A few weeks ago, I posted about a very moving blog post by Adrian Benavides, when discussing his new album – Same Time Next Time. Not only was I taken by the honesty and open way Adrian discussed the death of his daughter, but also how these emotions were transferred into both the process and subsequent sounds of the album. I was particularly interested in how these emotions could be transferred to listeners. Having stated that ‘I would love to hear this album’, Adrian very kindly got in touch and sent me a copy. In the last couple of weeks, Adrian has uploaded another couple of posts – part 2 and part 3, where he talks candidly about the emotional process of recording the album. The posts also include streams on selected tracks, which makes it possible to make the connections I have discussed above. I have only just started listening to the album, and intend to post a more thorough review of the album later. But in the meantime, I can only recommend checking out his blog and listening to the music. It is one of the most honest albums I have heard in a long long time.
Archive for the ‘Loop Music’ Category
Posted in Academic, Foundation Degre, Frank Zappa, Live Music, Loop Music, Wales, tagged Frank Zappa, live music, loops in music, loops in popular music, music loop, paul carr, popular music foundation degree, Wales on January 1, 2012 | 2 Comments »
It is so long since I last blogged, so I thought this seemed a good time to set a new year’s resolution to upload a post at least once a week. So – here goes – a brief synopsis of what I have been up to last year (as far as I can remember).
Due to the amount of work I have had to do on the edited collection on Frank Zappa (More later) – I made a decision to not present at as many conferences this year. I did however do a couple. The first was in Liege in March – on ‘Loops in Popular Music’ – a really interesting international discussion at the local university. I presented the paper with my colleague – Dr Ben Challis – and after the proceedings of the conference were processed we were asked to update our work for a book chapter. The book is in the French language, and at the moment is being edited – more of this in a later post.
This was followed by a conference at Edinburgh University, which was organised by Prof. Simon Frith and focused on live music – part of a 3 year project funded by AHRC.. This gave me the chance to discuss the research I had recently completed into the live music industry in Wales, and was a great opportunity to listen to loads of industry professionals and academics discuss their research. An overview of the papers can be found here for those that are interested. The research into the Live Music Industry in Wales also led to a talk at the Institute of Welsh Affairs (which was really well attended), an interview with the Minature Music Press, a talk at the Hay Festival and a couple of radio interviews.
September of last year also witnessed the launch of the European Social Funded Foundation Degree in Music Industry Entrepreneurship I had been working on for a number of years. The idea for this started a couple of years ago with a paper that was published in the Journal for Applied Research in Higher Education, and I hope this course can act as a sort of template of the ways in which the music industry can work with Higher Education.
The Zappa Book has been progressing nicely and is due to be handed into the publishers at the end of March 2012. Although not conferences, I was lucky enough to do a couple of talks at the University of Valencia and Cardiff University this year on some of the thinking behind the book. Although I am really pleased with how the book is shaping up, one of the book’s key contributors David Sanjek sadly passed away just prior to Christmas. He had handed his chapter in just a couple of weeks before and had worked so hard on it. His death came as such a shock to everyone and I have decided to dedicate the book to Dave – he will be sorely missed.
I have also had a couple of other publications released this year on Zappa, but rather than go into specific details – anyone who is interested can get details here.
Finally, thanks to Spotify, I have managed to listen to so much music this year. In no particular order – the best music of the year includes:
Happy new year.
Posted in Academic, Loop Music, Musicology, tagged Academic, Ben Challis, brian eno, guitarists, hypermediacy, loops, musicology, paul carr, Robert Fripp, tape, typology on April 18, 2011 | 1 Comment »
Well, it is while since my last post. Over the last 4 weeks I have delivered three papers in three different countries. So – I thought I would give an overview of them here.
The first was a paper entitled ‘The Impossible Made Real: A Typology of Loops and an exploration of the impact of immediacy and hypermediacy in Popular Music’. It was delivered at the University of Leige in early March with my colleague Dr Ben Challis. This was followed by a conference at the University of Edinburgh entitled ‘ Live Music In Wales: interim findings of a research project financed by the Welsh Assembly Government’, followed by a paper this week at the University of Valencia, focusing on Frank Zappa and Gesture. What follows is a synopsis of what we covered in the first conference in Leige, and this will be followed by details of the paper in Scotland later. I covered the content of the paper in Valencia in an earlier post.
