When One of You Just Isn’t Enough

This past Friday, we ventured out to Birdies for dinner with a friend, and happened to catch Jeremy W. Norris’ one-man-band act. Jeremy uses a variety of tools to make the show work, aside from his voice and instruments. I’d seen performers use loopers to build up layers of sound and a virtual backing band. And, I’d heard vocalists use harmonizers before (Jeremy uses the Electro-Harmonix Voice Box) to fill out backing vocals. Jeremy’s combination of both tools, and his mastery of controlling them, made his performance a lot of fun. As the night went on, I got to thinking about using something similar to fill out the backups in my band. As I looked at the various products on the market, and at my budget, I realized that our needs were much simpler at this point. I really just needed the ability to have one or two additional voices. And so, I settled in on a TC-Helicon Voicetone H-1 harmonizer. Yesterday, I picked on up at a local music emporium.

The H-1 aims to be super-simple to setup and use, and it succeeds. I’ve tried other harmony boxes in the past, and they were very difficult to use, requiring specific programming to work right. When I unleashed the H-1 on my unsuspecting band-mates yesterday at rehearsal, less than a half-hour after leaving the music store, I was making useful harmonies almost from the minute I turned it on!

The H-1 has basically three knobs and a switch to work all the magic. The first knob selects the key the box will base the harmonies on, and can also switch to a mode that allows the H-1 to track chords being played on a guitar or keyboard to automatically determine the key. The second knob selects the accompaniment voices, while the third determines how the singers voice will be blended with the backing tracks. The switch kicks the effect on or off.

For the first few songs we did with the H-1, I chose to select the key manually. I simply turned the knob to the correct key, chose a voice arrangement, and sang my usual backup parts. When I wanted more “mes”, I simply hit the switch, and wow! Instant backups. I had all the Pips in my pocket.

After our lead singer got over his surprise, we did a couple more tunes with this setup, and then I decided to try the automatic tracking function. I routed a signal from our guitarist’s channel into the instrument input, spun the key knob around to the “guitar” position, and we were off. When I held a note over chord changes, my harmonies automatically tracked the right chords! The backing tracks on our cover of Aerosmith’s Remember were particularly impressive.

Of course, we didn’t record anything at practice, though we probably will at our next gig (and probably should start recording rehearsals). But if you want to see what this thing’s like in action, check out these videos:

This guy uses it a lot for his live gigs, and has a pretty good command of the box. He’s a little bit spastic, though, but seems a good sort… :)
It also works will with "monophonic” instruments, such as saxophone.

There are a couple other Voicetone Singles boxes that will eventually join the H1 in our rig, specifically the T1 and the D1 (voice tone and compression and also a chorus/detune).