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Reflecting on the H949 Harmonizer® with Bob Harper and Steve Donato

For our 7th Flashback on the H949 Harmonizer, we asked the Eventide community to share any stories or experiences they had while using the product, and they delivered! Read on to find out how the H949 became an essential creative tool for ad producer/voice actor, Bob Harper, and producer/engineer, Steve Donato, owner of Night Sky Sound.

Bob Harper: Ad Producer and Voice Actor

Bob Harper is a producer of radio and television ads and jingles and a voice actor with over four decades in the business. As someone who has had to write and perform as thousands of different characters, Bob is no stranger to the wonders of pitch-shifting. We spoke with him about the time he first discovered the H949's unique ability to switch genders in a pinch, and the many occasions the H949 has come to his rescue.

What was your first experience with the H949?

I think it was in 1979 when I bought a 949 from Martin Audio in NYC. I had a studio in Pennsylvania and we did a LOT of jingles and unique custom radio ads. One afternoon at around 2 or 3 PM, I realized I had forgotten about a radio ad that the stations needed by 5PM...THAT DAY. (This realization of course happened after a sales rep called asking when he could pick up the spot! NOTE: Ads were sent on reel-to-reel dubs...no internet back then)

Anyway, the copy I had written the day before called for a male-female, back-and-forth read in a romantic venue. I did most of the male VO work so I immediately called a number of female talents I often used but nary a one could break-free and get to the studio fast!!! It was then I happened to glance at the new "Harmonizer" in the rack. "Hmmmm....I wonder..."

I plugged it into the board and started experimenting with pitch changes and E.Q. (Keep in mind, I have a pretty low baritone voice.) I was about to give up but then started talking very softly using only head-tones and a tickle of a whisper. More fine tuning of pitch and E.Q. and recorded the female lines for laughs. I went back and did the male parts and mixed the ad down with music and various effects. Just at that moment, my wife of all of a month or so happened to walk into the studio and asked, "Who's THAT girl? I've never heard her before." I could also detect a tad of curious suspicion in her voice as well, so I simply asked, "Does it really SOUND like a girl?" She was taken aback by that and insisted, "YES...it's a girl. Who is she?"

That's all I needed to hear and started rolling the dubs. "It's me!" I laughed and she said, "What? How?!?" I showed her the Eventide and did a cursory explanation but could tell she wasn't a 100% convinced but eventually amazed! The next day after the ad had aired a few times on different stations, the client called and I tell you no lies. This is what he said...

"Hey Bobbo, love the new ad. Tell me, does that chick look as good as she sounds?"

"Ah...you betcha Gary, she's a 10!"

"I want to meet her," came the reply. ;-)

"Ah..."

:)

What was your favorite feature that the H949 had to offer, and how did you use it?

Well, back then it was far ahead of its time so my favorite feature per se was simply that it even existed! It saved time and it delivered the goods. I did and still do a lot of Theater of the Mind kind of ads and media productions and I do recall using all of the 949 features to establish various scenes or create a “character.”

While using the H949, did you stumble upon any other unexpected uses for it?

Well I mentioned the fun story of being a girl in that ad but it also saved my butt on a jingle once where I was the lead singer. A day later I got a pretty bad cold but had to mix it down for the client to hear that day. One of my female vocalists stopped by to pick up a check and I asked her to give the mix a listen. She just happened to have perfect pitch and I could see her wince during playback. When prodded, she said, “You’re a half step flat on that one note.” In my condition, I couldn’t re-sing it so I bounced just that portion of the vocal track, added the harmonizer and dialed up the note per her instructions. Swapped tracks at mix-down and Presto! Piece a’ cake and the client loved it! Saved again by the 949 back in the analog days and yes, I gladly gave the young lass another check! ‘-)

After you discovered the ability of the H949 to pitch your voice up for an ad, did you use this technique again on future projects?

Oh my yes, many times. Sometimes I’d tweak pitch down to get my Western Guy Voice even more gravely or even more so for Horror-Style evil dudes! I also remember writing and producing a multi-regional ad for Pizza Hut where two aliens had crashed landed on earth and were hungry. One found a newspaper with an ad saying Pizza Hut was giving $4 dollars off any family size pizzas (which was all I had to go on by the way). Well I used the 949 to flange my alien voices and vary the pitches a bit and then to the perfect tech-like syncopated music, I had my characters chant in a staccato fashion on-beat…”They’re ta-king 4 off the pan for the fam-i-ly man…..They’re taking 4 off the pan for the fam-i-ly man.” So yes, I found a myriad of ways to play with the great pitch features of the 949.

