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Digitech MV-5 MIDI Vocalist Vocal Harmony Processor (part 2)

To produce chordal harmonies, the MV-5 needs two inputs. One is your voice, or lead instrument, and the other is MIDI information from your keyboard. In this instance the keyboard isn't used to make sounds, just to tell the MV-5 which harmonies to create...


Chordal Harmonies

To produce chordal harmonies, the MV-5 needs two inputs. One is your voice, or lead instrument, and the other is MIDI information from your keyboard. In this instance the keyboard isn't used to make sounds, just to tell the MV-5 which harmonies to create. In a studio situation you would probably record the lead vocal onto tape and spend as much time perfecting it as you need with the MV-5 quietly biding its time in the rack. Then you could record basic chords into your synchronised sequencer which you would then play back via MIDI into the MV-5. The MV-5 will look at the chords you play, and select harmonies based on these chords and the settings of the Harmony Voicing buttons on the front panel. As you record the harmonies to tape you will probably drop in and out of record so that harmonies only go where you want them, since the MV-5 in this mode will always create harmonies according to the last MIDI data it received.

As well as being useful in the studio, the MV-5 could be exploited in a live situation, let's say a singer/keyboard player performing solo in a bar. In this situation, the keyboard is being used for accompaniment, as well as transmitting MIDI data on the chords being used, to the MV-5. Here we have potential for confusion, since any fancy arpeggios, grace notes or glissandi could fool the MV-5 into creating the wrong harmonies. Obviously a little bit of extra care is necessary in playing, along with tasteful use of the bypass footswitch. To help matters though, the MV-5 can be instructed to respond over a range of MIDI notes only and ignore all others. This is easy to do, and it would only take a moment to reset the zone between songs.

If you are wondering whether the MV-5 has a full understanding of harmony, or whether it can only handle Status Quo songs, then take a look at the list of chord types. The great thing is that even if you don't know a flattened fifth from a sharpened chinagraph, the MV-5 does and the harmonies will always fit in with the chords you are playing.

Scalic Harmony

While Chordal mode will nearly always work, it tends to produce harmonies that are a bit static. In fact, they are only as static as the MIDI notes you send to the MV-5, but one's fingers always seem tempted to the same notes as long as they seem to be working. Scalic mode on the other hand doesn't always work, depending on the nature of the music, but it will produce much more activity in the harmony lines. If you think of Chordal mode as a choir backing a solo voice, and Scalic mode as a more interactive style of harmony, then you won't go far wrong. Alternatively you can think of Chordal as 'Amazing Grace' mode, and Scalic as 'Eagles' mode. (It's OK - they're trendy again!).

In Scalic mode, you don't need to play chords all the way through a song. A single chord containing the important notes of the scale at the beginning will be enough to tell the MV-5 which key you are in and which scale type you require. If you change key or scale type during the song, then you will need to input another chord or the harmonies will be off. Notice that once you have specified a key, the MV-5 handles all the chord changes that are customary in that key for the type of scale selected. See the separate panel for a list of scale types. Highlights of the scale type list, apart from the common-as-muck major and minor varieties, are the Dorian scale which adds the minor 3rd and flattened 7th that are appropriate for blues style harmonies, and also the whole tone scale which creates instant musical impressionism in the style of Debussy.

As in Chordal mode, the Harmony Voicing buttons set the spacing of the harmonies. I didn't mention it earlier, but normally the MV-5 pitch corrects harmonies so that if you singing is out of tune at least the backing vocals are OK (as long as you sing within about a quarter of a tone of the correct pitch). But sometimes too much perfection can get a bit boring (don't I just know it!) and you might wish for a little sliding of the notes to give a more relaxed feel. If so, then all you have to do is send an upward MIDI pitch bend command to the MV-5 and it switches into a mode where the harmonies track the vocal precisely.

By David Mellor Thursday December 29, 2005
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