BreakTweaker is a fantastic new rhythm/drum-sequencing plug-in from iZotope and Grammy-nominated musician, producer, and all-around genius Brian Transeau (better known as BT). Their previous collaborative effort, Stutter Edit, was a really groundbreaking piece of software, in my opinion, and if you've used it, you'll understand the vibe of what's going on with BreakTweaker. iZotope calls it "a drum sculpting and beat sequencing machine that blurs the line between rhythm and melody," and I'd agree with that completely. While there are many features as well as general functionality that you can find in other plug-ins, there are a few things that make BreakTweaker a genuinely unique and inspiring instrument.
BreakTweaker is essentially a plug-in that allows you to quickly build rhythms from patterns in a seriously inspiring manner. It gives you really in-depth control over the sounds (synthesized or sampled); the ability to stack and edit those sounds and patterns; and a flexible and creative way to add variations to patterns and sounds. Finally, it adds a powerful feature that lets you tweak what's essentially a granulated version of any sound. Ultimately, it offers massive flexibility in how you build sounds, almost to the point that you could write complete songs without ever leaving the plug-in.
BreakTweaker presents itself in three main sections: Sequencer, Generator, and MicroEdit. Sequencer is fairly straightforward, giving you two bars to build patterns in six different tracks. Four bars would have been nicer to add greater complexity to the patterns, but you can work in multiple time signatures. A nice little feature here is that if you hit the tab key, the plug-in toggles between the sequencer and the previously viewed page of the plug-in, which seems minor, but I found this to be super useful. Inside Sequencer, you can control all the things you'd expect, but one unique addition is the ability to independently control the playback length of each pattern. Creating isorhythms using patterns of different length results in interactions that evolve over time, which adds awesome depth quickly. This can be useful for synth variations or for percussive elements; and altering the length of the MIDI note triggering the pattern (which is the way your DAW triggers the patterns inside BreakTweaker) can give even more flexibility and creative expression. One thing I'd love to see added is a zoom function for the sequencer window. The window only shows a bar and a half. To see bits of those patterns not in the current view, you have to drag the viewing window back and forth, which seems unnecessarily tedious for something built specifically to simplify complex audio creation. Some form of MIDI-to-audio translation, similar to what's available in Native Instruments Maschine, would be an incredibly welcome addition as well.
Generator is where you choose what sound will play in each track, and you get three generators per track. Each generator can be a synth or a sample, and of course you can use your own audio samples here. The sample library is first rate, containing very up-to-date sounds and a full range of percussive, synth, vocal, and effects options. The interface here will feel very comfortable to anyone already used to iZotope products, and it contains very in-depth options for manipulating each sound — pitch, distortion, filters, envelope generators, LFOs, and the like.
The real shine of BreakTweaker is in its third section, MicroEdit Engine. Here the plug-in breaks down each note into parts based on a few different modes — divisions, time, pitch, and speed — and then lets you sculpt the way that the "MicroEdits" are played back, based on some really creative parameters in the various subsections. "Shape" can be tweaked in many different ways, giving tons of options for how the MicroEdits are distributed across a note. This causes the MicroEdits to bunch up in different musical ways and generates really incredible variations. "Tension" is another really dramatic way to create vibe, allowing you to generate what I'd describe as a modifiable speed curve for how the MicroEdits are played back. Combined with "Rotate," some awesome dynamics are possible here. A simple synth note can turn into a building and swaying glitchy tone that morphs as it moves along. A shaker pattern can be made instantly explosive and exciting with just a couple parameters changed in one note (each note gets its own MicroEdit controls). "Gate" allows further customization and can form more flowing sounds or super-stuttered staccato sounds — and it can be done subtly or for intensely effected results as well. Also present is what looks like a fairly unassuming "Effect" subsection that contains some surprisingly pleasing options, including some standards like chorus and low-pass and high-pass filters. The one thing I'd simply kill for here is the ability to automate these parameters inside the DAW. I was told by iZotope that this simply isn't possible, as it's a limitation of MIDI. If anyone can solve this technical dilemma, it's BT, so here's to hoping it's under consideration. Until then, you can simply route the plug-in to a bus and record your tweaks live. Changing the amount of divisions, modifying the pitch shape, and turning up the effect level, for example, are killer ways to keep a piece of music moving and to generate intense interest in each pattern over time. I really found myself getting lost in just turning a few of the virtual knobs in this section, and I can hear a full song building out of just these effects.
BreakTweaker is a truly unique software instrument that adds serious inspiration to the creative process, and it's priced to be accessible to anyone.