Are there any other memorable projects or recordings you used the H949 on?

I just remembered one where I was hired to record an opera singer by the name of Paul Spencer Atkins who was making a name for himself in New York and a local millionaire thought he’d record an album for him on red label vinyl. The singer and his patron were in the control room for mix-down and I remember the singer saying on one piece he wished the piano sounded bigger. I tried a few things but couldn’t find the sound he wanted and it was then I remembered a trick an old friend once told me about subtle reverb and echo delayed just enough to be there but not there. I used the H949 for just the right amount of echo and a plate for the reverb. Bingo…the singer loved it and then wanted it on all the other tracks of course! Somehow, I got through it and the album actually sounded surprisingly good! However, I NEVER did that sort of thing again because I realized my engineering chops were weak and I had simply gotten LUCKY! The 949 saved me again! My hats off to the folks who are masters at engineering! It’s a most singular talent and it truly ISN’T EASY to do right!

Check out Bob's work at www.hearbob.com


Steve Donato: Producer and Engineer

Producer and Engineer Steve Donato is the owner of Night Sky Sound in Southern California. Steve has been a fan of Eventide for 30 years, as evidenced by the (impressive) collection of 3 Omnipressors, 2 H949s, 2 Instant Phasers, 1 Instant Flanger and H8000 pictured in his rack below—woah! One of the H949's greatest assets for Steve was being able to use the rare HK941 keyboard to control his Harmonizer. We asked Steve to walk us through his process of creating lush harmonies and more with the H949.

In your original comment on Instagram, you mentioned that you had used three H949s in combination with a polyphonic keyboard to “create rich harmonies”. Could you elaborate more on your experience using the H949s to create these harmonies? 

Back in the 1990s, I had a studio on the East Side of NYC. I eventually acquired three H949s—all with the famous "Algorithm 3."  It was also called the "de-glitch" algorithm, as it had more DSP to process the pitch changes, without the audible artifacts that the first two factory algorithms produced. I obtained a rare polyphonic Eventide keyboard—which was capable of controlling up to three H949s (or H910s). Back then, I was using tape for vocals. In the beginning, I recorded vocals to a 16 track one inch machine, and then eventually upgraded to a Studer A827 24 track. I would bus the lead vocal to each input of the H949s, and then figure out which intervals I needed around the lead. Sometimes it would be a third above, with a fifth below, or three-part harmonies all above, or all below the lead, or a combination thereof.

Before formant-correct pitch shifting became available, you had to be careful not to go too far above or below the main vocal, as it would sound way artificial. Once I figured out all the harmonic intervals, I would write out a music chart with all the "chords" I had to play on the keyboard. I would then send the outputs of all three H949s to their own tracks on the tape machine so that I had greater control over them later in mixdown. I would practice "playing" the harmonies in real time, until I was confident that my timing and performance was spot on. I would then record the performance, and punch anything that was sloppy, until perfect. The results were pretty cool. 

Here is a clip from the song "Run Out of Luck" by Reeves Watson, which Steve produced in the '90s using his H949 to create the vocal harmonies:

While using the H949, did you ever discover any exciting or unexpected uses for the device?

I loved using the pitch correction on out-of-tune vocals or guitars as needed. This was long before samplers and tuning software made that much easier. I would often run my H949-created harmonies back through each machine with some slight pitch change to create additional harmony tracks for thickening. The flanger is pretty amazing in these units - all analog and fat. Using the delay and pitch change together could create some interesting "ascending" effects on drums, guitars and even vocals!

Are there any other memorable projects or recordings you used the H949 on?

I used the H949 on many remixes for artists like Bryan Ferry, Tori Amos, Bananarama, Pet Shop Boys and Black Box at that time.

Anything else you'd like to mention?

I also want to give a shout out to a very special person, who has been an amazing friend to me and my studio over the years. Night Sky Sound wants to recognize the incredible product support and kindness that Ray Maxwell has shown over the last 20 years. I hope we continue to work together celebrating Eventide's incredible innovation for another 20! Everyone at Eventide has been wonderful to work with and deal with. One of the best companies in the pro audio world, hands down!

Many thanks to Steve, Bob, and all who have helped make and document our history!


Additional Links:

Check out our Flashback series to dive deeper into the H949 Harmonizer: