Tape Music, Tape Loops, Tape Manipulations

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So I've been listening to stuff like early Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, musique concrete, some Terry Riley like "Music for the Gift" and "You're No Good" and I have what may be a silly question. I understand that many of these pieces are made 'live' with analog tape machines, but can anyone explain to me the specific process that is occuring? Is Terry Riley there with a razor blade and some scotch tape making literal tape loops; does he record a sound or a bar of music and then splice to another piece of tape? Is he playing two machines at once, and is there some kind of mixer involved? What's the set up look like, what is the physical process, what is the equipment used? What exactly was Martin Swope's role in Mission of Burma?

Also, S/D tape music, music with tape loops/manipulations. No digital allowed.

mcd (mcd), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 00:44 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Tape Loops:
Basically, most reel-to-reel tape machines have separate heads for recording, erasing and playback. Instead of threading the tape onto a reel you can splice together a big loop and loop it around something like a mic stand or a wine bottle. So every time a certain piece of the tape loops back around onto the playback head, you'll hear it repeat. If you disable the erase head, it will overdub the newly recorded sound onto the previous sound and a little bit of the old sound will remain and gradually disintegrate.

Then you can set-up an even more complex system with two tape machines (google Frippertronics) so that you're feeding the output of one tape machine into the input of another. If the two machines are running different length loops all sorts of interesting patterns will build up and collide against each other.

The term "tape loop" can also mean a static loop where you're not actually recording something live but just looping a prerecorded sound. On old disco records for example, the engineer would take a few bars of a drum beat and splice it into a loop so it repeats endlessly and perfectly like a looped sample.

Musique concrete pioneered some of these techniques but it was also involved in splicing together tiny bits of tape out of real world sounds to create elaborate sound collages. Tape manipulation was also a big part of early electronic music when people working in university labs had big banks of test oscillators that had to be set manually. They would record the various tones needed for a piece to tape and then edit them together manually to create the final piece. The difference with Musique Concrete is that the composers were interested in using only sounds from real life while the people who practiced "electronic music" were interested in electronically generated sounds. The tape techniques both camps used were basically the same though.

walter kranz (walterkranz), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 00:58 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Sorry, I was rambling a bit there. To return to the Terry Riley question, he would basically hook up two tape machines with tape loops and feed the output of one into the other. Then he would do live organ improvisations and the lines he was playing would repeat after a certain amount of time (based on the length of the loop). You can hear this at work pretty well on an album like Persian Sugery Dervishes where he starts off repeating simple motifs on the organ and then they gradually build into a big wall of colliding riffs.

walter kranz (walterkranz), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:03 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I don't think "You're No Good" was created live. I bet he played the original record through various tape delays and recorded the results and then edited together pieces of the original and pieces of his echoed-out dub version into a big extended mix.

walter kranz (walterkranz), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:04 (twelve years ago) Permalink

early severed heads to thread

jimmy glass (electricsound), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:09 (twelve years ago) Permalink

throbbing gristle!

Ian John50n (orion), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:13 (twelve years ago) Permalink

This would have been fun to see!!!

Paul in Santa Cruz (Paul in Santa Cruz), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:16 (twelve years ago) Permalink

much of the time, two pieces of tape are spliced using a long diagonal slash across the tape so the first sound merges/fades into the next. see tod dockstader

amon (eman), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:19 (twelve years ago) Permalink

sxpost - thats cool paul. folke rabe!

amon (eman), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:22 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I really like tape. I'd still like to some day do some of this reel to reel stuff.

Rockist_Scientist (RSLaRue), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:25 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Let0s mention the Chamberlin or Mellotron, a tape loop "sampler" keyboard from 1963 on which each key plays a different sound loop.

From an interview about the 60's SF Tape Music Center scene, Pauline Oliveros (then with Ramón Sender & Morton Subotnick as Sonics) :
"Ramón came to town and we began improvising together on our tape music concerts. We felt that it was important to keep live performance going along with tape compositions. Ramon composed Desert Ambulance for me using a Chamberlin organ as a source for his tape. The organ consisted of sounds on tape loops with a keyboard - an early version of a kind of sampler. The recordings were of real instruments and voices (...)"

blunt (blunt), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:25 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I wish I knew where to get/how to afford a tape machine. That is my real question.

