Sep 5, 2015
Vol 10, Num 4

Kalimba Magic NEWS

Looping with the Kalimba, Part 3
Tyler Van Arsdale & Ivodne Galatea

We got some good feedback in response to our recent article and resources on looping. Remember, looping is creating music by playing an initial part and recording it, and then immediately (without a gap in time) playing it back while you add a second layer, or an overdub, on top of the initial music. You can do this twice, or a dozen times, or more or less.

Music of Tyler Van Arsdale

Tyler Van Arsdale

In the song "Karimba Journey", Tyler lays down an initial loop that is four phrases long. Each phrase is four beats long, and the phrases are almost all identical. (The phrases do differ in the last notes, which is a way to help you keep track of where you are.) Why didn't he lay down just a single phrase and loop it? Because the first overdub, he defines a pattern to fill those four phrases with different music: he adds a low-pitched line of four long notes (a different note for each of the "phrases") that serves the same purpose as a chord progression.

However, subsequent parts do not explicitly follow the chord progression. It is a good technique to study - the slowly changing low line gives structure, and the other layered parts basically obey the rule of "play the same phrase four times", simplifying the improvisational or compositional task. You do not need to come up with new music for every phrase, rather you come up with a new phrase to layer on top of everything that has already been recorded, and play something very similar three more times. While you are on automatic pilot, playing those repeats, your mind has a bit of room to figure out what you will add next. The looper (the program) he is using has a feature that lets you remove the layers of the loop opposite the order they were put down, and he backs out of the loop gracefully, leaving just the initial music before it too stops.

Tylers Art: My Heart Again
"My Heart Again", by Tyler Van Arsdale

I just noticed these words on Tyler's Soundcloud account: "Inspired by exercise 13 in the Lotus Karimba book." How cool!! When I write these exercises, I imagine how each could be expanded to an entire song, but I don't exactly have time to do that. It is an honor to have inspired another's music. Thanks, Tyler!

In the song "Through the Forest", Tyler lays down a base pattern that alternates between the C minor chord and a D chord. Some subsequent layers obey this change by changing when the chord changes, while some resist the change, by stubbornly staying on the same pattern as the underlying pattern is changing chords. We will have lots more to say about this technique in the future: sometimes bending to the will of the chords, and sometimes ignoring the changing chords.

Actually, all of Tyler's kalimba music on SoundCloud is good. Much of his music gives the impression that he is looping - his playing is rhythmically precise and he often plays the same phrase several times in a relaxed manner that makes the music seem electronic even though it is played live and acoustically. This music is cool and worthy of study.

Note that, if you work at rhythmic loops such as these, your rhythm and timing get better and more precise.

Tyler uses the iOS app Everyday Looper to create loops and songs with the kalimba.

"Sound on Sound" Looping

The music of Ivodne Galatea

In my articles on looping, I have addressed issues around doing in-rhythm loops, in other words, working with a specific tempo and a precise number of beats in each loop so that rhythmically precise patterns can be added to in a coherent manner. However, that is a rather narrow view of looping. Other people lay down layers of sound that are not in any exact tempo or to any precise number of beats, and yet their music can be emotionally coherent. It is still music, but music that has stepped away from the requirement of precision.

I invite you to slow down and listen to these mystical and other-worldly looped pieces by Ivodne Galatea. They are played on the Hohner Guitaret, a 1960s electronic lamellophone (i.e., a kalimba-like instrument).

Some thoughts on looping by Ivodne Galatea

Consider these three main forms of looping

1) There are the kinds of loops that Mark Holdaway has been exploring, which are where you represent song-form (either repeated chord pattern or verse/chorus) - rhythmic live-looping. This is used widely in performance by musicians. I'm not that good at it because of the exactness of the timing. In rhythmic looping, the performer decides the length of the loop and then number of overdubs.

Ivodne Galatea's Swarkalimba
Ivoden Galatea's Swarkalimba

2) Then there is sound-on-sound live-looping which is where you have a mechanism on continuous record and feedback, and play over yourself for as long as you want, with the option of turning the recording off and soloing for a while over the top. In sound-on-sound looping it is the machine that determines the length of loops. It's called sound-on-sound looping because it makes a compositional/improvisatory tool out of overdubbing, which was called sound-on-sound on some machines. It has its origins in placing two reel-to-reel recordings about a yard apart and running tape from one to the other, putting the playback output into a mixer with a feedback to the recording tape deck. People used revoxes for this because of the quality of synchronisation between them. This kind of looping has a few other names - Terry Riley (who invented it) called it Time Lag Accumulation. Robert Fripp (who was introduced to it by Eno) first called it Frippertronics (tongue-in-cheek) and then Soundscapes. It's also called "stacked looping" as it involves a mechanism called stacking on a number of loopers.

3) There is a third kind of looping which I like to do, which I call syzygy looping. (Mark, you'll know the term as an astronomer.) It's is a hybrid of these two approaches and techniques of studio looping. Brian Eno on Music for Airports recorded several loops of similar material but of different lengths, and plays them together so they come in and out of synch in a fractional gear sort of way. I think Reich uses this technique as well, a number of minimalists did. This is asynchronous looping.

What is an orrery? Imagine each planet zooming around the sun at its own frequency.

I love this kind of looping because it's a sort of orrery in sound - you know the tiny models of the planets orbiting the sun, and how you can watch the orbits line up for a syzygy. Well, the sound loops make syzygies of a sort as they come in and out of alignment.

So I do sound on sound looping on several loops of different lengths, then solo over them often only for colouration. The interest comes from the meshing. I think it's important to have a compositional framework in mind, and also have an idea of where you are going musically as well, or else it sounds dreadful.

I also perform over a collage of looping field recordings. This was a looped piece I did this week which I have got some really great feedback from.

It consists of four loops of different length created using sound on sound looping, then combined live. There are also six field recordings: I'll copy it below to save time. It's me solo performing a Hohner Pianet (a keyboard thumb piano, which people don't realise, and I could rave about it if you ever wanted me to). All there is, is the Pianet, two different modern versions of distortion and a swell pedal going into a large hall reverb maxed out to get a wash. The loops are made and played on a Boomerang III looper.

I began with a tune in my head (well, five tunes) and chose from a bank of sounds in a Roland sample player which I use as a multi-track playback looper. So when they were playing, I played the first tune, with some space and some variations, then moving into stacked mode filled in as it repeated. I then set that to loop, and proceeded to the second loop in the same way, then a third and fourth. Then I let them play asynchronously, soloing for colouration. So altogether there are 10 loops of different lengths playing out with sound syzygies between them on and off.

I hope this clarifies things: it was going to be brief but it lengthened as I wrote it.

Ivodne Galatea

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