We are currently developing the concepts of the loop paper into a book chapter – so watch this space!
Firstly – to see some of the video content we discussed on the day via a Prezi, look at this link.
Secondly – here is an overview of what was discussed!
The Impossible Made Real: A Typology of Loops and an exploration of the impact of immediacy and hypermediacy in Popular Music. Slide 1
Dr Paul Carr and Dr Ben Challis
We would like to open this paper by agreeing with Richard Middleton’s perspective that ‘all popular songs, to a greater or lesser extent, fall under the power of repetition’ (Middleton, 2006: p. 15).Slide 2 This is a paradigm that has also been shown to be true in both the European classical tradition and music of many other world cultures (For example the Tala in Indian classical music, reflects the cycle of reincarnation of the Hindu religion, or the Montuno piano rhythms of Cuba, both incorporate repetitive compositional devices). Indeed repetition in Western music has a long standing practice when viewed from both macro and micro perspectives, terminology that Middleton described as discursive and musematic respectively (Middleton, 2006: p. 16).For example, the Sonata Form as employed by Classical period composers pervasively employs repetition on a micro and macro level, with the repetition of the initial ‘exposition’ by the ‘recapitulation’ representing an excellent example of the latter. Slide 3 As outlined by Douglas Webster (1950), most sonata forms are seen to incorporate the mathematical purity of the Golden Section, a paradigm that is not only common in music, but also architecture, painting, and nature. Slide 4 These repetitions usually occur on an inter compositional basis, but as evidenced by the indicative examples of Monteverdi and Prokofiev’s reuse of their own ideas between compositions, and more plagaristic repetitions such as the song ‘Stranger in Paradise’s’ similarity to Boridin’s ‘Gliding Dance Of The Maidens’, can also work on intra compositional levels, resulting in intra-textual allusions, something which ironically has a strong resonance with Adorno’s theory of ‘Standardization’.Slide 5. This paper intends to examine the creative incorporation of a specific type of repetition in popular music, that of loop-based composition (and to a lesser extent improvisation). After presenting a definition of our conception of a loop, our discussion will progress to present an initial typology of the ways in which loops are used in music, in both conventional performance environments, and more explicitly with the aid of technology. This will be followed by a brief overview of the history of tape and digital based looping, followed by an examination of the means through which technological looping can be conceptualised in modern day practices, with a particular emphasis on immediacy and hypermediacy.
What Is a Loop In Music? Slide 6
The terminology ‘loop’ can be seen to be used in numerous disciplines such as science and technology (for example an electric circuit), Mathematics (for example loop algebra and graph theory), computers (for example the ‘infinite loop’), and of course music. The Cambridge Dictionary depicts loops as either a noun (For example the ’Tape Loop’), or a Verb (For example the process of looping), and we would like to spend a short time extending these definitions, with a particular emphasis on music.
Firstly, a couple quotes from authors describing loops as they relate to music technology. Slide 7
“Loops are short sections of tracks (probably between one and four bars in length), which you believe might work being repeated.” A loop is not “any sample, but…specifically a small section of sound that’s repeated continuously.” Contrast with a one-shot sample”. (Duffell 2005, p.14)
“A loop is a sample of a performance that has been edited to repeat seamlessly when the audio file is played end to end” (Hawkins 2004, p. 10).
When describing one of his early experiments with Frippertronics, Robert Fripp described the following process. We take up the story with Fripp entering notes into his duel tape recorder setup throughout the morning, listening to the emotional impact of the repetitions. He stated
“About five minutes later I stumbled over and punched in a few more tones, which turned out to be not the ones I wanted, but I let them stand. This “music” went on and on and on, through breakfast and watering the plants and the rest of it, and by half an hour later the sound had come to seem endowed with a shimmering depth of significance” (Tamm p. 46).
This is congruent to Fripp’s colleague, Brian Eno’s opinion that “Almost any arbitrary collision of events listened to enough times comes to seem very meaningful”, (Eno 1983, 56), and it is this juxtaposition of continuous repetition and consequent ‘significance’ that this paper attempts to negotiate.
