Sampling technology really started to come of age with the development of computer based sampling systems, such as the Fairlight CMI, in the mid to late eighties, and there was a plethora of sample based records to prove it! However, at one end of the scale, you had the highly creative and individual likes of Peter Gabriel and Jean Michel Jarre, who really explored the technology to create interesting and exciting sounds... but at the other end of the scale, you had records with dogs barking the tune, only to be interrupted by the odd 'Meow'!
Certainly, I remember seeing the likes of Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran, posing with a Fairlight CMI on 'Top of the Pops', and marveling at its bright green screen, which seemed able to draw a 3D waveform image. As technology has come a long way since those times, I've often wondered when something of this kind might become available in an easy-to-use virtual instrument plug-in, that could integrate seamlessly with an existing DAW.
Certainly, there is plenty of sample/sampling-based software out there, but Iris from iZotope offers a very interesting and unique take on the old sampling form. Iris is described as a sampling re-synthesiser, so let's see what might set this apart from other sampling playback devices that are out there...
IZOTOPE IRIS - GETTING STARTED
Installation is quite a busy affair, befitting of the large amount of content that is included. Authorisation for the plug-in is by code, or to a preferred iLok key, and once completed, I was prompted to download samples to the tune of 3.4 Gb. Thankfully I have a fast internet connection, but for anyone with a more modest connection, this could take a long while! I chose to work with Iris in AU format in Logic Pro, but there was also a stand alone version available for use.
There is also a 'try before you buy' version available for download from the iZotope web site - click here to download the demo!
IZOTOPE IRIS - WAVEFORMS OUT, SPECTRALS IN!
Most of us are quite used to the 2D waveform amplitude display that we are usually confronted with when editing audio, but right in the centre of the Iris plug-in is the Spectral Display, which offers a 2D, X-Y working area, with time displayed from left to right and frequency displayed vertically. Before you will see anything useful in this display though, you will need to load a sample, which can either be one of the included samples, of which there is plenty of choice (from synth sounds through to animal noises), or you can simply drag-and-drop any of your own audio files straight onto the display.
As soon as a sample is loaded, the Spectral Display appears almost immediately and you can then play back your sound via a keyboard. It is at this point that excitement got the better of me, and I couldn’t resist picking up the Lasso tool from the tool box and drawing over the Spectral Display. This tool allowed me to select and highlight the section of the audio file that I wanted to play - very clever! In fact, you can draw over numerous sections of the display to hear only the harmonics/frequencies that you wish. There are also other more exacting tools, which you can use to facilitate a similar or better effect, allowing you to pick the exact frequencies or timing of the sample that you wish to hear. Once you have made your choice, you can then hear the sample back in a number of forms; forwards, backwards or a mixture of the two.
IZOTOPE IRIS - SHAPING YOUR SAMPLE FURTHER
Now all of this is pretty interesting sampling stuff, but one of the major strengths of Iris is the ability to not only shape the sample further with a variety of standard modulations (such as LFOs and an ADSR envelope), but you can then also layer up to 3 samples to create your full timbre. If you then add the whole FX section, which includes delay, reverb, chorus and distortion, you can create something quite other worldly.
There is also a variable filter available for use if you can’t get the exact effect that you want using the Spectral Display. It's always useful to have the old guard of Low and High Pass filters, and others to boot, to polish your creation.
IZOTOPE IRIS - SUB SYNTH
The final addition to the timbral part of the package is the 'Sub' synth, which allows you to add a fundamental tone to the samples you are working with. This is a master stroke, especially if you want to use your samples in a more musical context. The ability to mix in the fundamental, with a choice of largely subtractive based waveforms, could be incredibly helpful when building up your timbre.
There is also a mixer section, which allows you to mix your three samples and sub tone together, to get the perfect balance between your tones - very simple and highly intuitive to anyone with a working knowledge of basic synthesis. In fact, I found that I didn’t need to open a manual at all to get to grips with the Iris plug-in, such is its ease of use, however, that I was prompted to look at the onscreen tutorial to get a handle on how to get started. There are also some nice video tutorials available via YouTube.
IZOTOPE IRIS - SUMMARY
Iris is a very unique product, which I can see being of great use and interest to a number of people, whether they be sound designers or musicians who like to make their own sample based timbres. Certainly there is no need to go out and gather samples in the way that Gabriel or Jarre did in the 80's, thanks to the incredible included content, although I suddenly feel tempted to don a portable recording device and go on a recording jaunt to gather my own content!
I can see that musicians and sound designers alike might really like this product for its ease of use and incredible sonic capabilities. Iris is fast to work with and delivers good results quickly, and when you are in the midst of a working schedule, any product which can speed up your creative flow gets my vote!
I would highly recommend Iris if you have an interest in creating sonic delights from your own sampled material!
For more information on iZotope Iris, click the link below or give us a call on 01202 597189.