I have an odd obsession with tape. I love the way it works, the way it sounds, the way it can be degraded, everything about it.
When I was a freelance designer and had a LOT of time on my hands, I did a lot of experimenting with tape. Almost entirely cassette tape. Why cassette tape you might ask? Cassette tapes and players are cheap, and readily available and if you break anything, you are at worst out a couple of bucks. I have destroyed about a hundred walkmen and other various tape players in the the past few years. If those were reel to reel recorders, I’d be broke by now.
I have built crude mellotron devices, tape theremins, loopers, loop mixers, crude tape delays, etc etc etc. The thing that started it all though, was the simple idea of the cassette tape loop.
In the time before detailed wikipedia articles the idea was just a rough concept that existed pretty much only in my mind and the minds of a few others, who to my shegrin were not very vocal about techniques. I ended up figuring out the Chandler loop (the name of which I just found via the wiki, which I also just found) and improving on it somewhat to get longer loops.
Here are the 3 basic looping techniques for cassettes:
Here is a diagram of a standard Chandler loop: (yes the tape does rub in one spot, hence the modified version below)
And here’s one of my Chandler loop cassettes, modified for longer play:
Initially, I was inspired by the idea of being able to build a self contained tape echo, a concept that eluded me until earlier this year, and functionally still does. Ideally I wanted to fabricate my own WEM Copicat. Of course, that’s an extremely complicated feat, especially for an electronics novice like myself, but I was obsessed with it, as I knew it was (if only faintly) possible.
So, in the process of breaking way more tape players than I care to admit I began to get more into the loops I was making than my original goal. I would randomly record music (original or otherwise) onto cassettes of various lengths and then play back the loop to see if anything accidentally musical happened. I’d play a few at once at times and improvise on accoustic guitar along with it.
My partner in crime complete with pitch control:
Eventually it occured to me to take the erase head off so that i could keep recording layer after layer onto the tape. This by far was one of the most exciting things for me at that time. It was so primitive and damn near uncontrolable, but it made the most amazing “instant music”. Some of the loops ended up actually being quite listenable for a period of a few minutes until you got sick of them.
The sheer nature of the process of recording these kinds of loops forces you to plan and limit yourself. Limits and planning are in my mind, some of the greatest assistances to creativity. You can fit a couple of tracks in before it geats to murky, so you have to record the least prominent thing first and work towards the most prominent. You have to be aware of the tape running so as not to overdub too many times. I recorded tons of stuff this way, most of which got promptly recorded over. It’s so much fun, it’s hard to stop fooling around with one loop, and before you know it, you record something too loud and it kills it.
At some point I got the idea to perform this destructive recording process, where I kept adding to the loop, then recording the result on my computer, then adding and recording again. I edited all of the bits together as one “piece” which is what I offer you today. I hope you enjoy it.
I have more cassette tape loop adventures to cronicle here, which is why this is titled “part 1”, so look for more in the future.
Tags: sound experiments