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Fear of "canned" loops



Hi all,

You could call me a lazy cheater (or any of a number of other things,
including just plain nuts) but for the past couple of years (3 or 4)
I have rather enjoyed using "canned" loops in my music -- in addition
to the "live" ones I create with my guitar on my EDPs. Strangely, it 
always sort of surprises me when people say they'd NEVER use "canned" 
loops in their music (as though using such is a major "sin" of some 
sort) when the current musical environment is so full of that very 
thing (either via sampling or vinyl or sequencing or drum machines or 
beat/grooveboxes and or Acid/Live software).

Before, when my setup was even larger and more complicated
(some folks who've seen my current rack might shudder at the
thought) it also included 2 keyboard samplers and a bunch of 
other instruments including 2 MIDI wind controllers (yes I played 
'em simultaneously) and a vocal pitch to MIDI converter and a 
Macintosh computer. I looped everything live, nothing was ever
prerecorded -- and (just as often) nothing was even remotely
preconceived before the first note. So, believe me, I can say I 
have plenty of experience doing it the "free" and supposedly 
"hard" way between 1987 and 1998 or so.

But, I guess I just sort of got tired of battling with Murphy's Law
and daring the whole systemic edifice to implode just before every 
performance. If something CAN go wrong . . . it usually WILL, and
the increased dependence on technological complexity just naturally
exacerbates the problem and making "snafus" even more likely.
Involve other people in the collaboration and the opportunity for
chaos increases exponentially.

My current, smaller, MIDI guitar and 16-space rack (with stereo
EDP pair) plus Boss "phrase sampler" setup allows me to relax just
a teeny little bit -- and vastly decreases the frequency of my having 
to visit the chiropractor as often. One way or the other, all of my 
"canned loops" are still my own. I may nick a percussion sample 
from a duly purchased Acid CD-R library, an obscure audio CD 
fragment, an environmental sound from around the house and/or
neighborhood or even something I might play on some ordinary 
instrument I have here at home. But by the time I'm done editing 
it in Hyperprism on my Mac these are usually unrecognizable as 
even remotely relating to the source materials in any way.

I spend a lot of my time creating loops on my computer and cataloging
them into "families" or "sets" of related loop length and key/time
signatures. These sets and families are often quite large and offer
a lot of opportunity to make new and interesting combinations
of textures and sounds that I did not actually imagine or expect 
when I was working on the individual member loops. I am constantly 
surprised by what "works" . . . and often by what doesn't. 

Anyway, I like to take these "surprises" into the recording studio and/or
onto the road sometimes and play with them even further -- either by 
merely recontextualizing them with what I happen to be playing live on 
my main instrument (guitar) or by merely varying how I trigger them 
"live" in relation to one another (sometimes you can completely change 
the feel of how 2 or 3 or 4 loops sound together simply by hitting the 
PLAY button in a different place rhythmically. 

So, even if they're "canned" the performance is not so much so . . .
necessarily. There is still room for a modest amount of variation.
The phrase sampler also has onboard FX that can mangle and chop
the loops further (sometimes in unpredictable ways) and I also
have some outboard FX to mess them up a bit too (including an
Alesis AirSynth). BTW, what I'd really like is a Kaoss 2.0 but that's 
more $$$ than I have at my disposal currently (and a whole other 
story). However, I must admit, 95% of what I do performance-wise 
is still on my guitar and EDP anyway. That's where my main attention 
is anyway.

This way of working also makes it easier to work/collaborate with
others who may be looking for a clear "pulse" (hey Ted, where's the 
damn "one" at?) when I am deliberately trying to make that ambiguous 
on my "live" EDP loops. They (usually, if not always) can clearly hear 
something in the "canned" material and "count it out" and play 
with/against it in a more-or-less conventional manner. I can also 
post loops to people I am collaborating with and they can hear at 
least THAT part of the performance concept beforehand and think/
imagine an maybe rehearse to it . . . whatever. 

That's what drummer/looper, Bob Sterling and I do frequently (we live 
775 miles apart). We can perform a gig without playing together for 
as long as 1 or 2  years at a time, and then launch into entirely "new" 
material on the spot and improvise pretty darn well (I think) together 
over the kernel of an idea in a short loop (or 2) shared between us 
on the net -- as often as not, taking it to places "live" neither one 
of us ever expected it to go.

Anywho, I am finding "canned" loops kinda freeing in a way. When
something predictable (at least temporarily) is going on in the 
background -- even something bone-headedly metronomic and 
simple -- it's often easier to be more daring, experimental and 
"outside" with what I am doing live on the guitar. That might
sound like a complete contradiction . . . I dunno. But, these are 
my thoughts on the subject. 

I guess these thoughts also reflect the whole modus operandi of 
my 2001 CD. That's essentially how it was made. Each of the 10 
pieces was recorded in just one take -- and the entire CD took 
only 2 days. I had little idea what shape each piece would take. 
I was aware of what loops I had brought to the session (and my 
little bag of guitar/sustainiac/ebow/EDP tricks). But it was all 
done "off the cuff" given those items. Subsequent performances 
trying to recreate some of the material on that CD have met with 
spotty success (my opinion) at places like Loopstock and Y2K2. 
I am not very good at repeating myself -- the whole effort seems
wooden and artificial. I do better with a blank slate and maybe 
a couple of interesting, freshly canned loops (and no hard-and-set
preconceptions).

Anyone else have thoughts, opinions and/or experiences to share?
Or does everyone here associate anything "canned" with Milli Vanilli
and/or Karaoke? I guess some types of audiences would even consider
looping as "cheating" in some way. I guess the line between "live" and
"canned" loops has become blurry over the years and has largely
ceased to matter to me at all.

Best,

tEd  kiLLiAn

http://www.mp3s.com/tedkillian
http://www.pfmentum.com/flux.html
http://www.CDbaby.com/cd/tedkillian
http://www.guitar9.com/fluxaeterna.html