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Tag-team looper chin-stroking

Tag-team looper chin-stroking published on 1 Comment on Tag-team looper chin-stroking

No, that’s not some bizarre new fetish. (Gawd, I HOPE it’s not. Jeez…) A round-up of comments (and fresh replies) from my own blog and from ‘s recent posts.

Our European correspondent, :

“Novelty is an interesting quality – whereas it mostly wears off, if done in the correct musical (that word again!) context it can have lasting appeal. I’ll never tire of listening to the original 60s Dr Who theme, or Hendrix’s wilder moments, or Brian May doing the solo from ‘Get Down, make Love’ live, or ‘Come To Daddy’ by Aphex Twin or ‘Inner City Life’ by Goldie…”

See, to me, all of those examples have a ton of fundamental musical appeal. They had immediately obvious aspects that were head-turning for their era, but they also had a solid musical foundation which was using those “novelty” elements in a seriously substantive manner. To me, the difference between something sounding “timeless” as opposed to sounding “dated” seems to have a huge amount to do with how any particular “novelty” element is used – whether it’s an intrinsic part of an innately musical statement, or a superficial bit of window-dressing implemented without much regard for the bigger picture.

[very kind and flattering commentary deleted due to ego management override]
“if I could offer constructive comments about the glitch-masterpiece that is Normailsed (yeah, everyone’s a critic 🙂 ), I’d say the following: some mellower tracks with a *leetle* languid melody (along the lines of ‘Entwined’) are always good to give the ears a chance to recover”

I actually recorded dozens (seriously) of takes of “Entwined” when I was making Normalized, along with some other more overtly melodic, mellow material, which reached various stages of completion. (There was an embryonic version of “Serious Drama,” as well as a dangerously power ballad-esque bit of post-Satriani lighter-waving hoo-hah.) But it ended up feeling like that material’s role was to make allowances for what “should” be on a guitar album, and to help “ease in” more guitar-centric listeners. And I decided that I didn’t want to do that; that the point of the record was to make it a hip-hop/glitch/dance record that was created in a particular way, rather than to alter the identity of the record to accommodate expectations or ideas about what would be “appropriate” given the particular way in which it was made (i.e. with a guitar). Monster run-on sentence, that.

“and *any* music becomes about 1000% more interesting (yea, even unto to us abstract noise-freaks) with a vocal on… though in the context of Normalised as a record I suppose that isn’t really the point.”

And the award for most controversially loaded comment of the year goes to…

You know, in the most basic sense, I suppose “most” listeners will lock their concentration or attention onto a vocal line, and I also suppose that “a lot” of listeners have a harder time with instrumental music for that reason.

But my good man… there is so much instrumental music in the world that is in no way needing anything to be added to it, by a vocal line or any other element. There are so many pieces of music that have fantastically cool instrumental parts, that are completely ruined by half-assed singing/lyrics/songwriting. There are so many utterly forgettable songs with vocals in the world, and so many great instrumental pieces in the world…

…ah, what do I know, I’m just an upstart colonialist.

“More recorded glitch-tastic output, please! :)”

Workin’ on it!

Troy “TheGreyman” Gardner:

“As to the technovelty wearing off, possibly. There is an degree of athleticism involved with looping that is hard to duplicate willy nilly. Think of it as a diving board, the exact same diving board at a community pool is at the olympics, yet not everyone can do even the basic flips, let alone olympic level ‘tricks’.”

This comes to my mind as a reaction (moreso than a “response”):

Les Paul did live looping on radio and television in the 1950’s. Terry Riley did all-night solo looping gigs in the mid-to-late ’60s. Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, David Torn, and others were doing it in the ’70s. Gary Hall was modifying Lexicon delays with custom looping upgrades in the ’80s.

Live looping has been around for decades, and if we’re going to think about the athleticism and craft of the technique, then I really think that, collectively, we have to stop thinking of the whole “play a part live and instantly have it play back as a loop! Watch as we build up more and more layers on top of each other!” angle as being something that can, or should, turn people’s heads. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use that basic premise if it’s the right approach to a particular situation; it means that it’s the equivalent of a guitarist playing Chuck Berry licks in 2006 and wondering if he’s going over people’s heads with technical sophistication.

