Izotope have teamed up with electronic composer BT to bring us an effects processor that can be 'played' in real time.
Izotope have given the world plenty of top‑notch signal processing tools over the years, including Ozone 4, RX2, Nectar and Trash, but they haven't before released anything designed for use in a live environment. Enter Stutter Edit, which has been co‑developed with trance producer BT (see the 'Trigger Finger' box).
Stutter Edit is an effects plug‑in that can manipulate an audio source in a variety of ways. It works by constantly sampling the incoming audio and storing it in a buffer, so that it can be used for repeating short loops or slices, among other things. What's more, everything is automatically sync'ed to the host tempo, making flawless transitions, fills and breakdowns a breeze.
The effects are applied using what Izotope call Gestures, which are made up of one or more effects modules (Stutter Gestures) or a noise generator (Generator Gestures), and are each tied to a single MIDI note. A Gesture contains timeline information, too, determining how parameter modulation is scaled to fit the grid and when a Gesture begins and ends. The Length of each Gesture can range from two bars down to a 16th‑note triplet, while the timeline Grid for a Gesture can be set between one bar and a 64th note.
Pressing a key on your MIDI controller will trigger a Gesture and begin cycling through whatever modulation envelopes it contains, with the plug‑in waiting for the next pre‑specified beat/bar division before engaging the effects. The same is true for when you release a key, and there are several different Release Modes, so you can choose whether to stop effects instantly, wait for the next beat/bar division, have the entire Gesture play back, and so on. With Palindrome Looping engaged, a Gesture's parameter envelopes will play in reverse after reaching the end, in effect looping a Gesture back and forth until it's disengaged.
Stutter Gestures apply effects such as gating, delay, filtering, panning, beat repeats, sample‑rate reduction and so on (see the box for the whole list and the type of sounds you can expect to achieve with them). There are also Dry Gain and Wet Gain modules for balancing the unprocessed audio with the processed, and any number of these effects can be triggered with a single key-press. The Stutter module itself is lashed to the Stutter Matrix in the top third of the main interface, which determines the beat divisions available to it, ranging from 1/2 to 1/1024, with their Dotted and Triplet variations included in separate rows. On the right‑hand side of the Stutter Matrix, there are also note values from C2 to B6, which generate repetitions in musical pitches and can even be used to create arpeggios.
Generator Gestures, on the other hand, create various types of noise, such as 'Hi‑Hat Body', or single hits with names like 'Big 909 Crash'. These do not affect the incoming audio, but instead add sound over the top of whatever is playing. They also house their own modules, including Pitch, Band‑Pass Filter and Delay, which are just what you need for creating dynamic risers and drops.
Only one Gesture can be played at a time, but you can play a Stutter Gesture and a Generator Gesture simultaneously, and if you set the latter's Stutter Gate Send appropriately, the sound it generates will be processed by the Stutter Gesture modules.
Lastly, there are a couple of global controls that are assigned to the pitch and mod wheels by default. Firstly, there's a global filter that acts as a low‑pass filter when the pitch wheel is pulled down and high‑pass when pushed up. In the central position, it has no effect on the incoming audio. Assigning this effect to the pitch wheel makes perfect sense, as most controls of this type snap back to the centre after use, so once you've finished filtering, you can let go and it'll automatically return to the neutral position. The other global control is Timeline Override, which bypasses any parameter modulation set up for a given Gesture, so you can move through the parameter envelopes faster or slower, or even stop them at any given point during their cycles.
As the plug‑in requires MIDI input, there's a little bit of setting up to do first of all. Izotope have kindly supplied a handy online guide about how to do this in each of the major DAWs, and there's also an easy‑to‑use manual that explains each of the effects and their parameters. Sadly, there's no PDF version of the manual supplied with the plug‑in itself, which may prove troublesome for those who like to keep their music computer far away from the Internet and its viruses.
