DJs use a unique type of tension and release where a groove gets interrupted momentarily, and the DJ drops in a fill—a breakbeat— that punctuates the main groove. With vinyl, this involved doing a fast crossfade to a second platter, beat-matched to the main one, for the duration of the fill. Laptop DJs have easier options, like hitting the Solo button for a loop, or with a program like Ableton Live, triggering a Scene devoted to your breakbeat. Then, there’s iZotope Stutter Edit, a plug-in designed by electronic composer BT, which elevates the breakbeat to an art form. Yes, it does those stutter effects that BT made famous—which he originally achieved via hours of painstaking editing in his DAW—and these can range from obvious Max Headroom stutters to glitch chains that chop audio at a seemingly subatomic level. As I found out, though, it does a whole lot more.
Stutter Edit blurs the line between processor and instrument both conceptually and technically. It’s an effect, but like a soft synth, requires MIDI input. With most hosts, you can insert Stutter Edit as an effect and create a MIDI track to drive it. Other hosts may have a quirk or two—with Digital Performer, the transport must be playing in order to switch Stutter Edit gestures, and in Sonar, you need to instantiate Stutter Edit as a VST instrument, not as an audio plug-in. On 64-bit Windows, iZotope installs both 32- and 64-bit versions. To use the 64-bit version in Sonar X1, I had to remove the 32-bit version temporarily so that Sonar would select the 64-bit version by default. I then put the 32-bit version back for use in 32-bit programs.
You’ll get the most out of Stutter Edit if you control it from a MIDI keyboard in real time, treating it as a performance, and recording the MIDI notes you play. The program includes a virtual keyboard, and you could always enter notes manually in your host, but that’d be like buying a Porsche and never shifting above second gear.
How It Works
Stutter Edit is based on a sampler-type engine that’s continuously reading your audio and loading it into a buffer. Once in the buffer, you can manipulate the audio in a mind-boggling array of ways, converting rhythmic elements into pitched elements, and vice-versa. All of this can sync to host tempo, as well as trigger at times that are based on rhythmic quantizations, not unlike how clips launch in Ableton Live. In a way, you can think of Stutter Edit as an arpeggiator-on-steroids for audio data.
While Stutter Edit appears overwhelming at first, its various elements have much in common—for example, timing is handled pretty much the same way whether you’re working with delay, filtering, or some other module.
Stutter Edit’s main performance element is called a “gesture.” A gesture can be as simple as repeating a section of audio like a stuck CD, to adding complex delay, lo-fi mangling, and even generated noise to create transitions or sweeps. A gesture can last as briefly as a sixteenthnote to as long as two bars, and sets an overall range over which effects settings change or sweep. Gestures can play as long as you hold down a key, end at a specific time, have quantized duration, or be triggered and then play all the way through. You can assign any gesture, simple or complex, to a single key, bringing it in and out as needed.
In addition to what cutting-edge DJs do, gestures reminded me of musique concrète techniques where composers chopped up tape (the “sample buff ers” of that era) and put the pieces back together in unusual ways. Granted, all this isn’t easy to explain in words, but fortunately you can download a free demo and try it yourself.
<- The Generator adds yet another element by injecting various controlled noise options into your music.
The primary effects available for mutating the sound include gating (the signature BT stutter effect), quantize, stereo delay, delay with filtering, bit reduction, lo-fi (sample rate degradation), and lowpass and highpass filters. All of these can be tied to tempo in various ways, and a further group of options modify tempo-related parameters such as gesture length, whether gestures are deployed on a grid or handle duration in other ways, and manipulating movement within the sample buffer itself—independently for the left and right channels. You can specify a range over which sonic changes occur (for example, changing the amount of delay feedback over the course of doing the gesture), determine whether these changes occur over a linear, logarithmic, or exponential curve, and sweep the specified range using a modulation wheel or similar controller. You can also specify what portion of sampled audio will be stuttered, and repeat audio at a high enough rate to turn it into a continuous pitched note.
There’s nothing like Stutter Edit—no other plug-ins have successfully combined buffer chopping, live performance, remixing, and “studio thinking” to this extent. Best of all, real-time MIDI control brings the excitement of a performance element not just to playing live, but also to the studio. Nor do you need a specialized controller; a MIDI keyboard works perfectly fine.
Even though Stutter Edit isn’t for everyone (I don’t expect to hear Lady Antebellum use it anytime soon), the high level of innovation and exceptional fun factor earns it our Key Buy award. Kudos to iZotope and BT for thinking waaaaay outs-s-s-sideDEdeDE the b-b-b-b-box.
PROS Extremely innovative. Blurs the line between effect and instrument. Not hard to learn. Fun factor is off the charts.
CONS Doesn’t support all hosts, as it requires a MIDI data stream fed to it.
CONCEPT MIDI-controlled, beats-oriented signal processor plug-in that rhythmically chops, warps, and stutters audio in real time.
FORMAT Mac or PC. AU, VST, RTAS (Pro Tools 7.4 or higher).
OPERATING SYSTEM Mac OS 10.5.8 or later; Windows XP, Vista, 7; all 32- or 64-bit.
FULLY SUPPORTED HOSTS Apple Logic, Ableton Live, Avid Pro Tools, Cakewalk Sonar, Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo, Image-Line FL Studio, Cockos Reaper, and MOTU Digital Performer.
PRICE List: $299
Approx. street: $200