This practice is particularly prevalent in mainstream popular musics and more contemporary forms of ‘classical’ music, not only on a melodic basis, but also via a variety of textural constructions we will highlight below. These examples range from compositions that exclusively rely on loops for their entire duration and instrumental strands, to others which selectively incorporate them for specific sections. We would like to propose at this point that many compositions incorporate a number of techniques both diachronically and synchronically, something that will be alluded to as our paper progresses. It is important to note that some of these processes are similar to the theory of Organicism – where a musical work is conceptualised as an ‘Organism’, where individual parts combine to form part of a functioning whole, with the body acting as a metaphor for the musical work. This concept has its roots in the work of philosopher George Hegel (1770 – 1831), who stated that ‘if the work is a genuine work of art, the more exact the detail the greater the unity of the whole’ (Hurry and Day 1982: 341), and this paper intends to extrapolate the means through which this absolutist ‘detail’ can be elaborated upon, and linked empirically to the experience of those involved in making and listening to the music.
What follows is an initial attempt at a typology of loops, as they pertain to music, where in addition to widely known looping techniques such as ostinati and riff, we attempt to develop an extended list of loop descriptions. In order to comply with the absolutist and empirical extremes of the epistemological continuum, we also attempt to align formalist and extra musical ‘qualities’ to these descriptions.
Brief History of Technology for Looping
In appreciating the various compositional applications of repetition it is perhaps only logical that composers should look to new technologies to assist with this fundamental musical process of creating structure through continuously repeating sonic motifs. Historically, this has led to the emergence of novel and often experimental devices, the new techniques that are afforded and even the vocabulary by which these new techniques and sounds can be described. In a more contemporary perspective, these, perhaps, home built solutions have paved the way for a mainstream realisation of similar concepts but available in forms that now suit mass consumption. Perhaps now regarded as the norm in popular music composition, pattern-based approaches for creating and sustaining new repetitive ideas are evident in many, if not most, common software production tools. Patterns and loops can now be layered to create complex sonic experiences with such immediacy that ideas can be developed or abandoned with ease. In considering the state-of-the-art and fully appreciating the opportunities that are now available, it is worth first reflecting on the various historical developments that have occurred along the way.
Locked groove recordings
The earliest examples of technology-enabled audio-loops are generally attributed to the experimental musical works of French composer Pierre Schaeffer. Regarded as the founding figure behind the Music Concrète movement, Schaeffer employed acetate disc recordings to capture real or ‘concrete’ sounds which were manipulated and layered to create rich sonic landscapes. One technique that Schaeffer employed was to interrupt the spiral groove on a recording to create a ‘closed’ or ‘locked’ groove Slide 1. Unlike the terminating locked-groove that prevented the stylus from progressing onto the label, Schaeffer’s closed loops contained recorded sound and were also situated at strategic distances on the surface to offer different loop lengths. Clear examples of this technique can be heard within his 1948 collection of etudes “Cinq études de bruits” and perhaps most notable within these works is “Etude aux chemins de fer” where various sounds from trains are looped to create mechanical rhythmic patterns. Although locked-grooves of this type were superseded by the possibilities offered by the emergence of magnetic tape, the concept remained in use as a novel ‘ending’ to many commercial recordings by bands and artists on vinyl recordings from the 1960s onwards. At the end of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album (1967), the closed-groove is used to store random layered voices and the final groove of King Crimson’s “USA” (1975) produces a cycling loop of applause. More recently, Stereolab’s final track from “Transient random noise bursts with announcements” (1993) enters into a terminal loop at its close with the clue being in the track’s title “Lock Groove Lullaby” and the Super Furry Animals multi-disc album “Rings around the world” (2001) features a side containing a single closed-groove in the middle of the disc; the groove plays a timed sample of the basic groove from “All the shit U do”, a track not featured on the album.
