It is a form of electronic performance that creates new rules, shaking some foundations of basic musical performance. Before live-looping, a sample was something integrated into a song long before a musician took the stage, it was never created and used on the spot during the actual performance. It also makes live composition somewhat more accessible, as an artist can pause without playing while his music still goes on, and manipulate it differently for every performance, or create something new out of the elements he or she pieces together.
Live-looping is nothing new, in fact its rich history goes back to the middle of the 20th century. It began when musicians rigged together tape recorders in a way that allowed them to record sound on one, and then play it back immediately on another. This opened up a world of possibility for live performance, and began a movement for solo artists to experiment with. Brian Eno and Robert Fripp added an electric guitar, volume pedals, a wah-wah, and more. Fripp went on to rename his similar set-up “Frippertronics,” which helped inspire a newer generation of live-loopers and is also credited with creating a strong association between the samplers and the guitar, more so than any other instrument.
Now decades later, artists are becoming inspired and influenced by this style of performance, though their styles remain uniquely different. Tim Reynolds (from Dave Matthews Band) seems to use live-looping mostly as an embellishment for his acoustic shows, his skilled and dreamlike guitar playing uses some sampling to enhance and echo certain moments in the performance. While to the ears Tim Reynolds is certainly a solo artist, his music sounds like it’s been mixed down and effects have been added to it, though this is only the samplers at work.
Joe Preston, formerly of the Melvins, went on to create a band he calls the Thrones. The Thrones are always introduced plurally, although for the most part it is only Preston and his instruments. His band mates, these electronic devices, are considered as much a part of the act as any human would be. Using a double necked guitar and an array of samplers, his sound is dark, slow, and rather moody…much like the soundtrack to a morbid video game. It is in bold contrast to Day, whose music is comparatively more poppy, yet still maintains a moody and alternative feel. Unlike Preston, who uses his talent to sound like one man playing with ambient music in a studio, Day chooses to sound like a full band playing live. None of these artists actually are how they sound though, and that is the beauty of live-looping.
As more musicians discover live-looping, no doubt it will one day be popular enough that the music industry will exploit it. Until then, artists are making names for themselves by using the method to appear unique, original, and talented…though not without merit.
live-looping and its history: livelooping.com
Community of Loopers: www.loopersdelight.com
Howie Day: www.howieday.com
Tim Reynolds: www.timreynolds.com
The Thrones: www.killrockstars.com/bands/thrones/