If only out of respect to what the aforementioned folks (and many others) were doing decades ago, I think we have an obligation of sorts to use the vastly more “sophisticated” tools available to us today, and not just rehash the stuff they were doing 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago or more.

“And the live looping aspects are definately an integral part of the live xperience. The ability to explore different things as the mood sees fit, the ability to warp tempo, stop or start sounds on the fly.”

Sure thing. And maybe most of all, for me: the ability to take something “random,” and sculpt it into some semblance of “order.”

“In an ideal world, one could have every part played by an master musician”

While it would be ideal if one “could” have that be the case, I don’t feel that the ideal would be that every part SHOULD be the case. You know, there’s a particular sound you can get when you layer your own personal, unique voice, that doesn’t exist for ANY OTHER HUMAN BEING. Just in a strictly sonic sense, looping can be waaaaaay more than just a “surrogate band.”

“Does the song deserve a prerecorded element? another musician and resulting overhead? Where to draw that line. Sometimes working within the constraints makes things beautiful, and past that is a slipper slope.”

For me, it comes down to whether or not I can present a piece and not have to make any apologies or qualifications. In other words, not have to say, “It’s cool – considering that it’s all done live.”

“I’ve had people mention to me that they didn’t really realize all the sounds they heard were coming from my voice, and I’m not sure if I want that thought running about in their head or not, on the other hand I would like them to understand that if I’m on stage and the snare doesn’t sound exactly like POPDrumSampler10 why that is.”

There will always be some people who aren’t clued into these kinds of details (if only because they walk in on a gig after you’ve overdubbed your snare sound). To me, this issue – how much of the technical fine-points will be noticed by how many of the audience members – isn’t at all unique to looping. It’s a fundamental issue of pretty much any kind of performance craft; it just goes with the territory.

“measuring it as a purely aural experience isn’t an accurate representation. There are countless bands here in LA with good music, performers, messages, instruments, and in the end they overlap so much that they seem like clones: Uniqueness counts. I’ve have gone to enough open-mics to notice that if you close your eyes sometimes you can’t tell which one your at, unless you know the people there.”

Sure, and to me the “aural” experience means dealing strictly with the music as a musical statement, and ignoring the technical mechanics of it all. And originality is a big part of the overall statement, to me.

Tangent time: if somebody really has a unique creative identity, I think that – in many cases, if not every single one – the distinctiveness of that identity will very likely translate across different mediums. In other words: if a singer/songwriter is truly unique, then their presentation can be stripped down to just a vocal melody and an accompaniment, and it will still sound like “them.” Put them at an open mike or a song circle, and have them play the same acoustic guitar into the same mic everybody else is playing, and a distinctive voice will still be distinctive.

And by the same token, an average or uninteresting songwriter can give themselves a fancy guitar, a cludge of effects, a “hip” drum beat, a looping rig, or whatever, but all of this stuff is just icing on the cake. You can make the most exotic icing in the world, but it’s still gonna be the same cake underneath. And coversely: if you bake a really different kind of cake, you don’t have to drown it in funky frosting and sprinkles to make it stand out from the rest of the meal.

“To what degree the technology becomes a feature of the act. I agree that the technology should not be formost or even 50% of what’s seen. I don’t want to have it in the way, just don’t want to appear like a mobile karioke performer.”

No no no… to me, it’s not a question of how much it’s seen, or how much it’s a feature of the act. The question is: does it hold up? Does it work as a completely whole statement, without needing any explanations, qualifications, or apologies for the way it’s being done? Is it compelling? Is the technology being used in service of a commanding creative personality, or is it a short-term veneer of interest on a lackluster foundation?

Think of it this way: if somebody writes a beautiful piece for piano, then the piano should absolutely be an intrinsic part of the presentation of the music – it WILL be an intrinsic aspect, by its very nature. But if someone writes a mediocre piece, playing it on the nicest piano in town, with all the sonic and performative focus possible, isn’t going to magically turn the musical foundation into a great tune.

