most technologically advanced controller keyboards ever made. It is absolutely the premier portable keyboard, and works seamlessly with all our pro products.

What's next?

If you are a long-time ROLI follower, fan or creator, we thank you for your support to date. We remain committed to supporting the products you have invested in.

Back LUMI on Kickstarter button

If you’ve never tried a ROLI product or heard of us until now, welcome! We’d be thrilled to have you join our community. Please back LUMI now and we will look forward to your feedback as we build LUMI into the best platform for learning and playing the songs you love – and more.