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Looping, technique, and serving the music

Looping, technique, and serving the music published on 2 Comments on Looping, technique, and serving the music

Part of a post in ‘s journal inspired some thoughts of my own in reply, which I’m reposting here. I should note that , aka TheGreyman, is a really cool and engaging performer, and not someone whose shows I would characterize as being devoid of substance AT ALL. The issues he raised, which prompted my own reactions, are things that I think every looper – and really, every musician PERIOD – should be aware of, and be willing to continually ask onesself about. I know that I continue to do so a lot.

A couple of issues you touched on are things I’ve thought about, and continue to think about, an awful lot. So please take this not as a specific set of things addressed solely to you, and more as a set of opinions I’ve formulated over… what, 11 years of doing this stuff?

“I also have an identity crisis between being a live looper, recording everything on the fly and that of wanting the best possible music.”

My personal looping mantra: ALWAYS make sure the music itself holds up entirely on its own, regardless of how it’s being created. If the intrinsic appeal of the music is that it’s being done in real time, then we’re relying on the supposed novelty of the methodology to get across to the audience. And novelty, in any form, is doomed to wear off.

A jazz saxophonist doesn’t lecture the audience about the particular scales or modes they’re using against the chord changes in a tune that they’re playing over. A singer doesn’t tell the audience about the intricacies of breath control and range before they start singing. A violinist won’t talk about the years of work spent programming their fingers to find the exact spots along the string where each note will be in tune before they launch into a flurry of notes. North Indian classical musicians don’t give lectures about the complexities of constructing the three exact repetitions of a tihai that resolve right on the downbeat of a phrase before they play them.

The point is that there are all kinds of interesting, even awe-inspiring, technical considerations, in all sorts of music, which the “typical” listener may very well be completely oblivious to. If someone DOES understand the more sophisticated techniques that go into the music they’re hearing, that’s an added bonus – but it shouldn’t be the foundation of the music’s appeal.

If the music holds up completely on its own, then any technique or technology involved is serving the music. If the music relies on the impressiveness of the technique for its appeal, then the music is serving the technique. This conceptual conondrum has appeared in a lot of technically-oriented music before: jazz fusion in the ’70s, shred guitar in the ’80s, IDM/drum and bass in the ’90s, live looping and other live electronic performance styles in the ’00s.

“Live looping is relatively unique and if I went the traditional band route or started incorporating samples it would seem I wouldn’t be just another band.”

Here again: if you remove the looping angle, and just deal with the music as an aural experience, how does it hold up? If someone had no idea how the piece was created, and no information about the live angle was given to them, how would the actual musical statement hold up? Would there be much of a statement at all, beyond the technical conceit?


musician vs. performance artist

If someone DOES understand the more sophisticated techniques that go into the music they’re hearing, that’s an added bonus – but it shouldn’t be the foundation of the music’s appeal.

If a blind person can’t enjoy your show, you’re probably not specifically a “musician”.

Outside of the issues of performing to blind audiences, our visual sense generally requires greater focus and is more easily overloaded/fatigued. If a performer requires your undivided attention you can’t come to appreciate it on a subconscious level.

I’d agree then: both are important (of course), but if you have to sacrifice one for the other then make sure the music wins out.

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