Digital Sampling Rhythm Composer
When Casio sent me their RZ1 Digital Sampling Rhythm Composer to look at, there was no manual in the box — just the instrument itself, and not even a power lead. Sulkily, I went looking for my own mains lead; plugged it in and switched on. Cheered up considerably by the punchy snare sound, I hit the bass drum hopefully. Wow! Serious! Hang on a minute, this is a Casio, isn't it?
Three toms and a rim shot, ride, crash, clap, cowbell and open and closed hi-hat later, I was convinced that this machine was worth further consideration. Now for the user sampling, I thought... where's the manual? No problem: sampling was merely a matter of plugging a high impedance mike into the rear socket marked 'input' (mike or line switchable), pressing the 'sampling' button and one of four sample locations simultaneously, and bob was me'uncle. Well actually he wasn't, because I didn't quite get the threshold level of the automatic triggering right first time; but a couple of attempts brought a perfect result. I quickly discovered that most types of percussion sounds (including disgusting body noises!) could be sampled into the RZ1 and incorporated into rhythm patterns in a matter of seconds. Even sampled notes and words sounded reasonable, although, as with most automatic threshold recording, the very front of the sound was liable to be clipped. In the absence of technical data, I guessed at a bandwidth of 8k and a sampling time of about a quarter of a second for each of the four sample locations.
Everything about the Casio RZ1 turned out to be quick and easy. All the functions are clearly marked, and simple instructions appear in the see-in-the-dark display whenever they are needed. Parameters are changed from the numerical keypad and two yes/no buttons. Within a couple of hours I was totally familiar with it.
Recording on the RZ1 is done in pattern mode. A pattern can be anything from 1 to 99 bars, but a 99 bar sequence will take up most of the pattern memory. Almost every conceivable time signature is possible (I managed 99/16 time!) and the quantisation can be set to any value between half-notes (semibreves) and 1/96 notes (hemi-demi-semiquaver triplets!!?). In fact 1/96 resolution is the nearest thing to free time that is possible within the MIDI specification of 24 pulses per quarter-note, and is quite adequate for retaining real-time 'feel'.
Patterns can also be copied to other locations, or deleted if necessary, and using the 'Accent' and 'Mute' three levels of dynamic are possible for every sound, including the four user sampling positions. In real-time it's just a matter of banging in the rhythms, but in step time any sound can be inserted or deleted from any beat of the bar (according to the resolution). Very flexible, and very easy! Entering 'song' mode gives 20 possible songs, each of which can contain 99 steps. 'Edit' allows a different pattern to be entered at each step, or an existing pattern to be replaced by another. Using the yes/no buttons as wind/rewind, any individual step can be quickly located and played back — alternatively, an extra step can be inserted at any point or an existing one deleted altogether. Complete songs can be chained for performance or copied to another location, and when you're happy with the results of your labours, songs and patterns can be dumped to computer cassette via the 8-pin DIN socket marked 'MT'. Any sounds you may have sampled can also be dumped to cassette, but they will take a while to load or save.
I've already mentioned that I very much liked the snare and bass drum sounds on the RZ1. Of course, drum sounds in general are very much a matter of taste, but I did find most of the other sounds extremely usable. The open hi-hat is especially good, and the only slightly dodgy sound is the handclap, which I thought was a bit low pitched (big hands?? — Ed.). In all, sixteen sounds are available including samples, but only eight of them can be placed on the same beat. Casio have arranged things quite sensibly, pairing open/closed hi-hat, tom 1/2 and snare/rim. Tom 3, however, is paired with the bass drum, and clap/ride cymbal appear as another pair, so problems are bound to occur. Normally this would be easily overcome by syncing to tape and making a second pass, but this isn't possible with the RZ1, because although it sends and receives MIDI sync, there is no sync-to-tape facility provided.
Despite this slight drawback (as good synchronisers become cheaper it will be minimised), the RZ specifications are still impressive, especially considering the RRP of £399. Ten individual outputs ensure that sounds can be separately equalised and treated, and the ten corresponding level controls enable a stereo or mono mix to be created. The unit is mains powered — no fiddly DC voltage converters! — and there's a headphone socket and a stop/start footswitch socket (footswitch extra!!). MIDI is comprehensive, with in, out and through sockets, MIDI sync, note disable/enable and channel selection (1-16), and I honestly think that the RZ1 should be a winner.
Finally, a message to the reviewer whose comments I read, and who felt that it would have been nice if Casio had made it possible to combine the four short samples to make one long sample. Try pressing the button marked 'sampling' and two sample locations simultaneously. Locations 1-2 and 3-4 will make two longer samples, and 1-4 will give a sample of nearly one second. Icing on the cake, eh?!
More from Casio Electronics Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Nick Graham
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!