Though the concept of looped audio-recordings clearly originates from the early experiments of Schaeffer and his contemporaries, it is not clear whether the term ‘loop’ as used in a sonic context emerged at this same time. It is more likely that the term was first used in reference to tape-loops and even then it is not clear who first coined the phrase or indeed who first explored the transition of the idea from acetate to magnetic tape. Slide 2 During the early 1950s, experimental composers Louis and Bebe Barron were using tape loops in their works and Bebe Barron has suggested that she may well have been the originator of both the phrase and the concept as she knew of no one else who had done similar before then. Yet, it is also clear that Les Paul was experimenting with tape-loops in his guitar works at a similar time and also that Pierre Schaeffer’s interest in sonic loops moved into the use of magnetic tape and ultimately to the commission of a device called the Morphophone Slide 3. Created by Fances Poullin in the 1950s for Schaeffer, this device featured a revolving cylinder of 50cm with a loop of magnetic tape around it. Armed with twelve heads (record, erase and then ten moveable heads for playback) a short recording could be cycled around indefinitely with different timed delays being offered by the spacing of the playback heads (Teruggi 2007). Two paths perhaps emerged at this point, one that moved towards the use of closed loops of magnetic tape to produce prolonged echo delays as commercialised within products like the Echoplex (c. 1959) Slide 4 and one that moved towards the use of closed-loops to accumulate layers. Though the use of tape-delay is of interest within the scope of this presentation, it is perhaps the latter use of magnetic tape, to emulate the closed-groove concept whilst offering the potential to introduce further layers that is of more immediate interest.
The most notable early explorer of tape-layering using loops in this way is Terry Riley. Prominent as an experimental composer and performer within the emerging minimalist music movement of the early 60s, Riley conceived a structural idea based on long loops of sound, being layered and adapted over substantial periods of time. Using two reel-to-reel tape recorders, Riley developed the “time lag-accumulator” for this very purpose using the device to create huge live performances, creating loops whilst simultaneously improvising over them. His pieces “Reed Streams” 1966 and “Rainbow in Curved Air” 1969 are indicative of the live performances that Rile was achieving at the time. Slide 5 A more mainstream application of the same technique was offered by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno in their 1973 collaboration on “No Pussyfooting” with Fripp subsequently coining the term ‘Frippertronics’ for his interpretation of Riley’s original device.
Originally conceived as digital counterparts to the earlier tape-based echo machines (Echoplex c. 1959 and WEM Copicat c. 1958), early digital delay pedals such as the Boss DD2 (c. 1984) offered perhaps only a few seconds of delay time but if feedback was set to a high level, this could effectively be turned into a closed-loop effect. In this respect, digital delay pedals could offer similar capabilities for layering to those explored by the likes of Riley and Fripp but working with much shorter loops. The first dedicated digital loop-recorder was the Paradis Loop Delay (c. 1992), a device where the functionality reflected the use of continuous loops more than it did the use of gradually diminishing echo-like delay. As with the division of paths in the evolution of analogue approaches to delay devices and loops devices, similar is true within the digital domain seeing FX approaches to delay developing in parallel to sustained structural development of continuous loops. The latter leading to the development of dedicated ‘loop stations’.
Analogue Step Sequencers
Although the development of digital approaches for storing and manipulating audio new possibilities were quickly realised for taking the potential for working with loops to new levels it is important to acknowledge the evolution of another approach to loop-like generation of patterns in electronic music that was progressing in parallel around this same time.
Companies producing modular synthesisers in the 1960s began to offer modules that would allow a series of control voltages (CVs) to be cycled in a seemingly endless loop. Slide 6 In the most basic of formats, modules such as the Moog 960 step sequencer could send these CVs to produce, for example, a series of pitched notes, the sequencer would then cycle through this tone-row by a speed set by clock circuit. Although seemingly basic in terms of melodic development, a step-sequencer of this sort was a highly effective method of creating and controlling ostinato patterns. A technique that was used extensively by, for example, Tangerine Dream became a common feature of less modular, dedicated synthesisers of the type favoured by the electronic bands of the early 1980s who continued to use the step-sequencer as a generator for laying down ostinato grooves (for example “Dreams of Leaving” by The Human League 1980). Though more flexible approaches to sequencing (particularly using the MIDI protocol) have emerged in the decades that have followed, it is interesting to note that the concept of step-sequenced loops and/or repeated patterns has remained, frequently being presented as a fundamental building block for composition.
