The Shape of Pianos to Come
Ivory-free piano and the digital grand...
Julian Colbeck examines the latest concepts in piano design, and decides that Roland are bringing new possibilities to a well-tried instrument.
It makes me quite shudder to think that I've been playing the piano since 1961. By about 1965, realising that I was never going to become a concert pianist, and, by then, also having heard the Beatles, I just slowly deviated into rock 'n' roll. Exit sight reading and scales. Enter a lot of busking and using my ears.
And it's just that – the sound of a piano – that has continued to fascinate me ever since.
I can't imagine how many pianos I have reviewed during the past seven or eight years. The piano sound being my particular hobby horse I know that I'm an especially harsh judge, but most, frankly have been an insult to such a free-spirited, constantly shifting and changing entity. In rock terms, in order to find even an approximation of 'good' piano sound one has either had to fork out (or rather not, in my case) a liberal amount of wonga, or rely upon the cumbersome, potentially equally expensive and invariably hit and miss system of miking an acoustic model. When a senior Roland person asked me if I thought it a good idea to 'go with' a modular version of the company's astoundingly accurate, new-technology piano, the answer was obviously yes.
It strikes me that the MKS-20 solves a bevvy of problems that have always bugged the piano-seeker; most important of course is the sound.
What's important is that the system produces multi textured, player-controlled, living and breathing piano sounds – digitally – and that's good enough for me. But as I said, sound quality is only one of the many problems that this piano module is here to solve. And the beauty of the system is not only do you still retain control over sounds, but such tailoring as you may want to carry out can be stored in a generous number of memory locations.
Of course the first thing any clown will notice about the MKS-20 is its stunning lack of a keyboard. I'm going to presume most readers have some clue about MIDI, so this revelation about a keyboard-less piano shouldn't have sent you into a fit of apoplexy. But even the reasonably MIDI-wise may not have thought through the benefits of, to an extent, starting over again and applying MIDI's multi-faceted capabilities to construct a setup based upon using the right tools for the right job. You can use your early Jupiter-8 with an OC-8 and then an MD-8 in order to make it into a controller keyboard of sorts (I think!), but I believe by now most of these pre/early MIDI war-horses have put in their time – cheaper, more flexible arrangements can be made today.
Roland were not only one of the leading manufacturers who developed and pinned down MIDI in the first place, but they were also the first to produce instruments which fully exploited its potential with keyboard controllers and instrument modules. Now on their second generation of such devices, both price and capabilities have been honed to near perfection. The velocity sensitive, weighted-key MKB-200 MIDI keyboard controller, priced at a mere £625, represents a luxury few could have dreamed of affording even a year ago.
OK, but why should we need a piano module in the first place? Well how about price for a start? The MKS-20 costs roughly half the price of Roland's pukka weighted keyboard piano which uses identical technology and produces identical sounds. Should you already own even a MIDI synth – never mind a dedicated MIDI keyboard controller such as the MKB-200, then you are gaining access to this high sound quality at a bargain price.
Secondly, size and portability. Whether you are liable to be wandering over to your mate's house to lay down a few ideas on a portastudio, or heaving around truckloads full of gear on a full British tour, the smaller the physical size of equipment the happier all concerned are liable to be. How many other pianos are you aware of that you can tuck under your arm?
Also on stage, for those who indulge in such matters, the MKS-20 can be rack mounted, producing a cleaner, more modern image. Nothing looks less hip than a keyboard player who's surrounded by a telephone exchange full of gear. And demo studios – My God – the standard studio-the-size-of-a-broom-cupboard excuse of 'no room for a piana in 'ere mate' is kaput from now on.
I've not really talked about the real intricacies of the MKS-20. That was deliberate, in case you were wondering. Read the many current reviews for the module's many editing parameters, the 56 program memories, the response to velocity, the brilliant electric piano sounds, never mind the acoustic, its stunningly easy mode of operation... I just want to illustrate why you should choose this modular manifestation as opposed to a regular piano instrument. It offers you freedom. Freedom to use the instrument where and how you want. Freedom to be able to afford other instruments which the piano can complement and enhance, and the real freedom to play well, with genuine feel. Only genuine piano sounds seem to encourage a really human response, and that, as I said in the beginning, is really the bottom line.
Roland Newslink - Summer 86
Gear in this article:
Feature by Julian Colbeck
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