Welcome to the new
PROBABLY THE healthiest aspect of state-of-the-art music software is the way the lines
blur between the tools we use to make music.
The latest instruments borrow technologies
from samplers, drum machines, sequencers,
and audio processors. I recently checked out
iZotope BreakTweaker, which is all of the
above and more.
|With its granular synthesis and MicroEdit capabilities, iZotope BreakTweaker provides a
powerful set of rhythm-generation tools that is remarkably intuitive to use.
BreakTweaker originates from iZotope’s
collaborations with Brian Transeau (aka BT).
It’s available as a plug-in only, in AU, VST,
RTAS, and AAX versions. The installation
and authorization procedures are simple and,
thankfully, you can choose a disk for storing
sample content. I ran BreakTweaker with
Digital Performer 8.0.5 as a VST, as an AU
plug-in with Ableton Live 9.1 and PreSonus
Studio One 2.6, and as an RTAS plug-in in Avid
Pro Tools 10.
Under the Ice The user interface is sensibly
laid out, and if you have any experience at all with software groove engines,
BreakTweaker should seem pretty intuitive.
As with any drum-machine-style application,
BreakTweaker furnishes a sequencer and an
array of sounds. The basic operational concept
is that a range of MIDI notes trigger patterns
mapped chromatically to the keyboard, with
individual sounds arrayed in the keys below
the patterns—but that’s the tip of the iceberg.
But BreakTweaker is truly distinguished
from your run-of-the-mill groove and drum
machines by the depths to which you can
arrange and alter rhythms and sounds. It is
at heart, a granular synthesizer folded into a
drum-machine user interface, and that has
as much to do with its sound as its rhythmic
Just below the header where you choose
a preset, an animated piano roll details the
events as they go by. Below that, there are six
tracks, vertically arranged, each of which holds
a horizontal field for creating events, called Steps. Steps are relatively pliable affairs, which
you can create with the click of a mouse, and
move or stretch just as easily. Stretching a Step
changes the duration of the event, and you
can edge-edit Steps for shorter durations and
drag them up or down to change dynamics.
All patterns are created in step time; the
resolution of real-time granular synthesis is
higher than that of MIDI data. If you need to
play in your drum tracks, the entire kit appears
an octave below the loop triggers.
Tweak of the Week Each slot holds
a Generator, which, superficially, is the
equivalent of a kit piece. Unlike with typical
drum-machine maps, there are no hard-andfast
rules to a track’s function or sound; click
in the track’s Name field, and call it what you
like. Next to the track’s name is the icon of a
sine wave; clicking it grants access to more
detailed editing of Generator source material.
You start with two Generators and a choice of
samples or digital wavetable synths for any of
the Generator’s three slots. Sample Generators
have a decent set of tools for modifying
playback, including sample start, looping,
coarse- and fine-tuning, and more. When
adjusting the pitch of the sample, you can view
the values as notes or as frequencies. From
there, you can deploy a generous complement
of modulation tools: four AHDSR envelopes
and four very flexible LFOs per generator. Of course, you can sync LFO cycles to tempo.
|Clicking on the sine-wave graphic next to a track reveals its sample-editing and synthesis
parameters for each of its three generators. Each generator can be a sample or a twooscillator
wavetable synth engine.
BreakTweaker’s wavetable oscillators offer
the same modulation capabilities and top
things off with highly configurable wavetables.
As with samples, you can determine the point
in the waveform’s cycle to start playback,
and wavetables can derive from analog-type
periodic shapes or complex sounds created
from formants, additive synthesis, and other
Micro-Management The Microedit section
is where BreakTweaker’s formidable granular
synthesis capabilities come into play. Each step
that you place in a track, in essence, can be a
discrete moment for the granular process, as
opposed to invoking an engine that processes
all tracks equally. This lets you endow each
step with its own timbre and rhythm.
Click on a step and the Microedit window
appears in a bottom panel, where you can
drag across the field to create buzzy, granular
timbral changes, or discrete rhythmic figures.
If you need more specific controls, type in
specific values or rotate a virtual encoder. Edit
a step into arbitrary divisions, or granulate for
time or pitch. Because each step is discrete,
you can (for instance) micro-edit a series of
notes into a bass line or a motif. Using the
Slope parameter, you can even subdivide
each step into its own melodic figure. Editing
amenities abound; you can audition and tweak
your changes in context or solo a single step
while you work. Rhythmic micro-edits can create dramatic fills and exceedingly funky
polyrhythms. If that’s not enough, head back to
the sequencer, where each track can play back
at its own relative speed.
More Is More BreakTweaker has a ton of
features that I don’t have room to cover in
depth here, but I’ll list a couple. One very
musical feature is continuity between loops:
With the retrigger button off, playing legato on
another pattern key at any point of its playback
will play the next pattern at the same relative
juncture of playback, the net result being
the ability to seed an uncountable number of
The factory library has plenty of
contemporary-sounding samples, and iZotope
has already bolstered its collection with three
add-on sets: Vintage Machines, Cinematic
Textures, and Kicks and Snares. If that doesn’t
satisfy you, adding your own AIFF or WAV
files is extremely easy.
BreakTweaker can easily take its place
beside Stutter Edit and Iris as another wildly
successful entry into iZotope’s roster of
creative instruments. Check out the 10-day
demo and have someone slide your meals
under the door.
Marty Cutler worked as a sound designer
on a couple of the world’s first commercially
available software synths and wrote one of
the first books on MIDI guitar. He is also a
well-known five-string banjo player. Go figure.
Strengths Incredibly powerful realtime
editing and granular-synthesis
engine. Intuitive user interface.
Limitations Sequencer is step entry
only. No standalone mode.
BreakTweaker $249 (Download)
BreakTweaker Expanded $249