Phrase samplers and hybrid devices
The contemporary music composition and production suite is likely to incorporate software environments of the types just mentioned, platforms for fast creation and manipulation of looped phrases along with looped digital audio. These have become the established norm for much of the recorded commercial music that is being produced for today’s market. Yet, the experimental interest in loops remains (Add N to (X), Aphex Twin, Mùm) as does the desire by performers to improvise with looped material (Son of Dave, Imogen Heap) and so the technological development of hardware and software tools for loop-based performance continues. Slide 7 Most recently, the Korg Kaos series, is offering hybrid devices for recording multiple loops and manipulating them in realtime (Kaospad) or for generating and synthesised phrases and recorded loops to similar effect (Kaossilator).
Discuss the Model
Conclusions Slide 8
As noted by academics such as McClary, Auslander and Zac electronic modes of production often aim to precipitate ‘immediacy’ in the listener, becoming noticeable only when closely scrutinizing the text. This is congruent to the proposition presented by Bolter and Grusin (1999), who argued that modern society is driven by a desire for realism, a need which is met by a variety of new media forms ranging from spacial innovations like stereo, quadraphonic and three dimensional movies, to the improved digital quality of compact disks and high definition TV. According to Bolter and Grusin, the irony of this process is that in the quest for realism, the technology making this possible is often foregrounded, resulting in a process they entitle ‘Hypermediacy’, where the audience is reminded of the technological medium, resulting in an increased awareness of ‘seeing’ (or in our case hearing). When considering the work of loop based musicians such as Robert Fripp, David Torn and Bill Frisell, who use technology as a means of generating loops during live performance, from an audience perspective they can be seen to often straddle the divide between the immediacy of more conventional performance and a process we describe as Non Realistic Hypermediacy, where the technology is perceived not as a means of generating realism, but as a means of creating sounds and textures that often appear to be beyond the scope of what audiences can perceive – the impossible made real!. For example, when examining a live performance by vocalist Amy X Neuburg: Play Slide/Video We propose that the combination of the voice, the signal processers, and the resultant sound arguably ‘encourages’ the listener to consider how the link between the instrument and the timbres are generated. How can a single performer generate these sounds, and why do they not sound like a single performer? Susan McClary’s observation that ‘the closer we get to the source, the more distant becomes the imagined ideal of unmediated presence’ is noteworthy on this occasion, as it could be argued that performances such as this display the reality of what is hidden in much commercial pop music – the incorporation of technology. Additionally, McClary’s observation also provides an interesting addition to Hagel’s Organicism outlined earlier, with both philosophies indicating that the detail of the individual parts reflect the ‘truth’ of the whole. In Organicism’s case the interrelation of the parts are primary, in McClary’s it is the means through which the sounds are achieved. It is proposed that when analysing loop based compositions generated via sound processors, it is important to focus on not only the formalistic melodic, harmonic and rhythmic conventions of western music, but also on factors such as the impact of the mediated voice on the performer’s creative decision making (This is also the case for the listener, but this is beyond the scope of this discussion). This raises a number of important questions such as: how does the performer creatively engage with a machine from an improvisational and compositional perspective? How are specific sounds and textures produced? What are the impacts of these processes on notions of authenticity? How does the listener make sense of what appears on the surface to be disjuncture between performer and sound, input and output? How and why do listeners make meaning out of what can initially be a series of random events?  What impact does the juxtaposition of live and recorded elements have on both creativity and reception? What are the textual allusions when looping overlaps with sampling other composers work? And finally, what are the impacts surrounding the minimalist mantra – ‘repetition as a form of change’?, and how does this resonate with Roland Barthes’ view that ‘The bastard form of mass culture is a humiliated repetition’. He continued ‘always new books, new programmes, new films, news items, but always the same meaning’ (Barthes 1975: 24).
Although there is not time to answer these questions now, this is something we intend to explore in the next stage of this research, and welcome any feedback anyone has to offer.
Thank You Final Slide
Barthes, Roland, The Pleasure of the Text (Hill and Wang, 1975).