Ian John50n (orion), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:26 (twelve years ago) Permalink

There should be a camp where you can go and do that. There probably is. Upstate New York somewhere.

Rockist_Scientist (RSLaRue), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:26 (twelve years ago) Permalink

(Sorry, not go and buy a machine but go and play with tape and reel to reel tape recorders.)

Rockist_Scientist (RSLaRue), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:27 (twelve years ago) Permalink

There should be a camp where you can go and do that. There probably is. Upstate New York somewhere.

-- Rockist_Scientist (Al__suca...), Today 7:26 PM. (RSLaRue)

HI DERE: Mills College, Oakland, CA (formerly known as SF Tape Music Center)
also: Oliveros annual "Deep Listening" Retreat

gygax! (gygax!), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:31 (twelve years ago) Permalink

But do they take people who are not music techies? (I'm sure the Oliveros thing would be for more or less everyone, I didn't realize it involved tape play.)

Rockist_Scientist (RSLaRue), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:34 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Pauline also has all kinds of workshops at her place in new york. i don't think a lot of it involves tape-splicing though. more dreamy than that. breathing, listening, etc.

scott seward (scott seward), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:35 (twelve years ago) Permalink

"I'm sure the Oliveros thing would be for more or less everyone, I didn't realize it involved tape play."

yeah, she has kids workshops and stuff. all deep listening-related.

scott seward (scott seward), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:36 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Does she ever break into any polkas?

Rockist_Scientist (RSLaRue), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:37 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I know, it's kind of dumb and obvious. But what if one just needed to dance?

Rockist_Scientist (RSLaRue), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:38 (twelve years ago) Permalink

i don't think she is anti-dance.

scott seward (scott seward), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:38 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I wish I knew where to get/how to afford a tape machine. That is my real question.

Ebay. I think a Revox A77 might be a good bet that's not too expensive. I have a huge boat anchor of a Studer mono B67 that I don't know how to get rid of if you want to take it off my hands.

walter kranz (walterkranz), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:39 (twelve years ago) Permalink

ian, reel to reels can be had for $10-$50. check ebay, used electronics/instruments stores, etc.

amon (eman), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:39 (twelve years ago) Permalink

In my experience, splicing tape is tedious and boring. Your mileage may vary, but I'll stick with digital audio.

Paul in Santa Cruz (Paul in Santa Cruz), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 01:57 (twelve years ago) Permalink

i agree. tape delays/loops are still fun though.

amon (eman), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 02:03 (twelve years ago) Permalink

back to the terry riley - music for the gift thing. that's the one where he's looping chet baker and band playing, right? I think he composed music for them to loosely improvise around then fed it through various tape machines. can't remember whether this was done live and fed back to the performers for them to improvise with or if he did it after the fact. I think possibly the latter???
first time I saw mission of burma when they reformed there was some incredible interplay between the band and bob weston on the tape machine both with him pitching up vocal loops to create harmonies and with them locking into loops of themselves.
also search discreet music by brian eno which is one riff played through various delay loops to create ever changing harmonies and sequences. it's pretty wonderful.

simon 803 (simon 803), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 12:32 (twelve years ago) Permalink

the loop orchestra's stuff is rather good - http://www.thelooporchestra.com/

if you are lucky enough to track one down, you could buy the tdk endless cassette - a tape loop cassette. fantastic things.

it's got absolutely nothing to do with pauline oliveros mind you.

frenchbloke (frenchbloke), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 13:10 (twelve years ago) Permalink

i disagree about splicing. splicing tape is great. get 30 cm sections of tape and splice them together not knowing what the results may be is great. although , admittedly, some of the results are pish.

frenchbloke (frenchbloke), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 13:34 (twelve years ago) Permalink

yeah. you can certainly get cheap two-track reels on ebay. you can also do many interesting things with regular audio cassette decks, which are very cheap as well.

for example you can take the playback head out of an ordinary walkman and do some pierre boulez type stuff -- cut up a cassette tape and past the pieces onto a board, then run the head the over the pieces. it takes some practice, but you can do it.

