If you've ever dabbled in the creation of crazy sound effects for home movies, other-worldly audio to complement the battle sequences in a new alien gaming app or strange new loops for digital dance music, you quickly start to appreciate just what a complicated process sound design can be. What with noise generation, pulse and velocity modulation, parallel and series filters, and various other filters, oscillators and envelopes to contend with, the process can hardly be described as fun. A new sample-based synthesizer suite from iZotope seeks to change all that. Both a powerful tool for design pros and an enjoyable and easy way for newbies to dive in and experiment, Iris allows users to manipulate, tweak and layer sounds using the kind of visual editing tools you might find in graphic design packages and discover otherwise hidden sonic treasures.
iZotope's Iris is as much about what you see as what you hear and adds a whole new level of enjoyment to the serious business of digital sound design. It comes supplied with over 500 patches from the top sound designers and 4 GB of included audio samples to work with, including recordings of insects, animals, machines, vintage synthesizers like the ARP 2500, the EMS VCS3, the Korg PS3100, the Yamaha CS-80, and numerous musical instruments. Users can also drag and drop any .wav or .aiff audio file directly into Iris for manipulation.
The main window offers either a standard sound waveform representation of the chosen audio or a spectral representation of the signal with low frequency at the bottom and high frequency at the top, time is shown left to right across the display and loud events are brighter than quiet ones. There's a slider to adjust the balance from the source waveform pattern to the spectrogram display.
At its simplest level, Iris allows users to discover what the crackle of electricity, tubular bells and seagulls sound like when mixed together. Its real power, however, comes from using the suite's intuitive visual drawing engine and selection tools such as Magic Wand and Lasso to highlight and isolate visually interesting portions of the source audio and potentially uncover brand new sounds. You can also go wild and simply draw freehand shapes to affect the time and frequency of the source audio in the spectrogram window using the Brush tool.
More shapes can be added, and sections can be completely removed or inverted both horizontally and vertically. Iris allows for zooming in and out of the timeline for detailed tweaking, while the size of the brush tool can be altered and areas with similar harmonic content brought into play. Up to three audio samples can be loaded in and layered at any one time, plus a sub oscillator channel to further enrich and texture the new creation.
Once you've knocked yourself out using your eyes to influence and experiment with the samples, patches or audio, a little time can then be spent fine tuning the amplitude and modulation, and further enhance the new sounds courtesy of the included chorus, reverb, distortion and delay algorithms, real-time pitch shifting, amp envelopes, filters and Low Frequency Oscillators (LFO).
If you don't have a MIDI controller or keyboard to hook up via your modern Windows or Intel-based Mac computer, don't worry as Iris comes with its own onscreen keyboard (which includes pitch and mod wheels) to audition the sounds. The sampling re-synthesizer also features intelligent root note detection that automatically maps imported audio across the keyboard.
Iris is host compatible with Pro Tools, Cubase, GarageBand, Ableton Live and many other plug-ins, and is available now for download from the source link for a recommended retail price of US$249.
If you'd like to try before you buy, there's a free-to-download trial version which is fully operational for ten days and contains 23 patches and a small selection of available samples, but doesn't allow any sonic creations to be saved. Once the trial period is up, the software reverts to a limited demo mode.
Sound scientists can also add two complementary audio libraries to the package. The Glass library costs US$49 and is a somewhat unusual collection of sounds relating to, well, glass. Bottles, mirrors, marbles, glasses, shards, and even glassblowing torches can all be totally re-imagined through Iris to create new and interesting soundscapes.
Similarly, the Wood library represents recorded sonic encounters with all things sourced from trees, including sounds of doors slamming, drumming on guitars and grandma's creaky deckchair. This selection is priced at $29.
If you feel like jumping in with abandon, the full Iris suite with Glass and Wood libraries included is also available for a purchase price of $299.