Live Looping

 

 

 

Looping used to literally be a loop of magnetic tape that was simultaneously played back and recorded to.  The concept is so simple yet Robert Fripp, the godfather of looping, proved how versatile it could be.  The concept goes back to the Beatles and before but Fripp focused on the technique and presented it to the world:

Eventually looping went digital and allowed for multiple loops to be timed in parallel.  It got easier and easier with each new device to build a song like a studio session.  In the 90's pedals made specifically for looping hit the market and have been evolving since.  The possibilities quickly hit the limits of what a person could focus on, remember, or respond to fast enough.  Many talented artists have made their careers pushing those limits like KT Tunstall, Reggie Watts, Howie Day, Robert DeLong, and Ed Sheeran.  Many DJs like to mix in enough live looping to distinguish their style from simply replaying recordings or working the effects like a traditional DJ. There is no longer a clear line between the extremes of live performormance from a bluegrass band to an EDM artist who hits play.

As home computers made their way onstage many programs explored this niche but Ableton Live became the clear leader.  Though it wasn't designed with Looping in mind it could be configured to outperform any pedal.  Ed Sheeran, perhaps the world's most successful looper, has been able to entertain stadiums with any pre-recorded music using only his instruments and loops.  However it takes a steep learning curve and amazing talent to manage so many controls and instruments simultaneously.  Take for example this video where all the looping commands and sound changes are done manually with a Launchpad controller:

They do a great job of structuring the song and building it fast by splitting up the button duties but it must have taken an enormous amount of memorization to pull this off.  Most loopers take the burden off their fingers by using foot pedals but that doesn't reduce the number of buttons to be hit.

Now watch this amazing looper:

She is the other, recently discovered extreme of Looping:  She pre-programs when the loops and effects change so she only has to play the instruments.  As you can see it really helps lift the enigma of what loopers are doing and brings the focus back to the performance.  So what's the problem with this approach?  Flexibility.  She has no room to improvise or make a performance unique and if she forgets to start any part at the right time everything will unravel.  She's talented enough to handle it but I'm sure she'd be the first to tell you it's a lot of pressure.

(There's a 3rd type of artist that loops at first but eventually uses pre-recorded tracks... I feel that crosses the line out of live looping and back into DJing or Karaoke. Looking at you Robert DeLong!)

LoopCode is a new concept in looping performance: To remove the need for knob twisting, button sequences, or punch-in / punch-out marking. Trying to juggle all these things normally makes a live looping performance quite a dance.  Between floor units and synth gear and the choreography of it can be an enormous burden.  Now imagine all those patch changes and loop points reduced to one action: "Next".  LoopCode is a program to save 'scenes' for Ableton Live with all the commands needed to get to the next spot in the song.  Most importantly, it locks to Ableton's tempo and can send out commands after an exact number of beats or bars.  Combined with Ableton's ability to set the length of a loop recording in advance this means almost any looping situation can be handled with one button press.  So quick and complicated loop layers can be built like in this example:

LoopCode is the middle ground between a tape loop and a pre-scripted routine...as simple as adding one button in to the mix.  It allows the flexibility of moving a loop song forward at a pace that is determined onstage - much like a singer signaling a band to move to the next part.  Each "next part" can be as complicated or simple as the performer wants.  A scene can have any number of instrument patch changes, volume changes, loop starts, lengths, fx knob movements, lighting controls, video cues, tempo...nearly anything that can be done in Ableton Live.  It can allow the loop artist to use a single instrument or controller and change its patches rather than physically switch instruments.

It simplifies the looping process but doesn't limit the performer to an exact song structure.  Want to take a solo longer?  Want to talk to the audience?  Want to improvise an extra unplanned loop?  So far the options have only been "press all the buttons yourself" or "play the song exactly the same".  Loopcode is a game changer.  It will lower the learning curve to looping and allow in droves of talented musicians who would otherwise be put off by the learning curve.

So you read this far, you're wondering - where's the download link?  Where's the "buy now" button?  The short answer is "coming soon"... and the good news is I'm planning on releasing it free!  I want it to be a tool any looper can take advantage of.  I'm currently porting it to a Mac/PC/Linux/iOs/Android version and looking at Bitwig support.  Hopefully done in 2018.  It's taken me years to code this idea and it's on its 5th language (It started as a Clyphx script, went to Max4Live, then Javascript in Max, then Python, and will finish up in C++).  I wrote a looping VST plugin in the early 2000's that had some success but Ableton eventually eclipsed it...it does most everything well but there are just too many buttons to push in a live looping situation.  It'll be taken care of soon!