Deerhunter are a psychedelic indie-rock band from Atlanta; they’ve released 7 albums that have seen them experiment with ambient music, garage rock and dream pop. They don’t seem to be gear-heads, as they favour cheap guitar pedals and record on Tascam portable eight-track recorders. However, there is one guitar pedal they use that I want to take a look at, a pedal that strongly shaped the sound of the album Halycon Digest: the Eventide Pitchfactor.
The Pitchfactor is a powerful harmonizer pedal, capable of harmonizing chromatically and diatonically, and capable of applying delays to the harmonized notes to create sequences. This Deerhunter sound is usually an acoustic guitar played through the Pitchfactor into a big, modulated reverb. Cox actually favours cheaper reverbs such as the DigiTech DigiVerb and Behringer Reverb Machine (no relation). Although the Pitchfactor is a deeply powerful pedal, and easily programmable, Cox actually just uses many of the factory presets to guide his songwriting.
Earthquaker, the opener to Halycon Digest, opens up with a Pitchfactor-effected guitar part that transforms a simple chord picking part into an ethereal landscape. The Pitchfactor is set to the preset 9-2 Chromatic Delayed 5th, which, as its name suggests, harmonizes the played material up a perfect 5th. The harmonised 5th note is delayed, allowing the possibility to create some cool rhythms. Using the pedal’s tap tempo function, you can set the delayed note to play in time with what you play, in this case an 8th note. Then, as we play 8th notes on the guitar, the pedal starts to double these 8th notes a 5th up.
- Earthquake Dry 00:00
- Earthquake Pitchfactor 00:00
He Would Have Laughed
The album closer, He Would Have Laughed is also very reliant on the Pitchfactor, and I’d guess the song was written while Bradford Cox was playing around with the Pitchfactor. The opening riff uses the patch 1-2 Teenage Wasteland to create the cascading effect. Here’s what the patch does:
- Teenage Wasteland 00:00
As you can see the harmonizer adds a cool descending sequence that uses doubling and a chromatic descending 4th. Things get interesting when multiple notes are played, and the sequence starts overlapping itself, with different note groups creating interesting harmonies. Check out the intro to He Would Have Laughed, both with and without the effect.
- He Would Have Laughed Dry 00:00
- He Would Have Laughed FX 00:00
The lead part of the song also uses the Pitchfactor, starting with the same patch and then switching to another to change the phrase. After the Teenage Wasteland patch, it switches to 1-1 Storyteller. I also used some modulated reverb to create a typical Deerhunter ambient effect. The modulation refers to some of the reverb signal being raised an octave, giving a huge, bright effect.
As previously mentioned, Cox favours cheap reverb pedals, such as the Behringer and Digitech ‘verbs, but any reverb pedal or plugin that can do modulated / shimmer reverbs will do. I used my Boss RV-5 which has a great modulated reverb setting.
- Laughed Lead Dry 00:00
- Laughed Lead FX 00:00
And here’s the second patch, 1-1 Storyteller, as it’s used later in the solo. It’s easy to switch between patches on the Pitchfactor so having two patches that you change between within the same song is easy to pull off.
- Storyteller Patch 00:00
- Laughed Lead 2 00:00
Bradford Cox also uses the Pitchfactor in a song from his side-project, Atlas Sound. The song is Te Amo, and it uses a Pitchfactor-treated piano as it’s backing. Despite being a guitar pedal, the Pitchfactor can be used to process anything that’s run through it, and synths and keyboard sounds are no exception. The patch is 8-2 Good Morning Sunshine, which turns a single note into this:
- Good Morning Sunshine 00:00
This is a diatonic patch that adds a 3rd, 5th, and 6th to the original note, creating an arpeggiated 6th chord. The 3rd and 6th will be either major or minor depending on the note played and the Pitchfactor’s key, which can be changed. This makes it ideal for songwriting, as the pedal will produce arpeggios that are all in the same key as each other. It’s similar to He Would Have Laughed, and as both songs were released within a year, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were written in the same sessions as each other.
- Te Amo Dry 00:00
- Te Amo FX 00:00
Helicopter uses my favourite Pitchfactor patch: 9-1 Delayed 3rd and 5th. This is a diatonic harmony that harmonises each note up a 5th and 10th (3rd+octave). This effectively turns single notes into triad chords, and the octave jump combined with a slight delay on each note makes sound crystal-clear and it doesn’t get muddy, even for harmonised chords. Listen to the Helicopter part played without the Pitchfactor, just a single-note line, and with the Pitchfactor, as fully harmonised chords.
- Helicopter Lead Dry 00:00
- Helicopter Lead FX 00:00
The Pitchfactor can have some really interesting results when playing more than one note. Power chords played through the 3rd/5th patch creates really interesting, dense chords, as each note is harmonised individually. This gives you some extra notes: R-3-5, 3-5-7 and 5-7-9 for a ninth chord. As the patch is diatonic, the 9th chord will be major, minor or dominant depending on the key the Pitchfactor is set to. A great way to come up with huge, ethereal chords perfect for shoegazing music!
- Helicopter Chords Dry 00:00
- Helicopter Chords FX 00:00
Thanks for reading! I hope that this has shed better light on the Halycon-era sounds. Additionally, it shows how creative gear can be used to promote creativity and new approaches to songwriting. Without the Pitchfactor, we may not have some of our favourite Deerhunter songs. Pitchfactors are pricey but if you like their sound then they can be a good investment. The Eventide H9 is also a powerful option, as it contains all of the effect algorithms from the Pitchfactor, as well as the TimeFactor, ModFactor and Space pedals.