I love to analyze things and develop a theory or premise and expound on it. But I have no theory or premise upon which to expound. All I have are some loosely connected thoughts and observations and opinions about loops. Here they are, in no particular order.
It seems to me loops can be divided into two categories. For the sake of expediency let’s call them organic and inorganic. I would say that organic loops are those using living human beings in a performing situation as a sound source. I would say that inorganic loops are those which use pre-recorded music or sound as a source. Folk songs and dances use the same melody sung or played over and over. Drum rhythms that accompany ceremonial music are living loops. Notable loops in rock music include the crescendo to the Beatles’ "I Want You (She’s So Heavy)" as well as the drum part to "Wipeout!" Brian Eno and David Byrne’s "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" and most of "How Many More Times" or "Whole Lotta Love" (or any other song) by Led Zeppelin. Repeating patterns played over and over, in some cases with almost no discernable variation.
For a long time the terms "loop" and "looping" referred to tape loops. These were pieces of recording tape anywhere from a few inches to many feet in length which were joined together at the ends to form a loop. When attched to the playback mechanism of a tape recorder, the tape goes around and around and plays back over and over.
Skip ahead to the digital age of sampling and the demise of tape recorders (and tape loops). Sampled sounds can be cut up into segments of varying length and made to repeat over and over just as old fashioned tape loops. Throughout their existence, tape loops were primarily the property of avant garde or experimental composers. Now it’s the opposite. The technique of looping is now most often found in highly commercial forms such as rap, hip-hop and techno. (An interesting footnote: the Beatles used tape loops as the sole basis for composing "Revolution Number Nine," which is probably the only time a phenomenally successful popular group ventured into the world of experimental music using looping).
While digital looping is new, the idea of loops is not. In fact, there are many examples of loops existing outside the musical world. There are many closed loops within the human body that perform a single function over and over again, like the circulatory system or self-regulating mechanisms in the kidney that recirculate and filter fluids and adjust to changes in blood volume. Nature is one big loop: the cycle of the seasons, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, water evaporating and turning to rain and falling to the ground and evaporating again, etc.
Loops occur in the mechanical world. The sounds of machinery or motors running often create loops that, when studied, suggest melodies or rhythms. Personally, I view loops as instruments in the literal sense of the word. Musical instruments. They may be instruments that play the same thing over and over again, but, even in that limited context, they are instruments none the less. Once I have created a loop and set it playing, I often alter it by raising or lowering the volume, changing the equalization or tone while it plays, adding or subtracting different amounts of reverb or delay or flanging or distortion while it plays, etc. This lends an infinite number of possibilities to a single loop. If you think of a loop as the reed of a saxophone, then all the knobs and devices you connect to it are like the keys of the saxophone, allowing you to bend and manipulate that original sound source.
Loops also function as a bed upon which to improvise or play along. Just as one might use accompanying musicians or an orchestra to support a soloist, so too can the loop function in this way. I have bass guitar and drum loops as well as loops of pure noise or severely distorted sound to provide a backdrop upon which to improvise or solo. In the early 1980s both Nick Didkovsky and I used loops extensively in this manner for a series of live performances.
Things get more interesting when one uses multiple loops. In this context, I never worry about synching the loops to each other or aligning them to a central beat or metronome the way contemporary pop musicians do. I find it much more satisfying to allow the loops to interact and intersect randomly. And, of course, the joke here is that even if you take one hundred loops and set them into motion, you will inevitably find that some of them synchronize with each other once in a while to form new rhythms and their own internal metronome.
If you repeat something over and over it re-focuses your attention. And re-focusing your attention opens up new possibilites. If you repeat something over and over it re-focuses your attention. And re-focusing your attention opens up new possibilites. If you repeat something over and over it re-focuses your attention. And re-focusing your attention opens up new possibilites. If you repeat something over and over it re-focuses your attention. And re-focusing your attention opens up new possibilites…
Sorry, I couldn’t resist….couldn’t resist, couldn’t resist, couldn’t resist, couldn’t resist, couldn’t resist, couldn’t resist, couldn’t resist, couldn’t resist, couldn’t resist, couldn’t resist, couldn’t resist,…
A Loop's A Loop's A Loop's A