Making music with loops is not a new process. However, after thinking about it, I was surprised at how many different ways there are to loop samples to make music. I’ll add to this as I discover more, but the list is long right now.
Last updated: 26-December-2020
I would have to say there are a nearly infinite number of ways to loop, modify loops, play them, cause them to interact with each other, and source them. I mean, I can think of several. To help myself think about them and come up with new ideas, I categorized them after thinking a long time.
But first, some good articles about loops:
Sampled Loops – segments of recorded works or played notes (synthesizers, orchestra, etc.), sampled via a dedicated sampler machine or a computer and played back repeatedly.
Tape Loops are a variety of sampled loops where segments of recorded works are sampled via tape recording and played back repeatedly.
Live Loops are a variety of sampled loops where sounds played live are recorded via a physical tape recorder or tape delay simulation (Augustus Loops for example) and played back repeatedly.
I conclude that there is only one type of loop and that is the sampled loop. Whether you sample sound from a live source or pre-recorded, whether it is on a physical medium like tape or a digital one as a file, and whether the equipment used is a plugin in a DAW or an actual sampler or tape machine, it is still a sampled loop that you end up with.
Single Loop Structure:
Preserved Loops – loops that are faithful to the original sampled loop without significant degradation or alteration.
Seamless Loops – loops that are blended at the beginnings and endings so you cannot tell where the loops begin or end.
Perfect Loops – loops that seamless and preserved.
Blurred Loops – loops that are creatively blurred (granular, evolving, reverb, etc.). (Read further down in this post for an example.)
Tape Flanged Loops – two copies of the same sound or loop played simultaneously with one copy starting slightly later than the other will create a flanging effect similar to a comb filter.
Variable Speed Loops – loops that are varied in speed as would have been on a tape machine.
Reverse Loops – loops that are played backward or reversed over the course of a loop.
Ping-Pong Loops – loops that go forward and then backward after reaching the end of the forward loop.
Echo Loops – short loops of less than five seconds that are echoes of the main input.
Micro Drones or Micro Loops – extremely short loops
Single and Multi-Loop Song-Structure:
A song made of Disintegrating Loops – a song with a singular repeating sampled loop of medium length (10 – 20 seconds) that disintegrates over time due to tape degradation. Example: The “Disintegration Loops” albums of William Basinski.
My own disintegrating loop using the technique described in my post: How to Make Convincing Disintegrating Tape Loops in a DAW (no tape)
A song made of Single Repeating Loops – a song with a singular repeating sampled loop of short length (4-7 seconds) continuing undegraded, but creatively modulated, through the whole song. Example: The “Shenzhou” album of Biosphere.
My own single-loop project where I duplicated Biosphere’s Shenzhou, and described in my post here: How to Replicate Biosphere’s Shenzhou Track Using Loops and a Few Effects
A song made with several loops played live and recorded that overlap: Bach melodies played by three instruments in a round by Vulfpeck on “Bach Vision Test” from their album, “The Joy of Music, The Job of Real Estate.”
A song made with several sampled loops played at different points in the song and not generally overlapping: Orchestral loops are used by Susumu Yokota on his album, “Symbol.”
A song made of Dual Repeating Unsynchronized Loops: This can be a song with two nearly identical repeating sampled loops with one loop is slightly longer than the other, allowing them to desynchronize over the course of the song.
A song made of Eno Loops: This is a song made with multiple sampled loops (5-10) of short duration (3-4 seconds each) each looping at different rates, causing the relationship between each loop to vary over the course of a song. Example: The “Music for Airports” album of Brian Eno.
A song made of Frippertronic Loops: This is usually a song made of a series of loops that are first recorded onto tape by one machine, and then fed to another tape machine to playback then back to the first tape machine where new audio is added to it without any erasing of the previous tape at any point.
A song made of polyrhythms: These are multiple overlapping rhythms that combine to make an evolving rhythm.
A song made of a repeating tape loop with a melody or sound played over it: You can make a loop as the backbone of the tune and then play something over it. In this example, I had a tape loop playing on repeat with some notes from a modular (Bazille) synthesizer playing over it with an Aphex Twin micro-tuning. The synthesizer pattern also repeated, but not as fast as the tape loop.
A song made of an ambient, environmental, or field-recording that loops inherently: Sometimes the field recording is of something that loops by itself, like this one of an industrial room with several devices running and a faint but regular beeping noise.
Hybrid Loop Song-Structures:
A song made of manipulated loops – a song where the loops may be distorted, reversed, smoothed, pitch-shifted, or manipulated in any other way.
A song made of a blurred loop, manipulated it in such a way as to blur the boundaries of where it starts and ends as well as overlaid multiples of itself on top of itself.
It is a singular, repeating loop I used to make a short composition and described at the end of the post located here: Looping in FL Studio
Material for Loops:
The number of sample sources for loops is very high, maybe infinite. It is limited only by imagination, but here I can imagine some of the more popular and some of the obscure:
- Old records and tapes.
- Public domain spoken word and music.
- Orchestral works.
- Found sounds.
- Contemporary works but obscured so as to not have copyright issues.
- Splice.com samples or sample packs of any kind.
- Field Recordings
How to Loop
I’ve written a bit about how to make music out of loops, but there seems to be a near-endless amount of ways of doing this. Anyway, here’s a few ways I’ve tried:
Equipment and plugins for looping:
- Augustus Loop
- Edison, Audacity, or anything similar
- QFX or any shoebox tape recorder, and tape.
- Digital recorders and microphones like TASCAM DR series or similar.
- Use a sequencer or arpeggiator to loop a melody.