Live Looping in Music Performance and Recording
Updated: Mar 6, 2021
So about a year ago, before the world got turned upside down and inside out, I decided to treat myself to a new toy, one in which I could expand my musical palette (that’s how I justify purchasing new gear…!). The piece of equipment I went with was an RC-505 Loop Station by Roland. In a nutshell, this particular piece of gear allows you to record phrases and play them back instantly, enabling you to play over the top or record more layers if you wish. You can then pause each layer, manipulate them with effects and even save them for later use.
There is also a built-in drum machine and effects unit for you to play around with. My goal was to perform with this live at open mic nights (little did I know that wouldn't happen for a long time due to COVID!).
My BOSS RC-505 in action at a yin yoga Deep Rest live event with
However, in February 2021 thanks to UK based yoga company Wild Wolf Movement and the power of the internet, I was finally able to be given a platform to perform some of the material I had been working with on the looper! The event was held on Zoom and I accompanied the wonderful Marie Burrows in a Deep Rest meditation yin yoga/yoga Nidra session online. The session enabled me to explore the loop station deeper and put it through its paces (by the way, Zoom is very accommodating when doing live performances!)!
Deep Rest Event Live February 2021 with
When I talk about live looping and you aren’t sure of what I’m referring to, then you may have already heard a looper being used without even knowing it. Artists such as Australian singer/songwriter Tash Sultana and renowned musician Ed Sheeran use live looping as a main focus of their performance. It gives them the opportunity to create layers of music on the fly and be able to perform over them, creating a layered sound. It also saves money on band members!
Now, loopers are being used a lot these days and can often enable artists to create new and unique sounds that they may not have been able to do without. It also creates the convenience of being able to create tracks on your own (and now with social distancing more and more are finding these useful to record and perform with!).
A typical advanced live loop station setup for performance
Let’s look at where the idea came from.
With sound recording on a gramophone record having been invented in 1887, there have been ever-growing ways to produce and record sound. From the Wax cylinder, Tape, Vinyl, MiniDisk (remember those??) all the way to MP3 and now Online Streaming (I will go into this more in another post). Now, each of these technological steps has made it easier and quicker to get recordings down and playback to the point where performers have been able to playback recordings on the fly to create ‘layers’.
In 1953, renowned duo Les Paul and Mary Ford demonstrated the first-ever live performance of Live Looping on television. In this clip (after the comical introduction of course!), you can see how Les Paul would use tape reels to layer each guitar track that Mary Ford would then record her vocals over the top. She would then be able to loop each layer back and build harmonies over each recording. The result is a fascinating wall of sound, built by layers of harmonies and melodies.
Les Paul & Mary Ford on "Omnibus" (1953) -
The first public performance of Live Looping
Then, in 1963, performer Terry Riley released a tape loop called “The Gift”, featuring the trumpet playing of Chet Baker. The piece utilised tape delay/feedback with two Revox tape recorders and the result was a multi-layering of sounds that created a tremendous effect and began to revolutionise the way live looping could be achieved.
At this point, the term ‘Live Looping’ was still yet to be coined until the early 1990’s when a device called the Paradis LOOP Delay was put on the market. Then, in 2001, with the progression of digital recording and the use of MP3 audio, companies such as Roland and Digitech paved the way in the ‘live looping’ industry by producing products such as the beginnings of the Roland RC series and the Digitech Jamman. These devices allowed DJ’s, and performers to create live loops and play them back instantly to audiences in high quality and detailed audio.
DigiTech JamMan Express XT Guitar Loop Pedal
Today, many artists from all different genres and styles utilise live looping as one of the main focuses of their act. Using them to build on layers with percussion, melody and riffs, they are able to achieve truly unique sounds.
Here is a song I wrote using the loop station using a mixture of samples and live loops with Guitar and Synth:
Here are some of my favourite Live Looping examples:
Mike Love - Permanent Holiday
Elise Trouw - Foo Fighters Meets 70's Bobby Caldwell
TASH SULTANA - JUNGLE
Reggie Watts (Key & Peele outro song) 'I Just Want To' (2009)
So, am I happy with my purchase? You betcha! Although purchasing the RC505 was quite an investment, the amount of ideas and opportunities it has given me has already paid for itself ten times over. I'm looking forward to seeing how deep I can go with this and what weird and wonderful tracks are yet to be explored!
If you use something like this or similar, I would love to hear your thoughts and perhaps some ideas or tricks you've been working on? Drop me an email on email@example.com I'd love to hear from you :)
March 5th 2020