Dubspot contributor Josh Spoon explores iZotope’s BreakTweaker rhythm instrument and finds that the program offers much more than the name implies.
BreakTweaker is a new instrument from iZotope that is designed to look simple, but under the hood offers a lot of sound design tools that allow you to explore new sonic territory. If you are familiar with iZotope’s Stutter Edit (also designed with BT) then you can surely guess the complexities that will be available in this multi-dimensional groove box. The BreakTweaker interface is divided into 3 main sections: the Sequencer, the Generator, and the MicroEdit Engine. You can get started quickly by opening a preset that populates all 3 sections. This will allow you to hear an example of what BreakTweaker can do.
If you are familiar with Stutter Edit, you will feel right at home in BreakTweaker. The Sequencer is very similar and gives you up to 24 patterns to trigger with your MIDI controller’s notes C2 through B3 keys. There are various play modes to add more variety by selecting gate and latch with or without legato mode. Notes C1 through F1 (varies on a few DAWs) allow you to play back the sample of one of the 6 tracks in BreakTweaker for previewing or live performance.
Adding steps to the sequence is as easy as clicking on a subdivision. Once you have a step placed on the Sequencer, you can lengthen or shorten it as well as drag up and down the velocity. Steps can also be used to choke or silence the flow of the step before it.
One of the most interesting features of the Sequencer is each of the 6 tracks have independent playback speeds. You can create interesting polyrhythms and wonky beats using BreakTweakers. Create a track with a kick that is playing 3x, a snare at 1/2x with hats and synth playing at 1x all in the same project with the ability to change with just one click of the multiplier.
BreakTweaker’s Sequencer has all the usual track controls you would expect in a Sequencer like mutes, pan, and solo, but also carries a few more nice features. In the upper left of the Sequencer is an intensity knob to add some punch and compression to the groove. Once you are done creating you have the option to send each track out for stemming or more processing to your DAW.
The Generator is the core of sound generation in BreakTweaker. Each of the 6 tracks contains 3 Generators that allow you to choose between a synth or a sample. The synths are extremely versatile and expressive wavetable oscillators, easily able to morph from a basic fundamental to a complex harmonic waveform. Two waveforms can be blended as an additive, ring-modulated, amplitude modulated, or frequency modulated synth, for further complexity.
The Generator also comes with 4 independent envelopes and wavetable LFOs that can be sent to almost any parameter in the Generator. These modulators can be used to affect 1 or many parameters. You can sometimes even use 4 modulators on one parameter.
If 3 complex generators with 2 oscillator wavetables, 4 envelopes and 4 wavetable lfos weren’t enough, BreakTweaker has dual stage distortion which can be added before or after the filter. Both the distortion and filter have multiple types that can be applied to make the sample your own. For example you can add some crunch with a Transistor distortion and smooth it out with New York style filter.
The Sample side of the Generator is similar to the Synth. except for where the 2 oscillators would be is a sampler along with a loop mode and different forward/reverse options. The sampler comes with a decent amount of samples but you can upgrade for more, though BreakTweaker allows you to import your own samples. I feel this was a nice touch for them to leave it up to you on what samples can be in the program. Also, the Discover feature (it requires an internet connection) gives you suggestions on other similar sounds in the Izotope sample library that you can use.
To be honest with you, I didn’t think BreakTweaker’s Generator would be this feature rich. You can spend quite some time sound designing and getting the exact sound you want.
The MicroEdit Engine
The MicroEdit Engine is like an audio wood-chipper. You have the ability to divide up a step into thousands of slices with a a plethora of options like harmonic, pitched, and rhythmic effects. Each step’s Micro Edit can be tweaked further with slopes, gate effects, fades and also a standard effects section to further augment the MicroEdit section.
You can use the MicroEdit Engine as subtle or as complex as you like. Your MicroEdits compress and expand depending on how long your step is. If you have 3 divisions in a step over 1 beat you will get a 8th note triplet but if it’s over a 8th note you will have a 16th not triplet in your step.
There are lots of possibilities to manipulate your audio. Would you like your kick drum to play a Major 7 progression in the span of a 1/4 note? You can do that. Would you like your synth to do a rolling chorus stutter that is tailored to your liking over the course of one bar? You can do that. Shifting time, creating complex shuffles and glitching out all possible in MicroEdit.
The Factory Library
iZotope gives you over 2 GB of downloadable presets, drum samples and wavetables to use royalty-free. All of which sound solid and are what you’d expect from BT and the sound designers that work with iZotope. If you purchase BreakTweaker Expanded, you will get these expansion packs; Vintage Machines, Cinematic Textures, and Kicks and Snares by Beatport Sounds.
BreakTweaker has more to offer then just making outrageous beats. It combines a great synth engine, samples, effects, and a step sequencer to make an interesting and inspiring groove box instrument. Once you have your patterns set up and a few parameters mapped, BreakTweaker makes for a great performance tool ready to mangle up the tracks in the studio or on the dance floor, all from your controller. BreakTweakers is available as a AAX (Pro Tools 11), RTAS/AudioSuite (Pro Tools 7.4-10), VST and VST 3, Audio Unit for $249 and $299 for BreakTweaker Expanded.
Dubspot blogger Josh Spoon is an Ableton Live veteran, blogger, drummer, music producer and live performer. Josh has a residency with the eclectic Los Angeles electronic music collective Space Circus,performing every first Friday of the month, and just released his first concept EP of grooving low-end originals entitled Man on Mars.
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