Wonders of the cassette tape loop, part 3

A couple of weekends ago, my wife and I had the rare opportunity to spend a saturday together (she generally works saturdays). Of course it had been a while since we had been to one of our favorite thrift shops “The 2nd Mile Center” and eaten at one of our favorite middle easten eateries “SAADS” so we decided west philly was the destination.

2nd Mile is often a dead end, but sometimes looking around is really the fun part. This particular time went like most others, in that I didn’t really find anything as I made my usual rounds. Until… I was about to walk out, when I noticed a familiar shape. The shape of a cassette four track!

I owned a tascam for a while, but never really used it due to it’s overwhelming complexity. This one however, was one of the small low-end Fostex models. And, for $20, it was worth it even if all I ended up with was parts.

Fostex Four track

It had been a while, but I knew I had read about using these machines with loops. So I searched around a bit and finally found what I was looking for. The gist of it, is that you have a loop cassette and four tracks, that means, four loops running at once. And, you can punch in, so you can build loops on the fly. With the fostex, it’s even better, because one flick of a switch routes whatever input you are going in to, to whatever track you want to record to. So it could even work as a live performance tool.

I just got around to playing with this thing today and I can see why someone brought it to the thrift store. The pots short out, the jacks short out and it has some other issues as well. For me though, none of that matters as I’m not going to be using it to record my new pop punk combo.

So I sat down with a freshly spliced loop cassette in hand and started fooling around.

Cassette Tape Loop

I immediately saw potential in this set up. The tracking sucks, which adds great wow and flutter effects. It overdrives easily too. The first bit of sound i put in came screeching back sounding like something out of a horror scene in a sci-fi movie. This thing mutates everything you put into it in wonderful ways.

What I find even more interesting about this set up is that I never know where I am in the loop, so when I record, I can only really control what notes I play. Where they end up being placed is pretty much up to the machine. This of course excites me, given my interest in generative music and chance opperations.

One of the instruments I fed into this system was a circuit-bent animal keyboard thing. If you slow it down really far, the kids songs it usually plays become unrecognizable and instead it seems to be playing a random sequence of beautiful tones. This already chance based music became even more interesting when randomly edited together by the four track.

After a while the music sort of took on a life of it’s own. I think it came out beautifully, especially for the first try. I can assure you there will be much more of this to come. Especially once I rig up a punch in pedal. Enjoy!

Star Platform Foothold


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