Vocal harmonies might be one of the most ancient musical effects. A single voice can carry a powerful melody and message, but a collection of voices can introduce a breadth of harmonic and dynamic interaction. Pythagoras was studying harmony in the 6th century B.C., and modern technology has afforded individual singers the opportunity to harmonize with themselves through overdubbing and automated harmonization. From Freddie Mercury’s layers of rich barbershop-style harmonies in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” to digitally harmonized vocals in works by Imogen Heap, these enigmatic sounds have helped make these artists unique and instantly recognizable.
Imogen Heap was kind enough to speak with iZotope and share a glimpse into the simple technology that helped inspire her groundbreaking song “Hide and Seek.”
"The only sound you can hear on ‘Hide and Seek’ is my voice. There’s no keyboard noise. All those harmonies are a result of what notes I play on the keyboard, which then tells the harmonizer which notes to make my voice appear to sing. I can choose the amount of effect (harmonies) to show through. I used about 50/50. So you can hear unaffected natural voice too.
“The first thing I sang were the words ‘Where are we? What the hell is going on?’ I carried on playing and singing, reacting to the chord inversions the harmonizer was throwing at me. It was set to four-note polyphony, four notes at a time, but using most or all fingers on the keyboard, the box is forced to choose which notes to use out of a chord. Before my very ears a song had emerged out of nowhere."
In 2010, Heap’s follow-up record Elipse went on to win the GRAMMY Award for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. It was the first time a female artist has won this award for engineering her own record, an inspiration to self-produced artists everywhere! Her approach to vocal harmonies has likely influenced many new works by James Blake, Coldplay, Volcano Choir, Kid Coyote, and others.