Going Loopy

Since converting our Sydney recording studio to Apple, and getting Logic up and running, I have been struck by the explosion of loops, both Audio and MIDI, that has pervaded the computer music industry. In some kind of mash-up of real music and computer generated music, loops have taken over not only the industry, but my computer! Apple supplies an endless supply of music loops presumably to make the product a better buy, but also to convince anyone that they can make music, just by dragging loops into the timeline.

As a musician, sitting in my recording studio, it is both amazing and disconcerting to be supplied with more musical riffs out of a box than I could possibly come up with in a lifetime. From orchestral to hard rock, African to jazz, my hard drive is now full of gigabytes full of loops.

It’s understandable – as a young musician growing up without this stuff, I would have thought the idea of what I have now would be musical utopia – millions of options, any style in the world at my fingertips. It’s a natural progression that if computers can manage this stuff, then demand would push companies to offer it. In the old days, one would buy a sampler like an AKAI 3000, load it up with floppy discs full of samples and trigger them through a MIDI keyboard. The more musicians did this, the more they demanded efficiency, quality and more creative tools.

Now, however, it’s almost absurd. One wonders where it might end up. Millions of computer users can now drag and drop, copy and paste sounds from all over the planet, recorded by philharmonic orchestras or ethnic tribes and create new sonic scapes for uploading to iTunes or MySpace, or wherever.

I am finding my creativity is stifled. It is creativity driven by what you hear in the preview window, rather than what you hear in your mind, and then set out to create. I start off with some musical themes and ideas in my head, but by the time I have sat down to put something together, I’m previewing a thousand completely different musical ideas and I’m thrown right off.

Rather than creating something that my mind is formed in the creative part of the mind, I’m triggering sounds that trigger memories and fire off completely different parts of my mind. For someone who grows up with this style of music-making – the DJ or the techno producer, this might be precisely the right parts of the brain to be triggering. But for a musician looking for my own sound, my own feel, my own connection to my own emotions and ideas, this style of music making is more disconcerting.

While the loop based recording methods have evolved incredibly, traditional methods haven’t changed much. The tools are not designed to help extract creative ideas and make them sound great, they are all designed to switch off your own ideas and get you constructing a patchwork of already existing sounds.

If I want to record my own ideas, I have issues with trying to find a suitable sound, trying to get the computer to capture and clean up the recording, and to set up frameworks that feel good as a musician. I can drag and drop an orchestra into a timeline, but can I get the computer to help me take a melody I recorded into a Dictaphone, and some lyrics I scrawled onto a scrap of paper – and fast track that into a fully produced song? It’s still quite a convoluted process, with all kinds of obstacles between the idea and the execution.

Still, it’s pretty amazing what Logic can do “out of the box”. I’m not complaining, just flagging how loopy everything has become lately. Sometimes I think I’d just like to grab a few musicians, set up in a room and jam.

Loops and the State of Audio Production


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