- In September of 1976, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham recorded a sprawling drum solo at Mountain Studios in Montreux Switzerland, but the recording sat unreleased. Eventually, Jimmy Page ran the recording through a new digital pitch shift box called the Eventide Harmonizer, and the experiment resulted in a unique drum sound that at times resonated like a steel drum. The heavily-effected version ended up being released as "Bonzo's Montreux" on their 1982 album Coda. This is not the only example of the Eventide's effect on music in the late 1970s. The Harmonizer was featured prominently on David Bowie's late '70s albums, and Eddie Van Halen used a pair as part of his trademark sound. Fast forward to 2004, and a two-man company called Audio Damage decided to take their best shot at cloning the Eventide Harmonizer in plug-in form, naming it Discord, and releasing it for $49 (roughly 3% of what the original Eventide units cost).
Essentially what the Eventide units provided was pitch shifting (+/- 1 octave), delay (up to 112.5 ms) and feedback regeneration. The first version of Discord followed the Eventide specs pretty closely, and as a result the plugin was limited to mono processing. Eventually the Audio Damage guys realized the potential in branching out from these restrictions, and Discord 2 was created, featuring separate pitch values for left and right, cross-delay and separate LFOs for each side of the signal. This was a big advancement in features that, when combined with the affordable price customary of Audio Damage releases, resulted in a staple for many producers' plug-in folders. Now the third generation of Discord has arrived, bringing with it two additional pitch shifting algorithms—a "clean" mode for more modern shifting sounds, and a "granular" mode for experimental effects.
An attractive user interface is a trademark of Audio Damage, one of the factors that set their plugins apart from the crowd. The GUIs are created primarily by Chris Randall (of Sister Machine Gun fame and more recently the producer behind Micronaut). The layout of Discord 3 is no exception, a high-contrast affair with great font choices. One of the most distinctive features of the GUI is an intuitive numeric control that is used to control the pitch shift controls and the LFO rate, allowing for both precise adjustments and large value changes via the mouse depending on which digit you click and drag.
The flow of the plug-in is top to bottom, with controls for left and right split down the middle. Everything starts at the top, where you choose which of the three pitch engines you want to use. Depending on which is chosen a menu of controls specific to that engine is displayed. Each engine gives you a numeric control to set the shift amount (+/- 3 octaves), with a slider to control the amount of LFO wiggle room in cents. From there the signal flows down into a delay/filter combo that can be fed back to the pitch shifter, creating a cascading staircase effect. The separate filters can also be fed into each other for cross-feedback tomfoolery. Finally, there are separate left and right LFOs that can alter the pitch shifters, the filter frequency, or the delay time. One of the few strikes against Discord that I could find was that the time-synced LFO goes no slower than one bar per cycle.
So, as always, the question is: how does it sound? When you think of pitch-shifting these days, the first reaction for most people is "oh you mean, like, AutoTune?" To answer that question simply, Discord is nothing like AutoTune. The Discord marketing literature makes this point clearly when they say "if you're looking for a nice, clean diatonic pitch shifter... you need to look elsewhere. Discord3 is a tool for sound design... and special effects." The technology that the original "vintage" pitch-shifting engine is based on is decades old, and, as such, it applies its own digital signature to whatever you send through it.
The "clean" engine moves away from the choppiness of the vintage engine, tending towards a more robotic sound. Finally, the "granular" engine essentially turns Discord into a fancy version of Ableton's granular delay effect. When approaching with this understanding, Discord's "up front" pitch shift artifacts become a sonic experimenter's best friend. When combined with the delay/filter feedback, the result is a vast array of possible effects, from subtle doubling to massive feedback drones playable by adjusting the filter frequency. Another nice feature is that the pitch shift can be controlled by sending MIDI notes (centered on note C3) and pitch-bend to the plugin, allowing you to "play" Discord with a keyboard.
At only $59 (or $10 if you own Discord 1 or 2), it's hard not to recommend this plugin. The Audio Damage M.O. continues to be "full of win"; they sell great quality plugins at affordable prices, don't hamper them down with pointless DRM (only a serial # is required at install), and they offer a full refund within 30 days if you're not satisfied with your purchase. So if you want a plugin to beef up your samples with tasteful stereo spread / chorus effects, or generally just want to cause chaos, get your hands on this one.
EASE OF USE: 4/5