The best way to get to grips with Stutter Edit is to simply dive into the fantastic presets, some of which have been designed by well‑known artists such as Richard Devine, Terravita and Tremourz. My personal favourites, however, were those created by BT himself, and there are a few of his signature banks to choose from. After playing with Stutter Edit for a day or two, I decided to road‑test one of the BT banks live, running the plug‑in on the master channel of an Ableton Live set. I've got to say how amazed I was by the crowd reaction to some of the fills, edits and transitions I was able to pull off with a few simple key-presses, and as Gesture triggering and parameter envelopes are scaled to fit the host tempo, it's pretty hard to go wrong if you pick the right moments to engage the effects.
My only gripe was the Global Filter, which has too much resonance for my tastes, and there's no way of adjusting its settings. I ended up using Live's filters instead, which gave me a greater degree of control. This was simply a matter of taste, though; you may well find that this resonant dual‑filter design is perfect for your own tracks.
On the plus side, the GUI is a joy to use in low-light conditions. Each time a new Gesture is triggered, all of its settings pop up instantaneously in bright colours (with any unused modules dimmed), and there's excellent visual feedback about what part of the cycle any modulated parameters are at: high and low values are represented by white handles with a small dot moving between them to show the current value, which is great for judging when a filter will reach its peak or what part of the buffer is looping. What's more, when launching a Generator Gesture, its settings are superimposed over the main screen in striking neon blue.
Moreover, Stutter Edit is not just a tool for live laptop sets or DJing. It's perfectly at home in the studio, and with its arsenal of brilliant effects — which are great for chopping vocals, drum tracks, synth lines or anything else that needs a little jazzing up — it represents good value for money. The real boon is the well‑executed timeline‑based modulation system. Each module's main parameters, including ones like Dry and Wet Gain, can be modulated as part of a Gesture, which bypasses the need to set up complicated automation within your DAW. In fact, a great trick in the studio is to record all your MIDI gestures onto the MIDI track being used to control Stutter Edit. This enables you to quickly pull off a few remix or transition ideas on the fly, then edit the notes to taste afterwards.
Once you've explored the presets, you'll no doubt want to modify them or even create your own from scratch. To do this, simply press a key to bring up a Gesture's settings, then adjust your chosen parameters, before saving them as a new preset. When you're happy with the new effects, click the Preset Manager button near the top of the screen and a new window appears, showing the available banks in the left‑hand column. Every bank contains up to 128 Gestures, each tied to a MIDI note in the range C2 to B8, as shown on the right‑hand side of the window. From here, you can create new banks and rearrange the Gestures within them, placing them on different keys until you find the perfect layout. However, it must be said that I found the Preset Manager a little clunky, as copying, pasting and deleting involves right‑clicking and selecting the appropriate command from a menu. A drag‑and‑drop system would have sped things up considerably.
Effects‑wise, I found that this plug‑in was near enough all I needed for playing out electronic music in a live context, and it's also been a constant source of inspiration in the studio for remixes or generating new ideas from even the most basic of loops. The GUI is fantastic, with a fine degree of visual feedback as you trigger effects and blasts of noise, while the way it constantly updates the buffer and locks each effect to the host tempo is particularly breathtaking – not bad for v1.0!
Due to the nature of the included effects, it's clearly best suited to more repetitive styles of music, though I also found that it can radically alter something like a guitar recording, if you're short of inspiration. Nevertheless, there have been suggestions on some Internet forums that these effects, while initially impressive, will soon become generic tricks that feature in many laptop sets. It's down to you to create your own custom presets, and there are certainly enough parameters in each module to generate something totally unique.
If you're a dance producer who's still not convinced that you need this plug‑in, download the demo version from Izotope's web site, providing you with 10 days of unrestricted use. On the other hand, if you've already fallen in love with this effect, as I have, you'll be pleased to know that Izotope and BT will be joining forces again in the near future to bring you BreakTweaker, a plug‑in that is said to have been made for creating synthesized drum sounds and micro‑rhythmic patterns. I, for one, can't wait.
