Mini Review: zplane Élastique Pitch Plug-In

May 26, 2009 3:54 PM, By Brandon Hickey

Proven Production Tool Comes to Pro Tools


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screenshot of Elastique Pitch plug-in

Adjusting the pitch of a recording has always been a complicated matter. We’re not talking about correcting pitch note by note; rather, we’re talking about changing pitch and timbre up or down by ±12 semitones (50-200 percent). Most likely, changing pitch will result in speeding or slowing the audio, which will alter the overall timeline and change the timbre of an instrument. Altering pitch without affecting the timeline usually necessitates a tool that can analyze audio offline, and then apply changes. Sony Acid Pro 7, Ableton Live 8 and Steinberg Cubase 5 have each adopted zplane’s élastique pitch-shifting engine, which provides smooth real-time pitch alteration. Now, thanks to the Élastique Pitch plug-in, zplane’s phase and timbre preserving pitch adjustment tool is available for Pro Tools in RTAS form.

The fact that this tool provides real-time pitch shifting is not necessarily its biggest draw. The software’s most interesting aspect is the ability to easily shift pitch and timbre independently of one other. Its interface lets users link the individual sliders corresponding to each of these fields and, in doing so, perform more-familiar pitch shifts. However, a new realm of possibilities is introduced when breaking the link between pitch and timbre. The timbre slider allows shifting of formants, or the buildups of certain frequencies specific to a sound source. For example, when an individual speaks, certain natural resonances are produced by the specific characteristics of that person’s vocal tract. Each musical instrument has a similar pattern of formants that create the sonic essence of that instrument. To shift the entire pitch of a recording would result in shifting these formants, thus compromising the true sound of that instrument.

That is the beauty of Élastique Pitch. It allows the user to shift the pitch of all of the overtones of a recording, while still maintaining the frequencies of the formants. And with that, the opposite is also true. You can create a shift in frequency from an A scale to a C scale, while still having it sound like the same person singing it. Likewise, the speech of a person with a short vocal tract can be shifted to sound like a larger person, while preserving pitch and time. The result is a tool that’s a welcome addition to the toolkit of engineers who work in both music and sound design. Possibilities include pitch-shifting a baritone sax while still making it sounding like a baritone sax, or creating creature vocals by dropping the timbre while still remaining in an intelligible vocal frequency range.

The plug-in’s manufacturers also recognized the value of this tool in another aspect of post-production. Included in the interface are presets for pitch correction of soundtracks altered in speed by transfers across mediums. All of the standard pull-ups/pull-downs are accounted for, including 24 fps to 25 fps for transferring North American film to PAL and 24 fps to 23.976 fps for transferring North American film to 3:2 pulldown NTSC video, among others. Other controls include an input-select switch that lets users determine the frequency range of the formants considered for preservation.

Great GUI and More
The user interface is slick. It looks particularly cool in the “dark” skin, which is not the default, but an available selection. A real innovation in the plug-in window is the ability to scale the interface, so you can make it big enough for precise control, but then back it off in size to take up less space in your workspace. It seems that this code may have caused a glitch, however, because opening multiple instances of the plug-in simultaneously results in the GUI and the actual plug-in window being severed.

MIDI control is another potentially cool feature. At present, keystrokes from a MIDI keyboard reflect as changes in pitch; however, there is no sustain. In other words, pressing a key changes the pitch, but letting go results in a return to the original pitch. It would be nice if there were some parameters to hold the last note until a new key is struck.

Élastique Pitch is exceptionally smooth in its real-time pitch shifting. The plug-in responds to automation in Pro Tools. The pitch and timbre can be automated independently or linked in automation. The only cost is considerable latency (approximately 7,000 samples on my M-Powered 7.4 system running on a MacBook 2.16 Core Duo with 2 GB of RAM), though I was pleasantly surprised with the manual’s thorough instructions for overcoming this problem. In addition, the latency didn’t increase when jumping to a stereo multichannel version.

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