My very first synthesizer was a Casio CZ-1000, which I used to supplement my functional piano courses at the Manhattan School of Music. With only 61 velocity-insensitive keys, in retrospect, it might not have been my best choice for the task, but I finally owned a synthesizer, and that was what it was all about.
Its sounds relied on a type of synthesis called phase distortion (PD), which created different waveforms by minutely altering the rates at which a cosine wave would reach points in a cycle. While phase distortion yielded a selection of eight different waveforms as starting points, the instrument also included a noise generator that was assignable to one of two signal paths called Lines. The total polyphony was eight voices with a one-line patch, and half that with two lines.
Three envelopes—one each for pitch, amplitude, and DCW (phase distortion deployed as a filter)—were pretty much all you got for modulation, as the LFO was strictly on and off and hardwired to vibrato. But the CZ-1000 had spectacular 8-stage, multi-segmented EGs, with each stage including rate and level so you could set your own sustain and end points. In a world dominated by ADSR modulation, the CZ-1000 was unique.
But despite its sophisticated envelopes and unique tone-generating oscillators, the first batch of instruments in Casio’s CZ line fell short in real-time control; in addition to the absence of velocity sensitivity, there was no Aftertouch, and the mod wheel was strictly on or off (purportedly from a misunderstanding of the MIDI specifications).
Still, the original factory presets only hinted at the synth’s possibilities, which included a clean but beefy analog-flavored tone. Scattered among the many cheesy presets were timbres of sublime beauty and complexity: The instrument was readily adopted by synth luminaries such as Isao Tomita and Vince Clarke. The CZ series continued to evolve, eventually adding velocity sensitivity, and onboard sequencing and effects, before developing into the more complex VZ series.
Although the CZ series has spawned several sample libraries (and even a few modeled CZ instruments), UVI Cameo is the most recent tribute to this Casio synth family. Cameo requires UVI Workstation (a free download from UVI’s Web site) or UVI Falcon as a hosting shell. I tested Cameo in both hosts using an iMac Retina 5K, 27" computer with 40GB RAM and Mac OS X 10.11.3.
UVI Cameo offers three different sample-based instruments—CZ, CX, and CM. The CZ bank sticks primarily to sounds that could have issued from the CZ series, whereas the CX and CM instruments use the samples as springboards for their own engines. The sample sets derive from custom-designed presets created on the original hardware.
Fig. 1. At first glance, the Cameo CZ user interface bears a close resemblance to its hardware namesake. If you are a seasoned phase-distortion maven, the first thing you might notice is the similarity of Cameo’s CZ programming panel to the hardware instrument (see Figure 1). Look closer, and you will find that the envelopes are strictly ADSR, as opposed to the 8-stage, multi-segmented envelope generators of the original. Absent, too, are the choice of noise-or ring-modulation (although you can introduce noise additively) and the line-select buttons that allowed you to double an oscillator with itself, layer the two oscillaytors, or simply create a single-oscillator patch. In fact, all patches in the CZ banks are single-oscillator.
UVI Cameo makes no attempt to replicate the CZ factory patches precisely, but many of the sounds have the ring of authenticity, in part because of the expertise of UVI’s programmers in exploiting the CZ series’ raw waveforms and sounds sampled using the CZ’s noise-and-ring-modulation effects. However, the subtractive-synth engine that hosts the CZ banks offers a choice of resonant, highpass, lowpass, and bandpass filters, along with velocity and Mod wheel control—features that weren’t available from the Casio CZ series, as they didn’t use filters.
The UVI Workstation provides a modicum of editing, including the envelope generators and filter settings, and fairly complete programmability over a complement of effects, including UVI’s excellent Sparkverb, among others. The programming amenity I missed most was the waveform-select feature of the original instrument and the DCW’s formidable timbre-shifting power. On the positive side, Cameo CZ is a breeze to program.
The appeal of the CZ sounds is undeniable, especially the huge bass sounds and the clangorous, inharmonic bells. Cameo’s built-in arpeggiator and Step Modulator come in handy here, with some nice, quirky patterns as jumping-off points for your own creations. A few of the sounds from the Polysynth bank reminded me of the subtly metallic-tinged pads that Joe Zawinul seemed to favor (listen to audio example 1 at emusician. com/UVICameo). If you are at all comfortable programming subtractive synthesizers, CZ should be a breeze to program and a fun synth to explore.