Bennett, Andy, Barry Shank, and Jason Toynbee, The Popular Music Studies Reader (Routledge, 2006).
Teruggi, Daniel (2007). “Technology and Musique Concrete: The Technical Developments of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales and Their Implication in Musical Composition”. Organised Sound 12, no. 3:213–31.
Holmes, T. (2002) Electronic and Experimental Music. Routledge, GB
 between around 1759 – 1830
 Who incorporated material from L’Orfeo in the 1610 Vespers.
 Whose 3rd Symphony is heavily influenced by his opera Fiery Angel.
 From Polovtsian Dances.
 Andy Bennett, Barry Shank, and Jason Toynbee, The popular music studies reader (Routledge, 2006), p23.
 Philip Auslander, Liveness (Routledge, 2008), p76.
 Albin Zak, The poetics of rock (University of California Press, 2001), p47.
 Sheila Whiteley, Andy Bennett, and Stan Hawkins, Music, space and place (Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2005), p167.
 It could be argued that looping technology negates the need to communicate with other musicians.
 Does the loop have the impact of magnifying the initial event?
 For example although a loop may repeat exactly, the time and circumstances surrounding it will differ.
I am currently getting ready to present a paper at the university of Liege with my colleague Ben Challis. It is entitled
The Impossible Made Real: A Typology of Loops and an exploration of the impact of immediacy and hypermediacy in Popular Music.
Now in the closing stages of the conclusion, I am comparing two key opinions on how repetition works. The first is a minimalist mantra often credited to Brian Eno, which goes something like - ‘repetition as a form of change’? For example, although a loop may repeat indefinitely, the time and circumstance through which it is experienced changes. In other words our listening experiences can evolve during the course of listening to a piece, or perhaps as a performer we may respond to the loop stimulus differently as time goes by.
My big question is how does this resonate with Roland Barthes’ view that ‘The bastard form of mass culture is a humiliated repetition’. He continued ‘always new books, new programmes, new films, news items, but always the same meaning’ (Barthes 1975: 24).
According to Barthes, we are duped into thinking music (and other forms of media) are giving us different experiences, but the reality is they are a subliminal form of repetition. This is a similar to Adorno’s view that all popular music is ‘standardised’.
So, when listening to the beginning of a piece such as In C by Terry Riley, does the experience precipitate an evolving and profound meaning, that changes during the course of listening to it, and each time we experience it? Or, is it simply a ‘bastard from of mass culture’, which evokes essentially the same meaning each time we experience it?
Letters on a postcard!
Posted in Academic, Loop Music, Musicology, tagged Academic, catagory, Conference, john adams, loops, michael jackson, mike oldfield, musicology, paul carr, rush, university on January 13, 2011 | Leave a Comment »
Ok – here is some more thoughts on the formulation of loops in music. As before, I would very much appreciate any additional examples you can offer me. See my earlier posts for more thoughts. All of the music is cross referenced in Spotify – so give it a listen!
Contextually Placed: When a melodic loop is synchronically placed against a changing chord progression or bass line. In other words the melody stays the same, but the harmony/bass changes – altering the ‘context’ of the loop. Listen to ‘The Spirit Of Radio’ by Rush at around 2.34 – 2.52, or listen to the beginning of Nixon in China by John Adams, or the introduction of Tubular Bells from between 2.09 – 2.32.
Polyphonic: Where at least two interlocking melody lines work contrapuntally together. This type of loop, often builds up over time, and has the potential to have melody lines in the bass, tenor, alto and soprano parts. For example, listen to the start of Act 1 Scene 2 of John Adam’s Nixon in China or the introduction of Tubular Bells, from around 0.50
Terry Riley’s In C uses a similar technique, with the whole piece being based on loops. In this case the musician decides how many times the loop is repeated.
This is also used in Rock – For example listen to the introduction of ‘The Faith Healer‘ by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
The Unison: When two or more instruments play the loop simultaneously. This could be in the bass or middle, but is more likely to be in the melody line. For example, listen to the start of Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield
Instrumental Layers: In certain types of music, each instrument actually plays a looped part in the construction of the composition. This could range from one or two instruments – for example the drums and bass, to the entire rhythm section. For an example of the latter – listen to James Brown ‘Get Up Offa That Thing‘ .In this piece the drums, bass, keys, brass, vocals and guitars – all play loops!
