How to Make Convincing Disintegrating Tape Loops in a DAW (no tape)

For the aspiring tape loopers out there, I’m sure I speak for us all when I say that we’d all like to have the time to play around with splicing tape into loops and recording through a four-track. But when this is not possible, here’s an easy alternative right in your DAW.

My Attempt

My first attempt at a disintegrating loop – 15 minutes long, so skip toward the end to hear the disintegration. I’m looking forward to trying more and different samples and effects.

Famous Tape Loopers

The renowned artists of tape looping are these (and others I’ve missed, I’m sure):

  • Geir Jenssen / Biosphere – His Shenzhou album is comprised mainly of Debussy loops.
  • Tim Hecker – His Ravedeath release uses loops and some mean distortion.
  • William Basinski – Known for his Disintegration Loops where the tape slowly disintegrated over the course of the tracks.
  • Robert Reich – Loops of some type were his main focus, but not disintegrating or degraded ones.

For me, Biosphere and Basinski are the two I aspired to emulate.

How I Made Mine

The Loop Source

The source of my loop was Debussy’s La Mer from an orchestral recording.

Capturing the Loop

First, I had to capture the loop and have it sound good. I could have done this in several ways, but I chose to use the INA GRM Freeze tool. I played a WAV file of the orchestral piece I wanted and engaged Freeze to manipulate it while Edison was also running and recording a five-minute block of what Freeze was outputting. I duplicated the five-minute block three times to get a fifteen-minute track.

This is the five minute recording I made.

When I captured the loop, I did not have any other effects on – only Freeze.

The Freeze screen and settings I used.
The loop itself is not very long. I think Freeze can do up to 12 seconds. This one is about 4 to 5 seconds by the looks of it. But, I had the window moving around so it created a varying loop while I was recording it for five minutes.

Other methods I have used are these:

Effects Applied to the Loop

Second, I applied effects to the loop itself in the instrument channel and mix bus that the loop was routed through.

This is my loop instrument channel. The loop I created I placed in the track as a WAV file then ran it through these effects (on are the ones with a green dot to the right of them).

I found that Evolution could smooth out the loop a bit and make it less harsh, so I used that at a low mix level. I sometimes may use Shuffle as well, depending on what I am going for.

Equalize made the loop shimmer in the different frequencies and I think is the main actor on the loop.

In the mix bus after these and before the master, I had RC-20 providing some vinyl noise that I thought was a nice overlay.

I also had compression, reverb, and equalizers in there, but these are not the special items, so I didn’t think them worth mentioning here.

Effects in the Recording

Third, I had to have a disintegration effect during the overall recording playback. I tried different tape emulations such as these:

  • RC-20 Retro Color
  • Denise Bad Tape
  • AudioThing Reels

I settled on Reels to get the sound I wanted. I applied it early in the master chain.

The front panel of Reels showing knobs that will be automated.

Then, I needed the tape to disintegrate over time, so that meant automating the knobs on Reels front panel to really distort the tape as it played on.

Here you can see the WAV file of the loop at the top (three of five minute blocks end to end to make a fifteen minute track), and the knobs of the Reels front panel all ramping up at various rates to get a fully disintegrated sound at the end. The last automation on the bottom is the master level for a smooth in and out (just above it is the button for tape stop that I engaged at the very end to get that tape slow down effect).
An overview of the recording I made.

3 thoughts on “How to Make Convincing Disintegrating Tape Loops in a DAW (no tape)

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