Dan Gr (certain), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 13:49 (twelve years ago) Permalink

http://www.mine-safety.mtu.edu/clipart/other/computer.gif

Mark (MarkR), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 13:53 (twelve years ago) Permalink

i should add:
any idiot can fuck around with tape
but it's not so easy to make it into something people want to hear
even harder to make it into something original (you're talking about areas pioneered decades ago).

these digital kids thinking their doing all this hot loop stuff on their laptops or these pedal heads with the ubiquitous samplers... they all sound the same and almost all are derivative.

Dan Gr (certain), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 13:54 (twelve years ago) Permalink

the best "Terry" style digital looper:
http://resource.harshnoise.com/digitech_pds8000.jpg

Old School (sexyDancer), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:01 (twelve years ago) Permalink

for example you can take the playback head out of an ordinary walkman and do some pierre boulez type stuff

You mean Pierre Schaeffer? Or perhaps Pierre Henry? Confusing isn't it?

Dadaismus (Dada), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:04 (twelve years ago) Permalink

wasn't it boulez at the world's fair?

Dan Gr (certain), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:08 (twelve years ago) Permalink

What did he do at the World's Fair?!?!?

Dadaismus (Dada), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:09 (twelve years ago) Permalink

i think i'm thinking of varese, actually.

Dan Gr (certain), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:09 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Aha, I thought you were!

Dadaismus (Dada), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:10 (twelve years ago) Permalink

WHY DO THE FRENCH ONLY HAVE ONE NAME

Ian John50n (orion), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:11 (twelve years ago) Permalink

they hate outsiders

Old School (sexyDancer), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:12 (twelve years ago) Permalink

huh... no i don't think now that it was varese. the varese piece wasn't variable. no?

someone at the 1958 world's fair cut up bits of tape and mounted them on the wall. then invited viewers to run playback heads over the tape manually.

Dan Gr (certain), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:12 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Didn't "Pierre" Varese become an American citizen?

Dadaismus (Dada), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:16 (twelve years ago) Permalink

That sounds like the sort of thing Pierre Schaeffer might get up to (xpost)

Dadaismus (Dada), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:17 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Ramón Sender

trivia time! Sender's son Johnny Sender was the bass player for Konk and now works with Bruce Smith from the Pop Group. He's also a great disco/hip-hop/latin DJ.

If you want to really do tape music...THE machine to use is the Otari MX-5050. That's what we were trained on at Oberlin, it's the standard in all studios, Jim O'Rourke had 2 of them when he still did everything by tape, etc.

Of course you can use any old piece of junk, Radio Shack used to sell splicing blocks and tape. The only other tool you need is a grease pencil to mark up the tape. The trick about tape loops with reel-to-reels and why it's not as easy to do it with cassettes is that in the cassette player, which is basically two reels in a little plastic case, the reel spins and pulls the tape, but in a reel-to-reel, there's a thing called the Capstan that pulls the tape through, and the reel just spins to pick up the slack, but isn't needed.


When I was an electronic music major at the Oberlin Conservatory, our first assignment was Musique Concrete. We went around with a cassette deck and recorded sounds, then transferred them to the Otari, then went back and forth between the Otari and some sort of 8track I don't remember. Tape loops, splices, speeding up and slowing down, etc. I think I taped some tape to a pencil and tried to play it on the head like Laurie Anderson (or Severed Heads on Exploring the Secrets of Treating Deaf Mutes)

http://cgi.ebay.com/OTARI-MX5050-BIII-2-Track-Analog-Tape-Recorder_W0QQitemZ7356963101QQcategoryZ15199QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

Dan Selzer (Dan Selzer), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:29 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Maybe I should transfer to Oberlin.

Ian John50n (orion), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 14:31 (twelve years ago) Permalink

no...it was a shitty program. They sold their wall-sized moog for some boring digital workstations and sold their EMS Synthis to John Mcentire(who was in the same program but never graduated because he failed aural skills, or so I hear).

You should start hanging out at Harvest Works and see if they'll let you take the old tape decks out of the closet.

http://harvestworks.org/

Dan Selzer (Dan Selzer), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 15:26 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I just started listening to early Steve Reich - downloaded a track from Early Works (It's Gonna Rain pt. II). It's amazing - I always thought I'd only like this stuff in a conceptual way, but there's actually something really powerful about it.

Hurting (Hurting), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 15:30 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Come out to show them.

