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Part 3: Glitches and Grooves – Works In Progress (2001-2002)

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In 2001, after an extended period away from the Echoplex, I was determined to find a way of using looping that was in no way reliant upon the effect-processed, E-bow-driven, ambient paradigm. There was just one problem: that paradigm was exactly what I had based my entire looping concept around.

Before I could run with any new ideas about looping, I had to relearn how to crawl, and the examples here are the sound of me tearing apart my old ideas about the EDP, both figuratively and literally. I don’t know if anyone had to do it, but it was a dirty job nonetheless.

A lot of this stuff holds up reasonably well to my ears, and these performances are good introductions to some expanded Echoplex functions and techniques. As a whole, though, I consider this particular period to be more interesting as a document of a search, rather than a satisfying final destination.

All of these performances are live Echoplex and guitar solos, with only a bit of reverb as far as effects are concerned. Occasional fade-ins or fade-outs added after the fact are the only post-performance edits involved. The material from December 2001 was recorded using one Echoplex (running the LoopIII software version) and the standard EDP footpedal. The 2002 tracks were the first recordings I made using the then-new LoopIV software upgrade, and they make use of the expanded MIDI control (triggered using the buttons on a hardware drum machine as a MIDI controller) and functional possibilities that the upgrade brought along.


Glitching (December 2001)
Hushed • BookwormGestaltZZ Top

Key functions and parameters:

• Quantize=Off

• InsertMode=Replace

• MoreLoops=4

• SwitchQuant=Off

• AutoRecord=On

• LoopCopy=Sound

• RecordMode=SUS

• Multiply

• Unrounded Multiply

• Loop Windowing

The earliest material on this page is also the most radical: this is looping informed more by skipping CD players, free jazz, and abstract electronica than by any kind of ambient music. To try and do an in-depth transcription of these pieces would be impossible, as there are literally hundreds of button presses in each performance. So I’ll deal with some general ideas regarding the functions and parameters involved.

The most obvious aspect of “glitching” is using Unquantized InsertMode=Replace, to drop fragments of sound into the EDP in a momentary fashion. Because the Insert function in this setting only happens for as long as the button is held down, you can get very short fragments of sound; a lot of the sonic elements in this style of looping are only a few milliseconds long.

Branching off from that Replace concept, there’s often very little looping of entire phrases as they’re originally played on the guitar, which is an approach that comes largely from the turntablist school of thought. Rather than just spinning a record verbatim, turntablism uses the actual mechanical elements of a turntable, stylus, and mixer to shape and sculpt the sound itself. It’s not about playing back the record the way it originally sounded, but about imposing the architecture of the playback mechanism itself onto the original sound. If you think of the guitar as the record and the EDP as the turntable/mixer, then you’ve cracked the code of what’s going on here.

Loop Copying is a very big part of a lot of these tracks; with the settings detailed above, hitting NextLoop will instantly copy the current loop contents into the next available loop, where you can then evolve that copy completely independently of the original one. So loop copying can help give the music a more “structured” or “composed” sound, because you can switch back and forth between different stages of development.

There’s very little use of Overdub on a lot of these tracks, and that’s a deliberate musical issue. Even though there’s often an extremely high amount of information in these loops, the textures themselves at any given second (or millisecond, as the case may be) are generally very stark and thin. Using Replace instead of Overdub to add material to the loop helps prevent the perennial “building up to a massive wall of sound” syndrome. It also allows the content of the loop to change drastically and quickly, as opposed to the more common gradual approach of overdubbing to build up a texture, and reducing feedback to scale it down. Using Replace in this manner produces a very angular and choppy sound, of course, but that’s one of the foundations of the whole aesthetic.

A different, but similarly “angular” technique (at least insofar as it’s applied here), is Unrounded Multiply, which involves ending Multiply with Record instead of a second press of Multiply. This has the effect of completely redefining the length of the loop within the range of the Multiply and Record button presses: Multiply becomes the new start point, and Record becomes the new end point of the loop. It’s a very powerful tool, and has many different technical and stylistic applications. For this material, it’s most obviously used for creating off-kilter, asymmetrical, stuttery loops.


