First Look: The Eventide H9000 Harmonizer
When veteran producer Tony Visconti was in pre-production in late summer of 1976 for David Bowie’s album Low, Bowie and synthesizer player Brian Eno asked Visconti if he had any new toys or special effects he’d be deploying while recording. Visconti told him he had a new Eventide H910 Harmonizer. When asked by Bowie and Eno what the H910 did, Visconti gave them what would become the classic description of the Eventide Harmonizer: “It f**ks with the fabric of time!”
Not surprisingly, that line sold Bowie and Eno. As Visconti told the Financial Times last year, “They whooped with joy, and they said, ‘Bring it, bring it, you’re on!’”
The H910 (allegedly named as a pun on the Beatles’ song “One After 909”) can be heard on “Breaking Glass,” pitch-bending the song’s snare drum downward on each hit. A few years later, its successor, the H949, would receive widespread use as doubling effect on vocals, somewhat similar to the “automatic double-tracking” (ADT) effects that engineer Ken Townsend created for the Beatles around the time of their 1966 album Revolver -- but without the complex lashing up of tape machines to pull it off.
Many iterations later, the new H9000 can really f**k with the fabric of time. (Eventide had a recreation of Hal’s famous camera lens from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey alongside the unit at some of their tradeshow demos, so as with the original H910, I assume this choice of name was not a coincidence, and as with Hal, I can’t yet figure out how to use the H9000 to open the pod bay doors.) Inside its standard-sized double rack-space box are four quad-core ARM processors and 16 DSP engines. These allow for the creation of multiple effects chains, with each chain containing up to four effects “algorithms,” with each algorithm itself containing multiple effects. As the H9000’s page on the Eventide Website notes, “FX Chains can be created to act as a channel strip, a guitar ‘pedal board,’ a modular synth with effects, etc. The H9000’s FX Chain paradigm is like a custom channel strip on steroids allowing any four complex algorithms to be combined and routed to taste. FX Chains are invaluable for quickly exploring various combinations of effects to achieve new and inspiring sounds.” While it's possible to get usable results shortly after setting up the unit, plan on spending a fair amount reading the unit's instruction manual to get the most out of it.
A Week in the Life
When the construction was complete on my project studio in late 2016, I knew I wanted an Eventide Harmonizer as a rack-mounted effect, but the then-current model, the H8000FW, had been in production since 2005. Fortunately, by late 2016, Eventide gave their first announcement that the H9000 would eventually debut. It was on display at the January 2018 NAMM show for music retailers in Los Angeles, but the delay in its rolling out was a reminder that the wag who said that NAMM stood for “Not Available, Maybe May” was spot on. Actually, in the H9000 case, it’s June -- but only a few hundred were going out to those who pre-ordered in January. Fortunately, I had, and my unit arrived this past Saturday, so consider this article very much a first look, rather than a detailed review.