A few other quick thoughts, which are once again general suggestions for any musician:

– Think about making the technology MORE obvious, so that it’s abundantly clear that you’re actively engaging with the apparatus to dynamically perform this stuff. Amy X Neuburg, probably my single favorite live looper, controls her electronics by beating on a drumKAT percussion MIDI controller with a pair of sticks, in order to draw the audience’s attention into the performance. Of course, her songs are fantastic, too. And yeah, in a couple of small spots, she does trigger one or two pre-recorded loops. Doesn’t make a difference, because her thing is so bad-ass.

– As an exercise, try plugging into a very basic hardware looper, and see what you can come up with using a “fixed system.” See how much milage you can get out of a limited number of options.

– Record and listen back to yourself, and be brutally honest with how well the interest is maintained. This is some of the best “practicing” I’ve ever done: striving for the goal that “the music” doesn’t start after x number of overdubs, or after the live “lead” part comes in over the looped element, but that it begins from the very first sound that’s made.

– Last and definitely not least: the looping stuff you did at the gig I caught sounded fine, but I thought your straight-up songs and beatboxing were the best part of the show for me. Make of that what you will! 🙂

1 Comment

RE: Novelty
is subjective. There are some things I consider cheesy that people attach to, like gum/candy with jelly in it.

RE: Vocals
music and speech recognition are different parts of our brains. So for some to be fully occupied it requires.

I’ve noticed that people focus on the aspects they play. e.g. drummers listen to a song drum centric, vocalists vocal centric, writers lyric centric. In the act of focusing many skip the other parts.

RE: Just in a strictly sonic sense, looping can be waaaaaay more than just a “surrogate band.”

well put. I tend to think that looping detractors look at it more like a surrogate band. But bah screw em.

RE: Uniqueness.
>And originality is a big part of the overall statement,
originality has bounds. Going to a bar I’ve seen some impressively talented acts, who are unique and memorable, but in the flood of bands with the same instrumentation fail to be remarkable. So the uniqueness is dependent on exposure. You, KidBeyond, Scott Huckabay etc. All tend to be very unique.

RE: Live looping has been around for decades,
in my many concerts, only about 2 people have used live looping or delay, and in my few performance have had people ask me what/how (admittedly many of these peeps aren’t the brightest bulbs on the planet). So while it may be around for decades, there are still many people who have never experienced it.
RE: Is the technology being used in service of a commanding creative personality, or is it a short-term veneer of interest on a lackluster foundation?

Well put. My point was if the technology IS the instrument to what degree it should be showcased or explained for those people in the audience who are clueless. In my latest post I go into the reasoning about why i feel the need to justify the instrumet/method of creation.

RE: tech more/less apparent.

The first time I played there was a huge stack of gear next to me. It was quite clear 😉 and in my opinion got in the way (people on one side could only kinda see me). Since I’ve been strivign to get the gear to be next to invisible, take everything away, and then put back what adds to the overall show, but may not add musically. I have played (at home) with using led drumsticks for the beat box and imitations (e.g. bowing a cello), the difficulty is in how much the microphone (for me) is an instrument and needs to be positioned/cupped appropriately.

As far, as It’s gotten to the point it fits into a backpack and I can plugin in the house in the space of an open mic setup. Which is at the ‘magic zone’, e.g. at an open mic which is rarely if ever more complex than guitar/vocals, having a solo performer with only one instrument create parts with little or no visible devices is kinda like doing stage magic.

RE: hardware loopers.
I have played with fixed loopers sometimes it’s a raquetball court, bathroom, hardware delay from digitization, and guitar delay pedals. Ableton has VST effects and how I work on some songs. The nice thing about delay fx vrs traditional ableton loops is they decay, and stack easier (or at least with less CPU) so the song is more organic. I’m playing with the idea of stacking in a delay pedal and then capturing that to a ableton loop for start and stopability.

RE: record/review
I have in the past practiced whole shows, the kicker is doing it live, with oddles of feedback an d house sounds getting into the audio system. It’s disorienting, and making time for it, music is a hobby for me.

RE: Amy
neato I like!

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