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CZ Editing Software

It's taken two British companies - XRI and Joreth - to produce the first computer-based editing packages for the Casio CZ range. Simon Trask finds out if they make programming life easier.


Two new software packages — from Joreth and XRI — aim to make programming Casio's CZ range of synths that little bit easier. But is their presentation good enough to make them worthwhile?

There's just no denying it. Today's synths are just no fun to program. With their limited displays and digital access systems that are unfriendly to the point of being obstructive, they don't offer much incentive for anyone to make that trumpet just a little bit breathier, the piano a shade brighter, or a glockenspiel mildly more touch-responsive.

Which is where patch-editing software for home computers comes in. Taking advantage of the fact that the average TV can display an awful lot more than an overworked, underfed LCD, such software can show all the parameters of a synth patch at once, making editing an easier task by making it a more visually rewarding one. And a computer-based system can offer further attractions not directly concerned with editing, such as disk storage of sounds — an appealing alternative to the cassette or cartridge options typically found on synths.

Casio's popular CZ synths are no better than the rest when it comes to front-panel editing facilities, and since the Phase Distortion principle they employ has more in common with a digital system than with the analogue one most synth players know and love, they aren't the easiest machines to get into. But it's taken a while for CZ Editing packages to appear — partly, no doubt, because of Casio's reluctance to release the relevant MIDI information. As Casio haven't developed any software themselves (at least, not for public consumption), it's been left to two of the best-known British MIDI software companies, Joreth Music and XRI Systems, to come up with the goods — for Commodore 64 and 48K Spectrum computers respectively. Both are reasonably cheap to buy, and both will work on any of Casio's CZ synths, from the baby CZ101 to the sequencer-laden CZ5000.

Before going any further, it's worth noting that Joreth's policy has been to sell their AL25 MIDI interface only with the Joreth MCS sequencer, which meant you were faced with having to buy the sequencer if you wanted the Editor. Luckily, this situation has now changed.

XRI's interface is also available as a separate item, but if you already own another company's interface, XRI will supply you with the necessary information to create a customised version of their CZ Editor.

Joreth

Joreth's offering is disk-based, takes a not inconsiderable 90 seconds to load, and comes in two versions (on the same disk). One is designed to function within Joreth's MCS eight-track sequencing package, the other to function in a stand-alone capacity. The former is actually more of a 'librarian' than an Editor, because all editing still has to be done on the synth, and there's no on-screen display of parameters.

The stand-alone version allows you to record a sequence of up to 4000 notes, and then play it back while editing a sound. Nope, this is not a modern-day version of Music While You Work, but a useful way of being able to edit a sound while listening to the song you intend it for. An eminently sensible idea, though maybe the 4000 notes (which is far too many than you actually need) should have been split up to give several different sequences.

All editing is done from a single screen, and from the computer's typewriter-style keyboard only. Most of the parameter displays take the form of numeric inputs; the DCO, DCW and DCA envelopes are displayed graphically as well as numerically, but are altered from the numeric table rather than from the graphics, which is a pity. And bearing in mind the importance of presentation here, there's a real lost opportunity on the colour side of things: grey and white with the occasional yellow or blue character is not the most inspiring of colour schemes, and doesn't help to clarify the voice structure at all.

Still, if you're fortunate enough to have a printer, you'll be glad to know that the Joreth Editor allows you to print out a patch's parameters on ordinary paper-handy because it means you can carry the information around with you to studios and gigs, and show it to other people without having to set up the entire system.

XRI

XRI uses two screens. One is a display of all the voice parameters, and allows editing from the Casio's front panel only — with changes showing on-screen. There are no graphic representations, only rows of numbers. Now, I know it's valuable to be able to see all the parameter values at a single glance, but let's face it, many people go blank when faced with a whole mass of numbers on one display — a picture or two would have cleared things up nicely.

The second screen allows editing from either the synth or the computer, and displays data for the DCO, DCW or DCA envelopes, depending on which you select. Thus you get not only the numbers again, but also the envelope shapes plotted for you in the lower half of the screen. You can choose to have these displayed individually or overlaid on one another; colour-coding would have come in useful in the latter case. You can 'redraw' the envelopes, but only by changing the numbers in the relevant table rather than on the graphic display directly.



