In this Musical Space podcast, Mark Foley and KMUW's Fletcher Powell discuss 'looping'.
Looping is when musicians play along with their own repeated echo. The idea has been around for a while; composers like Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros and Brian Eno would put two tape recorders next to each other and feed the tape from one to the other. The playback from the second recorder is mixed with the sound being recorded on the first, and the echoes start to accumulate. Digital devices at all levels of complexity now do this in pedal form; players use their feet to control multiple loops at the same time.
Loopers are ideal for the coffeehouse circuit; a creative player with no budget can be their own band. Soloists will bang on their guitars or beatbox with their mouths for percussion sounds; backing harmony can be a few vowels layered on top of each other one by one. So, looping is mostly the realm of independent artists, though there are lots of great loop performances on YouTube by big acts like Ed Sheeran and Radiohead. Instrumental superstars like Robert Fripp and Victor Wooten are known to break into looping during a set.
Computers have a tendency to make music seem controlled and sterile, but a solo musician with a looper can create daring and virtuoso performances. Looping is best appreciated live - there is drama because a lot of things can go wrong as the music starts to pile up. Every note has to be in tune, and the rhythm will be lopsided if the flick of the toe isn’t right on time.
But in the hands of a good player, a loop solo can be masterful, it bears repeating.
Listening list for podcast:
Bernhoft, “C’mon Talk (Live),” Solidarity Breaks
Zoë Keating, “Sun Will Set.” One Cello x 16: Natoma. Her career has really taken advantage of new media. Sells her music on her website: http://music.zoekeating.com/album/one-cello-x-16-natoma
Shannon Hayden, “Vanished,” You See the World (2016).
Reggie Watts, “So Good Yeah,” A Live in Central Park (2012), Part comedy, part performance art, a master beat-boxer.
Dub FX, “Hip Hop part 1” (Live in Manchester), Live In The Street - unsigned, completely independent
MC Xander, “White Light” Eyeopeness
Todd Reynolds, “The Solution,” Outerbridge.