More four-track cassette looping

As had been my plan this weekend, I made a new loop cassette with the intent of once and for all figuring out if I could in fact use a four-track as a live looping compsition tool. I tried a Moebius loop this time, as it allows for greater length in the loop and i was interested to see the impact this could have on the overall outcome.

For some reason as my luck would be with tape lately, it behaved very strangely. Perhaps I used single sided tape, although i have no idea if that even exists, but it seemed to play for a bit, then go silent for a bit, off and on like that. I was frustrated even further with this, as the loop sounded really good and so the waste was even worse in my eyes. So I made another, this time a basic chandler loop, but in my typical fashion with added reels for greater tape length.

I also decided to build a punch-in footswitch, as the whole idea of the four-track looper as an improvisation tool hinges on it, the ability to start and stop recording without stopping tape playback, being essential. I made one out of a 3 pole, dual throw footswitch I had laying around, a battery and led (so i knew when it was on), a 1k resistor, and a bit of old mono cabling with a jack conveniently attached and housed it in an altoids tin (of course!). It is just the thing, and works very well, the indicator light, of course, being very useful as I tend to drift off mentally and forget what I am doing.

I tested this arrangement out as soon as I finished, and recorded the first loop here fairly quickly. I like the result, but of course my nice new loop is very crusty sounding for some reason. Not a bad effect, but one I wish I had some control over. I am impressed though, that the splice is damn near inaudible, oweing to me randomly using thin plasic packing tape to splice. The secret is, unlike most kinds of tape, it is thinner than the audio tape.

The second loop is now me attempting to use the controls on the four-track to switch tracks while the tape is rolling, and using only my footswitch to start and stop recording. This track is odd, because I had anticipated my newly recorded parts to tape over my old ones. instead i got this strange blend that you hear of the two. It even seems that my “sequential” recording of the tracks, utilizing my footswitch, actually laid the parts in sequence on the tape in a linear, horizontal fashion, instead of a vertical fashion. Meaning, instead of the four parts, going to four tracks, the went in order linearily, one after the other, and left the old loops tracks very much in place. I am stumped as to why this is, but I will continue to play with this system and I am confident that I will discover an answer at some point.

What I did discover is that the fourtrack cannot work in the way i had initially intended. The main issue is that it cannot play and record on the same track. This should be obvious, considering it only has a single playhead, but it is still a bit of a disapointment. Even with the punch-in footswitch set to not record, the track loops along silently. A shame. However, I quite enjoy this system for it’s quirks. It really is an interesting tool in it’s unpredictability.

If anyone who reads this knows of a fourtrack that will allow you to listen to the same track you are recording, let me know i’d love to get one that does.

Anyhow, til next time…. Enjoy!

- Loop 1
- Loop 2

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4 Responses to “More four-track cassette looping”

  1. Daryl Shawn Says:

    hi, I’ve been looping with four-tracks for five years or so and it’s become my main looping instrument. You may be interested in an article I wrote for Looper’s Delight on the process I use – http://www.loopers-delight.com/tips/multitrack.html . Unfortunately there are no machines that allow you to monitor the same track while recording, but you could record one track to another then record on that track while listening to the copy, if you were trying to replace certain elements of the track.

    I’ve got two projects going that use cassette looping – one called “Repetitive Miniatures” (http://swanwelder.com/projects/miniatures.htm) the other called “Chinapainting” (http://www.chinapaintingmusic.com/) which is a duo project.

    Best of luck! tape rules!

  2. howsthatsound Says:

    Daryl, glad you found my site! You article is actually what got me started in four-track looping. Maybe i’ll edit the article to note that.

    Thanks for the info. As I said in the above post, even though playback of the same track while recording is not possible, it doesn’t put me off htis method at all. If anything I welcome such restrictions. It is my opinion that a defining factor in all great art is limitation.

    Thanks for commenting, I hope you’ll keep reading… i know i’ll keep looping!

    be well!

  3. clark Says:

    hey, very cool site. I found this while looking for some sort of improv punch in pedal – it sounds like you made one! Very cool. I’d been hoping to find something commercially available that would be just a punch box with 1 input and 2 outputs – one of which for headphones – so that group improvisers could hear themselves play in headphones, then punch into the mixer (or out) with the pedal when they are ready. I can’t find anything out there! Any ideas?

    I was also drawn to this because I started making 4 track cassette recordings with loops a while back, also, —though I was using a delay pedal for the loops. –the result was Electrode Dingus 2026 – (http://zipzapzop.com has some videos)

    anyway, if you hear of a pedal like the one i describe above i’d be interested to know! thanks!

  4. howsthatsound Says:

    hey clark, thanks for stopping by.
    i have never heard of a pedal that did that, but i could probably make one. if you are interested, let me know.

    those videos are great btw.

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