Fig. 2. Cameo CX layers patches and adds independent arpeggiators and modulation. You could view Cameo CX as two CZs layered, but that’s only where the fun starts. Most of the programming apparatus is similar to the CZ, albeit with a reorganized layout to accommodate parameters for two layers instead of a single layer (see Figure 2). Each layer has its own filter and envelope-generator settings; buttons are provided for editing either layer or both simultaneously. The left and right keys let you shuttle between different patches if you’d like to experiment with different layers, with no perceptible hiccups between patches.
The CX library starts with an impressive bank of arpeggiated sounds, some layered with pads, and a bunch that show off the complex rhythmic interplay of paired arpeggiators (audio clip 2). The arpeggiators sync to MIDI clock, as do the delay and modulation effects, among other features. Tabs at the upper right access edits for the Modulator and Arpeggiator pages.
In addition to LFOs, CX adds features to its very cool Step Modulator, which lets you target its Filter and Volume destinations independently for each layer. If the effect of the Step Modulator seems too stepped, use the Rise and Smooth parameters to reshape the transitions between steps. LFOs for each add Drive and Pitch modulation to Filter and Volume tasks. The Modulation page applies to all Cameo banks, but adds features as needed for the different engines.
THE MOTION IS TABLED
Fig. 3. Notice the knob just below the patch window in the CM synth: Use it to select any of 33 available waveforms. Furthermore, you can assign MIDI messages to sweep the table. Just below the amplitude ADSR is a slider to add or decrease phase distortion. Cameo CM starts with the same dual-layer scheme as CX, but adds sound-sculpting capabilities derived from Falcon’s sophisticated synthesis engine. CM also introduces a few twists to the previous CZ and CX engines, including a slider that adds Phase Distortion and—most visibly—a knob that selects and can sweep through any of 33 different waveforms (see Figure 3). Naturally, each layer can select waveforms independently, and thanks to UVI’s simple point-and-click MIDI-assignment menu, it’s easy to choose a Control Change message or assign host automation for each layer.
Fig. 4. A click on the Mod page reveals Cameo’s Step Modulator and LFO parameters. Setting up my modulation wheel to sweep through the wavetable was immediate and gratifying, providing moving, animated timbres (see Figure 4). I would love to see MIDI clock and the Step Modulator as modulation sources for this feature in an update.
Added to the LFO destinations is the Phase Distortion parameter; again, wavetable modulation would be welcome here, as would step modulation of the Phase-Distortion parameter. Aftertouch, available from the top editing level as a source in Falcon, is not available from the UVI Workstation’s pull-down assignment menu. In general, many more modulation options readily avail themselves using Falcon without a deep dive into its more complex architecture.
Sonically, a good number of the patches reminded me of the Sequential Prophet VS, with bright, bell-like timbres mingling with somewhat raw-sounding sustained pads. Others offered tempo-synchronized gating effects and powerful filter-swept basses and pads. Remarkably, all retained something of the squeaky-clean sonic stamp of the original Casio instruments.
It’s great to have the sound of the Casio CZ series back in my library. When I bought my first Casio, I obliterated the factory presets, striving for sounds with the character and animation that inhabit much of the Cameo library. I do miss the hardware unit’s 8-stage envelope generators, particularly the DCW. If you need that, there are excellent software emulations on the market.
Still, I prefer Cameo and the capabilities of Falcon and the UVI Workstation, which add extensive multitimbral features, including splits and layers. If you already own Falcon, you are ahead of the game with a ton of great programming tools. Falcon’s editing options go significantly deeper than the UVI Workstation to include such details as sample-map editing, scripting, and the ability to edit at the oscillator level.
Either way, UVI Cameo confers the vintage sounds of Casio’s most influential synthesizer with modern programmability.
Great re-creations of vintage CZ-series sound. Step Modulator adds timbre and amplitude motion. The CZ and CM synths add flexibility to characteristic CZ tones, including layering, phase distortion, and wavetable motion.
ADSR envelope generators only. No Aftertouch in UVI Workstation shell. CM wavetable lacks tempo-sync modulation.