But there's another side to both these packages — quite apart from their voice-changing facilities — that makes them a lot more useful.

Taking the Joreth first, we find the Editor allows 16 sounds to be held in memory at any one time (arranged as two banks of eight) in addition to the current 'edit' position and an extra temporary storage space. You can transfer single sounds and banks of eight or 16 between synth and computer, and sounds can be stored in any position in both the synth's and the computer's memory. Thus the Editor allows you to set up customised arrangements of existing sound banks — useful for aligning sounds with another synth, or stepping through sounds in the order you want to use them. And, of course, you can pull together completely new combinations of existing sounds that are suited to a particular application.

Disk operations allow you to load and save sounds, again either singly or in groups of eight or 16. It's also possible to format a disk, list the files on a disk, delete a file and rename a file from within the Editor. Transferring a 16-voice file between disk and computer takes a very reasonable 10 seconds.

Particularly useful is a page with the tongue-twisting name 'Title Tones', which allows you to give a name and description of up to 20 characters to each of the 16 sounds in memory. These short pieces of descriptive poetry are then stored on disk along with the sounds, and are listed on the screen whenever a file is loaded from said disk. However, allowing for the fact that you might just want to search your ever-growing number of files for that perfectly-suited sound you know you've got somewhere, it would be handy if you could list the contents of a file without having to load all the patch data, and if you could load individual patches from any file to any patch position in the computer. How about it, Joreth?

XRI's Editor can store 128 patches internally, as four banks of 32. This is a healthy number which gives you instant access to, say, several different combinations of the same group of patches. It also ensures you don't have to bother about saving or loading sounds too frequently — though as anyone who has used computers will know, saving your handiwork regularly is the only safe path to true happiness and peace of mind.

Patches can be transferred between synth and computer either individually or in groups of 16, but it's a pity that individual sounds can't be stored in user-specified positions; though as it is, there's a Swap facility which allows you to alter the position of patches within the 128-voice memory, so you can get there in the end.

External storage is to cassette or microdrive, and is limited to 128-voice bulk dumps; the program comes complete with 112 voices on the reverse side of the tape.

There's no doubt many musicians still fight shy of music software, despite the many benefits to be had from using it. Much of this is to do with the fact that so much software looks complicated, even if it isn't. This is where a well-considered user manual can be invaluable, but as someone who has come into contact with a fair number of manuals, I'm frequently dismayed/annoyed/frustrated by the lack of thought that goes into their compilation. A simple 'naming of parts' just isn't good enough; musicians deserve a contents list, an index, a discussion of the principles underlying the program and a few hints on how to get the most out of it — and this applies even to relatively straightforward programs like patch editors. Frankly, the manuals for these Casio editors both look as though they've been written by computer hobbyists who haven't really considered what musicians need to see. The XRI's manual is no more than a single sheet of paper.

Neither the Joreth nor the XRI has much to offer in the way of attractive displays, either, as the photographs should show. But it can be done: Yamaha's DX21 and RX Editors are a joy to use, mainly because their graphics are detailed without looking awesome. SIEL's Commodore and Spectrum packages are similarly friendly in the display department, so it isn't a question of these computers being incapable of presenting good visuals.

That said, both these programs do offer advantages over the Casios' front panel, not least because their patch storage and reorganising abilities could quickly prove invaluable. They don't come anywhere near saying the final word in what can be done, and both display a certain lack of imagination. But they are reasonably effective, and they're here now.

Joreth CZ Editor



Price RRP £44.85 including VAT

More from Joreth Music, (Contact Details)

XRI CZ Editor



Price CZ Editor RRP £22.95 with tape of 112 sounds; (optional) Micon MIDI interface RRP £49.95

More from XRI Systems, (Contact Details)


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Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

 

Electronics & Music Maker - Mar 1986

Scanned by: Stewart Lawler

Review by Simon Trask

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