[Date Prev][Date Next]   [Thread Prev][Thread Next]   [Date Index][Thread Index][Author Index]

Re: Ambient?

Two cents on the ongoing "tyranny of ambient" thread...

People have wondered why so many assumptions tend to be made about 
"loop-based" music being equated with "ambient" music, and why there seem 
to be so many Big Three-wielding guitar players on this list.  I know 
that Kim has expressed a desire to lure some people from the 
DJ/Electronica side of things into the list discussions, which as far as 
I know have unfortunately gone largely unrealized (unless there are some 
techno heads lurking out there).

There are a few things to consider here.  For one thing, we generally 
refer to what we're doing as "loop-based musi,c" given that most of us use 
some sort of real-time looping based around a delay unit or a Big Three 
item.  However, most DJs or techno artists aren't going to think of what 
they do as "loop-based" -- they're going to use one of the dozens of 
sub-genre monikers already floating around the atmosphere of that scene.  

Look at it this way -- a metal guitar player isn't going to describe his
music as "amplified guitar-based music," he's going to call it metal.  A
blues musician will call his music blues, rather than "folk-derived
African-American guitar music."  Likewise, a techno artist won't call his
music "loop-based," because the loop aspect goes without saying (just as
the guitaristic aspect in the aforementioned examples does).  Besides,
which *sounds* better: "timeshifted, sample-based cut-and-paste music" or
"jungle"?  So a forum for "loop-based music" might well seem a strange 
place for a musician for whom looping is an almost unconscious and 
pre-ordained means of making music.

There's also a fundamental difference between the way that most of us are
using the idea of looping, versus how most sample-based "music with
looping" is made.  Basically, with most electronic loop-based music,
you're dealing with someone sampling *somebody else's* music, which was
*already made*, and then editing the sample in step-time via a computer. 
Most of this list seems more based around the "classical loop" approach,
which traces its roots back to reel-to-reel tape loop systems, which as
far as performance applications are concerned basically involves creating
(or, to use an old-fashioned term, *playing*) the music at the same moment
that it's being looped, and doing any editing or re-compiling in real
time.  It's a very different approach, which may explain why a lot of
elecronica artists might not feel like they have a lot in common with us. 

And if you look at the history of this sort of looping, you don't have the
precursors of MIDI-driven, sequence-and-sample music.  You have Terry
Riley, Steve Riech, Brian Eno, the infamous Robert
"he-who-must-be-moved-beyond" Fripp, and others.  And if you look at the
music that's most widely and commonly associated with this sort of
technology/technique, it's usually music of an abstract, rubato,
repetitious nature.  In a word, "ambient." 

This makes a lot of sense, too, because if your looping is based around a
digital delay (let alone a loop of tape drawn across two reel-to-reel
machines), you're not going to be able to do a whole lot in the way of
rhythmically precise, real-time-editable, syncable work.  You're
basically working within the confines of your delay unit length, or the
length of your tape loop.  It's only within the last few years that
devices like the Big Three have emerged, which have real potential to
break out of these parameters and into the realms previously available
only to studio-based, step-time construction.

But even then, it's not necessarily an easy or even desireable transition
from the old to the new.  I remember once making a post here advocating
the cut-and-paste capabilities of the Oberheim; someone replied (and this
is a paraphrase), "I didn't get into looping in order to do live
cut-and-paste approaches, I got into it to make raga-like, abstract
meditative music."  Now, I don't percieve any hostility from the poster,
and I absolutely don't intend this as any sort of flame towards him or
anyone else, but it does speak towards a certain ingrained way of
approaching a real-time looping methodology.  I recently made a comment to
Kim to the effect that I doubted many people used the "delay" mode on the
Echoplex, to which he replied that quite a few users prefer it, as it's a
lot more akin to more traditional ways of looping that they might have
been working with for many years previous.  Personally, I feel like using 
the Echoplex (or the other Big Two) strictly for a classical approach is 
like using a Power Macintosh strictly for playing Tetris: you can do it, 
but you're missing out on a lot of untapped possibilities.  Of course, I 
say that after about a year of having worked almost exclusively within 
the tape-loop style, simply because that's the most immediate way of 
visualizing the approach...

Our essentially frivilous thread on age from about a week ago did point 
out an interesting subtext; I'd wager that the "typical" real-time 
loopist, as represented on this list, is a middle-aged, middle-class 
family man with a background in Fripp, Eno, Torn, Reich, Glass, Riley, 
and others in that general part of the looping globe -- which is a 
different continent altogether from the ones populated by Al Jourgensen, 
Public Enemy, Underworld, Prodigy, Dr. Dre, or anyone whose main 
instrument is a Technics 1200.  Are these continents unaware of each 
other?  Absolutely not.  But in music, as in geography, it can take some 
adjustment to learn how things work in a different part of the world.  
And that's assuming that people are inclined or able to peek outside 
their own neighborhood in the first place.

Hope I haven't bored or offended anyone with this; no offense or
insomnia-inducement intended, I assure you.