Z3ta+ (pronounced, I believe, “Zeta Plus”, or just plain “Zeta”, for those of us who don’t speak fluent l33t sp3@k), is an intriguing software synthesizer created last year by RGC: Audio, and now distributed by Cakewalk.
Its sounds are mostly reminiscent of the warm analog synthesizers of the 1970s and 1980s: ARP and Minimoog patches abound (you can hear clips of Z3ta+ in action here). But what really sets Z3ta+ apart are its 100 arpeggio patterns, which are a songwriter and home recordist’s dream. Play one extended note, or hold one chord, get two or three dozen notes, artfully arranged in all sorts of cool sounding sequencer patterns. Which is a rather handy feature for those who lack, say, Jan Hammer’s chops on the keyboard. Speaking of which, flashback to Hammer’s Miami Vice sequencer riffs, and you get the idea of what a number of the patches in Z3ta+ sound like. Or Tangerine Dream’s score to Michael Mann’s Vice-prototype, Thief. In any case, as James Lileks once wrote, “Polo collars UP, everyone, and THAT’S AN ORDER”!
For those with home recording programs that allow for control of outside MIDI programs, Z3ta’s sequencer patterns can animated to change mid-song, allowing one patch to have different patterns for verses, bridges, choruses, etc. For example, a song could have fast 16th note synth runs for most of its length, switching to more languid quarter notes for the middle eight. Start to mix up patterns and sounds (sequenced bass notes, rich analog pads, zippy mid-range ARP runs), and you’re well on the way to quite an interesting collage of sounds as a sort of music concrete to flesh-out any composition.
Beyond those 100 arpeggio patterns, several of the patches have built in sequenced riffs of their own. While these can’t be altered with the same flexibility as those patches, with the arpeggio patterns, they help to round out the versatility of Z3ta+.
If I were just starting out recording music on a PC, I’m not sure if I’d make Z3ta+ my first software synth purchase. (I think Propellerhead’s Reason is still the best entry-level software synthesizer, simply because it’s so versatile and feature-packed, but so easy for the absolute beginner to quickly assemble very pleasing sounds). But to flesh out an existing arsenal of synths (software or otherwise), Z3ta+ would certainly make a first class addition.
Just make sure you wear your sunglasses (Wayfarers, of course!) when you play it at night…