Tripmaker (SDWitzm), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 15:43 (twelve years ago) Permalink

JUST OPEN THE DOOR/COULDN'T OPEN THE DOOR/BUT SHO NUFF/HALLELUJAH/GLORY TO Go-OD!/HAD BEEN SEALED!/COULDN'T OPEN THE DOOR/LORD LORD/THEY CLIMBED/JUST OPEN THE DOOR/COULDN'T OPEN THE DOOR...

Hurting (Hurting), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 15:47 (twelve years ago) Permalink

You should try "Come Out" from that same collection, Hurting. It's very simple-sounding stuff, but it definitely has some emotional oomph.

xpost

mcd (mcd), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 15:48 (twelve years ago) Permalink

The electronic dept at Columbia seemingly got taken over mid90s by U2-loving MIDI heads who love presets.

Old School (sexyDancer), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 15:53 (twelve years ago) Permalink

you mean like the freigh elevator quartet doods?

Dan Gr (certain), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 15:55 (twelve years ago) Permalink

their teachers at least

Old School (sexyDancer), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 16:03 (twelve years ago) Permalink

anyone want to buy me this? pretty please???

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Analog-Siemens-Tape-Delay-Kraftwerk-style-echo-moog_W0QQitemZ7357184902QQcategoryZ17401QQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

zappi (joni), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 16:08 (twelve years ago) Permalink

pan sonic have these boxes with handles in which they wind up to produce sound. when someone peeked inside, they found butchered walkmans in which the mechanism was directly controlled by the turning of the handle - the faster it was turned, the higher pitch the noise etc.. simple and effective. it has the same principle as laurie anderson's tape violin. really cheap sampler delay pedals are good to use too. you can almost recreate the gashing the old mae west style mayhem on them by introducing new parts into the loop gradually replacing the original loop.

frenchbloke (frenchbloke), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 16:26 (twelve years ago) Permalink

i had a roommate who invented an instrument called the ththphone (pronounced in an overly asperated lisping voice as thah-thah-fone). it involved opening up the circuitry of an ordinary cassette player and pressing the finger tips of one hand against the board while the other hand retarded the motion of the capstans. your fingers on the circuitry would cause it to create squeeling feedback. the speed of the tape would alter the texture. sounds silly, but it actually worked and was accurately repeatable with pretty much any cassette player. sounded good as an accompaniment to surf music, like a bastard theramin.

Dan Gr (certain), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 17:23 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I can't believe an Otari is going for fifty bucks on ebay

Not like I'm going back to tape, ever, but...

fifty bucks!

milton parker (Jon L), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 22:04 (twelve years ago) Permalink

well, at least a few people are bidding it...tape ain't dead yet.

Dan Selzer (Dan Selzer), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 22:07 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I must have spent either one or two thousand hours in front of those things overall, out of my mind on whatever was handy at the time, but having one of my own was out of the question at the time

surreal

milton parker (Jon L), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 22:33 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I remember learning to cut tape and editing out awkward gaps and hmmms and ummms from interviews for a radio station talk show. Ah, the grease pencil and the scrubbing back and forth over the play head. Back when the phrase "cutting room floor" actually meant something literal.

God, I am SO old . . . . sigh.

Drew Daniel (Drew Daniel), Tuesday, 11 October 2005 23:28 (twelve years ago) Permalink

ah, the chinagraph pencil..

frenchbloke (frenchbloke), Wednesday, 12 October 2005 07:44 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I remember having to write the sound to the tape with my bare hands! and walking 5 miles through blizzards just to get to the studio! Up hill! Both ways!

Milton Babbitt, Wednesday, 12 October 2005 08:39 (twelve years ago) Permalink

"someone at the 1958 world's fair cut up bits of tape and mounted them on the wall. then invited viewers to run playback heads over the tape manually. "

that was Nam June Paik - the year is probably right, i wasn't aware of it being at a world's fair though.

i just wanted to add that mellotrons do not use tape loops- they cut off after about 10 seconds.

tremspeed, Wednesday, 12 October 2005 14:48 (twelve years ago) Permalink

eight years pass...

http://youtu.be/7AJX4flkK_w

braunld (Lowell N. Behold'n), Thursday, 1 May 2014 16:25 (three years ago) Permalink

three years pass...

https://vimeo.com/53891959

am0n, Wednesday, 6 December 2017 17:58 (one week ago) Permalink


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