Stutter Edit runs on Windows XP, x64, Vista, 7 and Mac OS 10.5.8 (Leopard) or later. It also requires host software capable of running VST, AU or RTAS plug‑ins. Note that as Stutter Edit requires MIDI input from the host software, some DAWs are not supported. The fully supported hosts are Apple Logic, Ableton Live, Pro Tools (v7.4 and above), Cakewalk Sonar, Steinberg Cubase/Nuendo, Image Line FL Studio, Cockos Reaper and MOTU Digital Performer.
Stutter Gesture Modules
- Stutter: Loops sections of audio in a style similar to Live's Beat Repeat.
- Quantize: Rhythmically steps through different beat divisions in the Stutter Matrix.
- Gate Width: Chops rhythmic holes of varying length in your source material.
- Jump Pan: Creates Gestures that swing back and forth across the stereo panorama.
- Buffer Position: Cycles through different sections of audio stored in the buffer.
- Stereo Delay: Adds echo and modulates the delay times for the right and left channels.
- Low‑pass Filter: Knocks out high‑frequency content of incoming audio.
- High‑pass Filter: Removes the lower frequencies of your audio signal.
- Delay Band‑pass: Creates dub‑style filtered delays in the left and right channels.
- Bit Reduction: Adds crunchiness to the incoming audio by lowering the bit depth.
- Lo‑Fi: Reduces the sample rate, for subtly or wildly degrading your signal.
- Dry Gain: Sets and modulates the amount of unprocessed audio heard.
- Effect Gain: Adjusts and modulates the volume of the effected audio.
- Stutter Matrix: Determines the beat divisions that are available to the Stutter module.
Generator Gesture Modules
- Generator Gain: Sets the level of Generator Gestures and creates volume swells.
- Pitch: Determines the start and end pitch of generated audio between 0Hz and 20kHz.
- Lo‑Fi: Adds grime to your risers and drops by lowering the sampling rate.
- Stutter Gate Send: Sends the Generator audio to the Stutter Gesture Gate module.
- Band‑Pass Filter: Limits the frequency content of any added noise.
- Delay: Creates echoes that can continue after disengaging a Generator Gesture.
As I've stated in the main text, Izotope have teamed up with trance musician and film composer Brian Transeau, aka BT, to develop Stutter Edit. Interestingly, BT holds a curious world record for producing a song with the largest number of vocal edits occurring in a single track – 'Somnabulist' contains an amazing 6,178 edits, and he even coined the term 'stutter edit' precisely to describe this type of cut‑up technique. What's more, BT has been using a beta build of the software in his live sets for years, so it really is his creative vision that Izotope have now moulded into a commercial product.
Of course, this scenario draws direct comparison with Native Instruments and Tim Exile's collaboration on The Finger, another program designed to manipulate incoming audio with a few keypresses, which was originally used by Exile in his live sets. Aside from slightly different musical influences on the effects contained in The Finger, which are more glitchy and granulated, the main difference between the two is that each key in The Finger triggers one effect, whereas Stutter Edit can house multiple effects on a single key. It's true that you can layer the effects in The Finger by pressing multiple keys in the order that you wish to route them, but Stutter Edit's simplicity wins hands down for me, especially in the heat of a live performance.
- Contains some truly jaw‑dropping presets.
- Well thought‑out parameters for customising effects.
- Effortlessly syncs with the project tempo.
- Onboard noise generator for creating risers.
- Global Filter settings cannot be adjusted.
- The Preset Manager is quite laborious.
If you predominantly work in electronic or dance music, this plug‑in offers a fine selection of effects for creating fills, edits, transitions, breakdowns and risers, all with the press of a few keys. What's more, it's just at home on stage as it is in the studio, and can be used for manipulating a full track by placing it on the master channel, or otherwise employed to cut up and remix drums, vocals or, indeed, any other instruments and sounds that you can think of. The best thing is that this can all be done on the fly and in perfect sync with your project tempo.
- Izotope Stutter Edit v1.0.
- Apple MacBook Pro with Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz CPU and 4GB DDR3 RAM, running Mac OS 10.6.6.
- Tested with Ableton Suite v8.2.