Friday, February 29, 2008

Loops, Why, What and How

Before I begin the meet of this post I want to apologize if it seems a bit... disjointed? (I think that's the word I want) I've been working on this post for around 3 weeks, just adding bits to it here and there as I've had time so I blame time lapse for any confusion. (Unlike this post though, I managed to keep all the names straight... at least I think I did).

Also later in this post I describe the method that I use to build loops. I am by no means a professional loop creator, I am at best an amateur, but it works for me and until I can get some official training on the subject here is what I've found works for me....

One of the (joys? headaches? frustrations? pleasures?) of being my current position at Lifepoint is working on/with loops.

First why work with loops at all?

Well it helps cement tempo, but is that necessarily a good thing?

I mean every drummer (any decent drummer) plays in time, but I know of very few applications musically where perfect time sounds right....

Drum Corp is one instance that I can think of, but applied to a drumset perfect time comes off as too... stiff? Robotic...

Tommy Igoe did a talk about this at last year's PASIC and I believe his exact phrasing is perfect time applied to the drumset comes off as "too vanilla".

So the end result is you play in time, but if that snare is hit somewhere between the last 32nd note of one and the first of two doesn't mean it's late,

Before I confuse you further let me move on to my original purpose of this post. (This subject matter is fodder for a whole other post, one I'll get to... eventually).

Building loops. Back to the original question, why work with loops, it also allows you to add instruments and sound effects in a timed manner that would otherwise require... well insert your sound of choice here, a lot of what we loop can be accomplished with a good keyboardist who knows their way around a keyboard, up until recently though we haven't had a regular keyboardist, though both our Vocal Director and one of our vocals are excellent pianist they weren't available every week to play. But occasionally you run into that sound that just doesn't lend itself to keyboard and requires either a recording session or a pre-recorded sound, Off hand I can't come up with anything, but I know there are examples out there. I've used them at add percussion sound on a Crowder song we did before we got a percussionist, and to add strings on a couple pieces we've done. Also there have been a couple instances when when we were going for a fuller sound than one keyboard could provide.

So okay, you're now convinced that working with loops is a good thing, now what?
Well, you can start by building your own!

I currently do most of the work on our loops with a couple different programs, if I have to program midi I normally use Ableton Live, (A copy of it came with my midi controller), however the need for me to work with midi isn't too great and so most of my work usually ends up being done with a program caller Reaper and a program called Audacity. Reaper is a fully functional
audio mixing program which is uncripled shareware (after 30 days it starts with a pop up asking you to pay) but all the features remain active, and having used several different full system editors in my time I have to say it's a really sweet program. Audacity is an open source audio editor, my only issue with Reaper is it doesn't have it's own WAV editor (Or if it does I have yet to figure out where/how to work it) so if I have to make any corrections to an individual track I pull it up in audacity make the changes and then send it back. Now quite as simple as working with say Adobe Audition (Which is what I was using) but much MUCH more budget friendly.

Ok back on the work cycle here, the first thing I do when we decided we want to do a song that we need a loop for is buy the song. (I normally Use itunes) then put is on a disc and then an mp3.

Then I plug it into this handy little program that analyzes the beats per minute of the song.

Once I have that I go into reaper and import the song. I then create a click (think metronome) track and channel it to the left, the click track becomes the tempo of the song.

Then going layer by layer I begin adding instrumentation and effects to the song. Normally through the Alesis Keyboard or my own PS350. Though I will hopefully be doing more work with a Phantom X8 in the very near future.

Once that I'm please with the way everything sounds I pan everything (except the click track) to the right, then remove the original song.

From there It's either imported into my Sampling pad (A Roland SPDS) or, as I've used more lately get's loaded on my ipod.

OR on occasion it's synced to a video like what we did for Bitter Sweet Symphony, though in this case Josh used the original track for this posting. Oh and I have a cameo in the video, but you only see my back.

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