Cycles and Rhythms (December 2001)
Diorama • Bela

Key functions and parameters:

• Quantize=Cycle

• InsertMode=Insert

• MoreLoops=4

• SwitchQuant=On

• AutoRecord=On

• LoopCopy=Sound

• Multiply

• Remultiply

What a difference a couple of parameter settings makes. These tracks share some notions of development and use of functions with the glitchier stuff above, but because Quantize and SwitchQuant are both on here, the result is locked into a more overtly rhythmic basis. The key concept here is starting with an initial cycle and using that as a rhythmically quantized framework for building larger, more elaborate musical structures off of. What all of this technical minutae means in a musical sense is that these tracks are much more meditative and less assaultive than their unquantized counterparts.

Turntablist Guitar and LoopIV (April 2002)
Strange Invader (Parts 1 and 2) • Relent • Insinuation • Way of the Wok • Alignment

Key functions and parameters:

• Quantize=8th

• InsertMode=Substitute

• InsertMode=SUS

• Direct MIDI

• Retrigger

• Reverse

• Half-Speed

• Stutter Mode

• Unrounded Multiply

• SwitchQuant=Cycle

• Loop Dividing

•SubCycle Multiply

These are the first solo recordings I made with the LoopIV software upgrade. Some five years in the making, the depth and breadth of LoopIV was truly mind-boggling; the code is more than twice as large as it was for LoopIII, and it pushes the EDP’s processor to its very limits.

There were a number of new functions, function parameters, and features which vastly expanded the operational potential of the EDP in LoopIV, and the material here simply would not be possible without them. To fully understand what on Earth I’m talking about in this section, I highly recommend checking out the LoopIV Instruction Manual.

The concept of “turntablist guitar,” which went on to form the basis for Normalized, started coming to fruition in these performances, and it refers to a few different ideas. In the most obvious sense, this material is very rhythmically based, and one of the main concepts is that I’m trying to think the way a DJ would, both sonically and compositionally. It also expands the idea of using the EDP in a truly post-turntablist sense — as a way of using the apparatus of a playback device to shape and sculpt the sound itself, rather than just a way of playing back a recording verbatim.

One of my main sources of inspiration here was a new quantization parameter called 8th, which quantizes functions to the nearest subdivision of the loop as dictated by the 8th/beat (or 8th/cycle on newer EDPs) parameter value. For example, say you set the 8th/cycle parameter to 16, and then record a one-cycle loop. With LoopIV, the EDP will automatically subdivide that cycle into 16 seperate subdivisions. And with the “8th” quantize value, different functions can be mapped to start and end precisely on one of those 16 subdivisions. (This is known as Loop Dividing in EDP-terminology.)

Performance-wise, then, this material is approached very similarly to the glitch material from the end of 2001, by dropping very quick momentary Insert functions into the loop. But because 8th-quantization is used, it’s a very different result: instead of chaotic cut-ups, the Echoplex quantizes each button press to the nearest subdivision, so that a very rhythmically intense and accurate sound is produced, sort of like a step-sequencer. I’m not sure I would have started exploring Replace in a rhythmic manner if it hadn’t been for 8th-quantization, so my eternal thanks go to Andy Butler, who originally conceived of the possibility.

This material also makes extensive use of a new InsertMode called Substitute. It’s very similar to Replace, except that you don’t actually hear the content of the loop change until the next repetition after the function is executed. The result is that you can sort of “sneak in” the change in sound, whereas using Replace makes it much more abrupt and obvious.

Another important new element is the use of Stutter mode, which is one of several new “Interface Modes” in LoopIV. In the case of “Insinuation,” you can hear the initial loops being “stretched” in certain parts. This is the result of using Insert=SUS (which performs a sustained, “momentary” version of Insertmode=Insert) while in Stutter mode: depressing the pedal in a momentary fashion and then releasing it causes material within the loop to be repeated (hence “Stutter” mode). This “SubCycle Multiply” allows you to perform a Multiply on sections within a single cycle, and in these performances it takes on a sort of manual timestretch role.

Another key element of these tracks is the use of DirectMIDI commands. LoopIV dramatically expanded the possibilities for controlling the EDP via MIDI, and just about every conceivable function is accessible via a dedicated MIDI command, independently of what the front panel settings are. For these tracks, I used the buttons on a drum machine to send MIDI notes to control halfspeed, reverse, and to switch between loops.

I still didn’t have a MIDI footpedal at this point, so for these tracks I’d often be reaching over to the front panel in mid-performance, changing parameters by hand as fast as I could, in order to get different insertmodes and quantization values happening in the course of a single performance.

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