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  Rick Walker: The Joy of Live Looping
Subject:   uh, quantization, anyone?
Date:   2009-01-12 16:18:50
From:   pdx
while i find live looping to be an "interesting" use of audio technology (that ain't necessarily a compliment), there was one part of this article that puzzled me -- if smacking the footswitch at exactly the right time is so important AND mr walker uses midi to modify the speed of the loop, then why the heck doesn't he use quantization to ensure that the audio samples are clipped at exactly the right place? are you telling me that he uses all this high-tech equipment ... but never sets a tempo!?

i understand that various one-man-band acts have gotten quite adept at stomping the box in time to what they're playing (kt tunstall made a career out of it, and last year at foo camp, i watched zoe keating do similar things to good effect). but i find it odd that people using "new technology for new music" sometimes don't use available tools to produce the effects they're obviously going for. for example, ableton live will do all the looping/mixing/automagically-chop-it-on-the-beat you could possibly imagine (not to mention stretch-it-til-it-fits effects) ... but does not usually seem to be part of the "live looper" arsenal.

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Showing messages 1 through 5 of 5.

  • David Battino photo uh, quantization, anyone?
    2009-01-13 22:39:59  David Battino | O'Reilly Blogger [View]

    I'm sure that live looping hardware performs a short crossfade at the loop point to smooth the transition and prevent clicks. But more to the point, "exactly the right time" may not be on the mathematically perfect sample number, but rather the point that grooves best. Think about dub producers setting delay tempos by ear.

    For an example of someone who uses Ableton Live onstage and doesn't look at the screen, check out the astonishing Kid Beyond (www.kidbeyond.com).
    • uh, quantization, anyone?
      2009-01-15 15:06:52  pdx [View]

      actually, unless i'm missing something, the loop does have to be exactly the right length (or damn close to it) otherwise the various loops get out of sync fairly quickly. setting a dub delay length by ear is maybe a different story because a) the delay will usually eventually fade out (i.e. feedback != 100), and b) the producer is not playing a bar of drums once, then relying on the delay to keep time with all the other instruments (which is what live loopers tend to do).

      or i may just be talking outa my hat, since i don't produce (or listen to) this kind of music much.
      • uh, quantization, anyone?
        2009-01-19 08:15:01  Larry the O [View]

        Time for a new hat, I think. If I understand your misunderstanding correctly, what you're missing is the issue of tempo predetermination, or the lack thereof. Live looping is kind of like a tap tempo affair, except that instead of delineating enough beats for tempo to be guessed, the looper delineates only the end of phrase. How can quantization be used when the tempo is set at 121.632? Unless, of course, that particular show, it happens to fall at 107.229?

        Quantization requires a finer granularity of predetermination than phrase-level.
  • uh, quantization, anyone?
    2009-01-12 17:23:45  Larry the O [View]

    I believe there are loopers using Live and other tools onstage, but one of the great beauties of the looping community is the breadth of approaches that are seen. Thus, the question is not as simple as whether or not a looper chooses to use a tempo. It could be that the effects they're going for are not quite as obvious as you think.

    First of all, many loopers do not choose to work in tempo, they are more concerned with textures than rhythms.

    Secondly, even those loopers that do work in tempo may not wish to predetermine the tempo (even as far as setting it immediately before starting a piece), but to leave it as an improvisational attribute. Rick Walker, for example, may do a piece based on orange plastic items or whatever, and those objects may constitute the sole consistent aspect of his "orange plastic" piece. Or he may even have motifs he uses consistently for a piece, but tempo and interpretation of the motifs might be things that are determined by his feeling on that night. He may wish to layer loops that do not have a straightforward tempo relationship or, indeed, any relationship at all having to do with tempo or meter.

    There are also loopers who feel that dedicated hardware devices are a more fluid looping environment than dealing with a laptop, where one has to look at a complex screen and set up external hardware controllers with the software, as opposed to those functions being inherent in the device. If you're looking at display, you can't be looking at an instrument you're playing or anything else. It also dictates your physical position onstage: you have to be able to see the computer, whether or not you need to touch it to operate it. Sometimes it's just more *fun* to play an instrument that does not have the "rules" of a personal computer.

    Further, there are many that dislike using a general-purpose OS in such a specialized live performance environment, or simply don't trust Windows (being the dominant OS) in an onstage context. Yes, I know lots of people use laptops in live performance every day, but that doesn't mean problems never occur. (Of course, problems can occur with dedicated hardware, too, but it won't be because some software entirely unrelated to a music application somehow got fouled.)

    Having said all of that, there are loopers that use MIDI clock, especially to synchronize with another looper's rig, yet that still does not necessarily mean a time signature is used.

    In short, while tools like Ableton Live are very powerful, they may function based on a paradigm, such as the predetermination of tempo and meter, that imposes undesirable constraints on a given looper's music.
    • uh, quantization, anyone?
      2010-02-17 22:28:33  radnick [View]

      Another solution for quantization: check out www.flyloops.com for software that will quantize the pitch or bpm shifting of one or several loops (pitch and bpm are seperate here because bpm shifting doesn't change the playback speed but does a quantized beat splicing to speed up the beat/play rate).