Praying with my mouth – A little experiment in looping

I’ve been looping things since I can remember. At first it was cutting tape and creating “edits” – I wanted to do this because my first efforts at DJ’ing were using two cassette decks and one turntable in the early 80’s. I would dub tapes and bounce them off of each other until I had the sections of songs organized the way I wanted them. Cutting loops with a reel to reel is actually really similar, only there aren’t any weird tape stop and start noises because you cut the tape with a razor blade and tape it back together where you want it and then dub it all down to a fresh reel so it plays over and over without breaking. I spent hours of my youth (all in possibly days of my youth) listening to long delays and making sounds and sending them into a repeating and decaying loop. Robert Fripp coined the expression “Frippertronics” in the 70’s and I had the good fortune of once seeing him demonstrate what three reel to reel tape machines spread out across the width of a performance stage could do when you played guitar into them (it was mind blowing.) Then the sampler appeared and I was looping beats, and looping pulses from synthesizers and attempting to make analogous sounds from small slivers of things. Then these things changed and became audio files on hard drives, and the “loop” wasn’t so important anymore. A few years ago artists like Kimbra and Imogene Heap started doing some very strange things with their voices. I wondered “how are they doing that?” and so I investigated. The looper along with Ableton live in real time has become a very interesting thing indeed. If you’ve never seen it, check out Kimbra playing with the TC-Helicon Voice Live as she performs settle down. It’s amazing. But then again Kimbra and Imogene Heap are both amazing (repsectively) and so I thought “Right, if you’re fucking amazing already then of course a little box will make you sort of fake electronic amazing…” but I think that was jealousy and excitement disguised as skeptical. So I’ve continued to listen and watch and think and learn more and more about doing this in real time. I’d love nothing more than to construct music from found and created soundtracks in real time, right here in front of you, right now.

Needless to say I’ve been thinking about looping things lately. I came upon a little toy app that allows you to loop yourself and build upon it. I thought I’d check it out.

Here’s the result of my first attempt:

Praying With My Mouth

Here’s what I did:

First I made a kick drum loop with my throat. It was ok, but I layered it with a second loop using more of my mouth.
That sounded pretty good, but I actually added a third layer, again with my throat, to thicken it up nicely.

The Kick Drum

Then I combined my mouth making a “snare” sound with another loop of my mouth making a less enthusiastic “snare” sound and together they made more of a clap/snare.

The Clap/Snare

Next I made the hi hats. Easy, just a little air through my teeth.

The Hi Hat

Then I tapped my open mouth and made a kind of a polyrythm sound to approximate a conga

The Percussive Sound

Then it was time for melody, so I layered my mouth making a bassline. The first pass was just the basics, but the second pass was a harmony to bring something a little bit more lush to the loop. Finally I puffed out my cheeks and made a stand up bass texture that was more rhythmic than melodic and merged them together.

The Bass

Then I added a sort of a stutter “Uh” sound to keep things interesting.

The “Uh” Sound

I liked this a lot, but I didn’t think it was quite there yet. My first instincts were to try to play the flute or the trumpet with my mouth, but I didn’t like how that sounded at all. So I just kinda made a Mmmmm pad with my mouth and lips together. I did two loops together to try for something deep, but wide in order to fill up the frequency spectrum.

The “Mmm” Pad Sound

Next I opened my mouth and sang along with the Mmmm pad to add some top end to the melody and open it up a little.

The “Ahh” Pad Sound

Everything sounded pretty good together, so I started to play around with it, and discovered you can record a file of the sequence. So I did that, and this is the first attempts result.

Everything together

I’m currently saving up for a TC-Helicon Voice-Live Touch right now. I really think this sort of vocal play and looping fun, completely live and on the fly may not be the solution for the best and dopest beats in the world, and it may actually be true that these little skteches are just novel and totally disposable, but the inspiration which comes from them is priceless, and the idea of constructing things live, on the fly with nothing more than a mic and building these moments into my performance is actually thrilling.

I hope you enjoyed this, and are already scouring your app resource for looper apps of your own.

Here’s the information on this particular app:

Loopy – the app I used for this example
$2.99 for iPhone – $7.99 for the HD edition (Both iPad and iPhone)