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WATCH: Roland’s new smart grand piano is a concept of the future

The winner of Roland's 2015 piano design contest is The Facet now productized as the GPX-F1


The piano has been around for 300 years. (My Yamaha U1 has been around for 57 of those years).

What will the next 300 years of piano look like? Roland wanted to ponder that and has had designers working on that mission for four years as part of a competition that has now yielded: The GPX-F1 known as The Facet.

The Facet has evolved somewhat since it took Grand Prize for US designer Jong Chan Kim. It is worth looking at all the winning designs, especially if you are a lover of musical instruments and/or industrial design.

Here’s the high level on The Facet: There are speakers and resonators packed in everywhere throughout the minimalist, angular body, from the base to the top board to the inside of the hollow frame. This is an attempt to recreate the sonic resonance that traditionally comes from the piano cabinet. Near-field speakers project sounds like the noise that hammers make when they hit an acoustic piano string. So whether you’re playing or listening you are meant to get a realistic, analog, traditionally evocative sound.

It does beg the question of why one needs to hear hammers being hit if there are no hammers? A bit like introducing film grain artifacts to digital video to cue the deep emotional responses we have to signs of mechanical life. It does make you also wonder–when things no longer need to natively make a sound and the old mechanical sounds are dimly in the past, what happens to our emotional connection? In some ways, artifacts are the battle scars of creativity and of overcoming limitations. Without those artifacts, how will we feel about our mastery? If a tree falls in the forest….

Here’s how The Facet looked, and was described in 2016 when it won the award:

The Facet Grand Piano is designed with two keywords in mind: “unique” and “elegance.” All of the speakers are placed within the base sound chamber not only to boost the sound quality, but also to introduce a new design that challenges current perceptions. The solid base produces accurate and excellent sound quality that will be sure to astound audiences, while the absence of a soundboard completes the instrument’s modern expression. The lid’s function is also critical, serving as the canvas for audio reproduction, with soundwaves bouncing off it towards the audience. Unlike other digital pianos, it has a full touchscreen for interfacing with other digital enhancements. The Facet is a true vision of the future, breaking with traditional styles and methods of piano construction.

Comment from the Designer

First of all, I did not expect to win the Grand Prize, and I really appreciate Roland for giving me this great design prize. In my initial design concepts, I focused on how to translate an iconic grand piano’s design to a piano of the future. I was thinking through many different perspectives of the piano. Then I decided that putting a speaker at the bottom of the piano would allow me to maintain the design essence of the piano while also enabling me to give it a futuristic look. I give thanks to my mentor, Tim Tan, who gave me good advice, and to everyone who decided to choose me for the Grand Prize.

Comment from Roland

The basic structure of this piano cabinet design is truly striking, seemingly “floating” on the base unit, which is equipped with the sound system. The sound is generated from the base unit through the outer frame and reflects on the piano’s top board. This audio process is a unique concept that takes full advantage of a digital piano’s potential and enhances it. This design offers a fresh, innovative appearance while keeping the logical structure of the piano. Its attractive form, realized through polyhedron styling, is visually stunning and well deserving of the Grand Prize. The design idea leaves room for further development with the projection of lighting and visual elements on the top board in addition to the sound.

Designer’s Profile: Jong Chan Kim

Jong Chan Kim / JC Kim was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. In 2008, he began his major, Industrial Design, at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and he graduates in 2016. When JC Kim designs, he tries to think about how products relate to our lives and how he can make them easier and better. He hopes he will be one of the designers whose work finds solutions in a world of challenges.


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