Homophonic Loop: Where the loop is a chord progression. This could range from a heavy metal riff (in 5ths) – to chord progressions such Wonderful World by Sam Cooke.
Tension and Release: Some loops seem to combine both tension and release at the same time. For example a melody can repeat the same notes, but the lyrics can change. This gives the listener the essential mix of similarity (we love that) and difference (we love that too!). Listen to this track from Michael Jackson’s last album as an example of what I mean.
That’s about it for now, any piece suggestions much appreciated.
In order to begin the process of developing a typology of loops for the conference me and Ben Challis are doing in March, I thought a good start would be analysing some of the tracks of Jay Z’s The Black Album. Once you have read the post, I would be really interested in anyone’s thoughts on other pieces of music that fit into these categories, or just general points of view.
Anyway – here goes. It seems the main technique used on this album is that of using a single looped sample as a backing track for a composition.
Category 1: Single Looped Sample As Backing Track
When listening to “December 4th“ by Jay Z, it is obvious that the whole song is based on the instrumental introduction of “That’s How Long” by The Chi-Lites. Jay Z’s piece is in verse – chorus form, with both sections based on a pitch shifted sample of specific areas of the Chi-Lites earlier work, which essentially provides a background for additional percussion and of course the rap vocal line
A similar technique is used in Jay Z’s “What More Can I Say”, which uses “Something For Nothing” by MFSB as a backing track, using looping techniques to increase the size of specific sections of the original work, before adding rap and vocal lines.
As one would expect when using lengthy single samples, both of the above Jay Z pieces are very similar in style to the original compositions. So it seems logical that a development of this category would be the use of a single sample as backing track, but this time the ‘new’ composition changes in style.
Jay Z’s “Encore” does this. Using a fragment of the introduction of John Holt’s “I Will” (originally by the Beatles) as a melodic riff, there is no similarity to the reggae style of the original.
This album also features a couple of original songs (“Change Cloths” & “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”) that uses loop technology as the foundation of entire pieces, but as opposed to sampling other artists, incorporates the technology to loop original ideas.
It could be argued that this technique has a similar creative impetus to a rock band playing a riff. It is also arguably similar to the work that Robert Fripp done with his Fripptronics (see my earlier post)– often using a backing track made up from an improvised tape loop.
More next time with another catagory.
For anyone interested in checking out some great music, I can only recommend listening to the work of Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel. I have included an amazing session he recorded with Brian Blade below, followed by a Spotify link for some of his other work – including solo albums.
Please check him out wolfgang muthspiel
Here are some more Eivind Aarset live recordings that emphasise the dislocation of his body from what we hear. His solo towards the end of this piece has so many layers it is difficult to ascertain what he is actually ‘playing’. It is a true mixture of ‘man and machine’. This is extended by the band (and himself) improvising around his loops – very interesting.
This is extended in the following video, which not only includes repeated guitar loops, but drums also. This is in addition to sounds not normally associated with the guitar.
This final one is included again as it is from his ‘Sonic Codex’ album, which I am beginning to appreciate very much. As stated in my earlier Blog, he is taking what Terge Rypdal achieved and moving it forward in a more ambient modern direction.
I am interested in finding out any info regarding how these pieces are constructed. There is obviously a lot of freedom – almost similar to the way Miles D compiled his more recent works toward the end of his life. I know there is a PhD written in Norwegian on Eivind – would love a translated copy if it becomes available.
Just discovered this amazing guitarist – Eivind Aarset – what an xmas present. He seems to encapsulate what a guitarist of the 21st Century can be – using available technology to create a soundscape that is very difficult to comprehend in terms of the sound in relation to his ‘performing body’ . I am fascinated by the way this music is constructed, in particular how he uses loops in creativity. If anyone knows of any other ‘obscure’ players who compose like this – I would be very interested.
I am in the very early stages of writing a paper on guitarists who use loops as a creative tool. I came across this, and it reminded me what a great guitarists and composer Bob Fripp is. Have a great holiday season.