Experiments with tape loops

This summer I attended a virtual “artist residency” led by Margaret Schedel. The attendees and I had been selected as associate artists at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. The residency was canceled due to the pandemic, but Dr. Schedel graciously coordinated a virtual version.

While originally I would have been at ACA for 3 weeks, with ample time to devote to creative activities, this meant I would be home. I continued working my job, scheduling around our 2-hour meetings on MWF, and carving out time for small creative projects and reading/listening. 

My goal when I applied to the residency was to develop some material for piano plus live electronics. Although I do use computers often, I’m really fascinated with hacked/bent/”homebrew” electronics. For the last 5 years or I haven’t had much space to work on such things. Now that we are renting a house, I have a dedicated studio room again, so I’m looking forward to more tinkering.

Music with hacked electronics is already a niche genre, but practitioners have even more narrow specialties, like Arduino, circuit bending, broken vinyl records, and tape loops. I like all of it, and I have boxes and boxes of “stuff” for when I have time to play.

One such box was full of old cassette tapes. I’ve kept these for years just in case I ever wanted to do something creative with them. I played some as part of a residency at the Harn Museum in Gainesville FL:

But I’ve also been interested in using these cassettes to make loops or echoes. Making a loop is quite easy. Open the cassette, cut to length, use a tiny bit of clear tape to connect the ends, and wrap it around the tape spools. Tape loop master AMULETS has a great demo:

This is a good graphic I’ve found for loops of different lengths.

In my summer’s experimentations, I made an ambient piece with 4 loops and live processed piano. I recorded all the parts separately, though I can play it live (4 tape players, 2 run through a distortion pedal + piano and processing units). The piano runs through a lo-fi Velleman delay kit, plus a Korg Monotron’s LFO/filter.

Below is a photo of my loops. I recorded these from my Korg digital piano into an RCA tape recorder (I made the loops first, then recorded). The “String note” is 2 notes on a string setting. The “Bacharach-esque” loop is two piano chords that reminded me of “This Guy’s in Love with You.” “Aphex Piano” reminded me a little of “Flim.” “Spacey & Twisty” had sparse vibraphone notes, like the Aphex Piano, but the loop was too loose so it sounds…spacey and twisty.

summer shelter: a noise lullaby

summer shelter (a noise lullaby). Adam Scott Neal, 2020. This track was created with cassette tape loops (featuring short recordings of a digital piano), along with a digital piano run through a lo-fi delay and the Korg Monotron’s LFO/filter. Some light editing, EQ, and reverb were added in Pro Tools.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *