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The State of the Looper

 In Practice and on the Road ...

 

by Chris Loeffler

 

 

 

Looping has come a long way these last 20 years, evolving from a simple tool for practicing or adding an extra track or two, to being a performance-building tool unto itself in the 00’s (Keller Williams, K.T. Tunstall), to today, when technology allows for more than a day’s worth of recording time for a single loop (imagine sitting through that loop!). Pioneers such as Roland/Boss have encouraged thinking outside the box with their annual Loop competitions, and musicians continue to discover unique and personal ways to apply looping technology to their craft.

 

 

At home, loopers allow players to lay down rhythm parts over which they can practice scales and craft leads and counter-melodies. This is an incredibly powerful tool for effective and targeted practice and songwriting, and assumes the role previously occupied by laying down working tracks to a 4-track. The somewhat ephemeral nature of loops is both liberating in that they free to player to focus on the task at hand rather than tweaking a defined part to perfection, while the increase in memory means any loop that manages to catch lightning in a bottle can be exported to a computer for re-amping and use in an album.

 

On stage, the technological leaps of loopers continue to open new applications for live looping. While many of us have witnessed with awe the brash fearlessness of performers hinging an entire song on complex layered loops like a Jenga tower getting ever closer to spilling over, modern looping takes a lot of the risk out of that (for better and for worse). Undo, Redo, and separate loop paths played simultaneously not only makes looping less of a “flirting with disaster” proposition, but puts the player in the role of a DJ, adding layers, dropping parts, and reintroducing them at will. It’s a different mindset, but one that both resonates with crowds and opens doors to new musical possibilities.

 

      

 

A side benefit of the increased storage of loopers is the decidedly untraditional function of bringing backing tracks to the stage with you. While some performers are loath to have canned tracks as a part of their show, there are a number of reasons this makes sense for musicians who earn their living playing out. Subtle additions such as backing vocals or ambient synth parts can elevate a performance without being distracting, and they even help hold the band to the appropriate tempo. There are also times where a winery gig just isn’t going to allow for a full rhythm section (financially or sonically).Looper pedals like the EHX 22500 Dual Stereo Looper have 100 banks, meaning a singer-songwriter can have three sets of canned music to play to.

 

 

As looping technology continues to evolve (reverse, pitch shifting, ducking volume), more and more interesting applications will pop up in all performance and practice settings, and the musician will apply more and more of the craft traditionally associated with producers and arrangers to their craft -  and we will all be the better for it.    - HC -

 

Here's a TED Talk for those looking to dive a little deeper... 

 

____________________________________________ 

 

Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 

 

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