September 20, 2014

25th Anniv. Moment - iZotope Stutter Edit [Breakthrough Product]

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Originally published: July 2011

Boston-based company iZotope has a solid reputation for making versatile and powerful plug-ins that won’t break the bank. DJ-artist/sound designer Brian Transeau (aka BT) has long been known for creating innovative electronic music, while staying at the forefront of production technology with his company, Sonik Architects.

BT and iZotope now have teamed up to release Stutter Edit, a BT-signature tool that promises to inject effects that, at the press of a single key, sound like they took painstaking hours to create. Upon its announcement at this past Winter NAMM show, our interest was piqued.

An effect that repeats fragments of audio at rhythmic intervals, Stutter Edit is used within a DAW like Pro Tools, Live, Logic, etc. You begin by making Stutter Edit an insert plug-in on an audio track. Next, you create a MIDI track whose output is assigned to the track with Stutter Edit on it. From there, all you need to do is press a single note on a standard MIDI keyboard and Stutter Edit does its magic.

Within the pre-packaged or user-saved presets, each MIDI note can be assigned to what is known as a Gesture. Each Gesture can be either a Stutter effect or what is known as a Generator. Stutter effects chop, mangle, distort, and delay the audio that passes through them, while Generators create new sounds like noise sweeps. You are capable of playing both a Generator and Stutter simultaneously for even more layered effects. Within seconds, I was beating up some audio on a stereo mix and making interesting fills that sounded like they took a long time to make. Imagine accessing Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, or, well, BT at the push of a button. Stutter Edit can be used on any track, whether it is the master fader, a bus, or a single audio track.

Across the top of the plug-in screen is the Stutter Matrix. Here, there are boxes to check off that determine which note values are going to be part of the stutter, ranging from half note to 1/1,024 note. This includes normal, dotted, and triplet values for a total of 30 different note lengths. Working within your sequencer to a set tempo is the necessary to keep Stutter Edit in sync with a song.
On the right side of the matrix is a set of boxes in a piano format with a range of C2 to C5 that can be clicked to create a scale for a more musical-sounding stutter. Some users would probably benefit from a drop-down box for scales to be selected, but you are on your own music theory-wise. It is worth noting that entering scales into the matrix yielded some of the best sounding effects.

Below the matrix are Global Gesture Settings like length, grid size and release mode, which determines what happens when you let go of a key, plus a button for palindrome looping.

Stutter effects are built via a number of modules which can be turned on or off and used either solo or in combination with each other. The stutter modules include Stutter, Quantize, Gate, Jump Pan, and Buffer Position. Any combination of these can be used simultaneously to stutter and chop audio in different ways. They all have similar controls including an on/off button, a timeline dot that shows the position of the effect, handles for setting range and direction, and a curve control.

Within these parameters, the Stutter Effect’s movement and speed are determined and there are so many subtle possibilities of what each effect can sound like. This, coupled with the fact that the audio track that the effect is being used on is the actual source material, really opens up a plethora of unique effects. The different modules are more easily understood after a bit of experimentation. I found the Buffer Position module to sometimes introduce undesirable pops and clicks that are only suitable for glitch music.

The Generators make completely new sound effects that do not use an audio track for source material. The first thing you can choose is the length and start position of the Generator, so you are never off-beat. Within the Generator panel is a drop-down labeled “Noise Table” that allows the choice of different sampled noises that are continuous loops and one-shot samples like crashes. The different effects that can be assigned to these noise sources include Gain, Pitch, Lo-Fi, Band-Pass Filter, and Delay. You can also send a Generator to a Stutter via the Stutter Gate Send Module. Similar to the Stutter modules, every Generator module has a range and curve control to determine the speed of the effects. Long story short, this is a very easy way to dial in a variety of noisy sound effects that are typically used for texture and transitions.

The stock presets are great, but the real fun is making banks of new Gestures. Fortunately, the way banks of effects are stored in the Preset Manager is easy to work with. At a glance, you can see what effects are assigned to the keys and what type of effect they are. Copying and pasting within the banks is done by right-clicking and you can easily drag effects to any key. These are most welcomed features. This allows for easy designing of unique banks and building off of your settings. Designing your own presets is also a great way to learn how the different modules operate.

Quibbles: One feature that I would love to see in a future release is “undo.” Sometimes you can go too far with an effect and it would be great to take a few steps back in the sound design. Also, on version 1.00, I experienced some crashes in Pro Tools, but this was easily remedied by an update. In fact, iZotope has already done a few updates and proved that they are certainly on top of keeping their software running and current.

Stutter Edit ($249 list) is capable of a great deal of sound-design possibilities with a specialty in rhythmic effects. With some time sank into programming, it can add many dimensions to any audio track and can pull off sounds that appear like they took way more time to program then they actually did.

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