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Loop Feste Decompression Part 2 + Mindless Philosophy Rant: The Ambient Looping Paradigm
...is brought to you by the word "Insomnia." So apologies in advance
if my assessment of 24 hours past is a bit wonky.
First of all: What a wonderful group of people to play for. The
audience was great: very attentive, tuned in, and supportive.
Definitely not something to take for granted. Many thanks to everyone
who was there; you were a delight to play for.
Show organizer Tony Moore was a model of efficiency and hospitality in
getting things set up and operational for us. The gig simply could
not have happened without him, and I think we'd have been hard pressed
to find a more enthusiastic host for this sort of thing.
Rick Walker was absent only in physical presence; he came up in
conversation numerous times at the show, and it would likely not have
taken place without his encouragement. So Rick, thanks for kicking LA
in the rear end and getting a loop gig together, after a mere 4 1/2
years of talking about it.
Last but certainly not least, Ric and Steve were fabulous guys to
share the bill with, both musically and personally. Thanks to
everyone involved for granting me the opportunity to take part.
My favorite aspect of the whole night was the chance to compare notes
on exactly what on earth looping is about in 2001 -- not just in
conversation with people, but in listening to what was being played.
A lot of us were very struck at how different each set was, both in
terms of the general musical slant, and in terms of the technicalities
of how looping was integrated into the material.
A couple of philosophical issues about the craft have been drifting
around my brain in the days before and after the gig, and at this
point I don't know if I'm any closer to having them resolved:
The main one, which I've been trying to come to terms with for years
now, is the almost ever-present issue of equating "looping music" with
"ambient music." I don't think there's any question that real-time
looping lends itself to ambient, spacy drones, rubato waves of sound,
Frippian soundscapes, Eno-esque textures, and various other cliche'd
colloquialisms, none of which I can presently muster up enough energy
to drop right now.
I've played plenty of that sort of thing myself -- hell, I played
plenty of it last night. And if there was a common thread to the
SOUNDS of the three sets last night (aside from the obvious technical
aspects), I think it was that they all featured a certain abstract,
textural, dronesque quality -- not just in the sheer sound, but in
terms of how it captured the audience's attention.
Now, certainly, everyone had their own distinct identity. Steve's
extremely melodic and compositional approach was a sharp contrast to
Ric's more textural, chordal tap-delay rhythms and expansive leads. I
still don't know what the hell I played, but I'm gonna hazard a guess
and unofficially refer to this as my "John Fahey meets Ravi Shankar as
produced by Squarepusher" phase.
Three distinct sets, but some definite common threads and aesthetics.
Lots of expansive and improvisational sonic textures. And if Ebows
were illegal, all three performers would be trying to post bail right now.
So the crucial issue for me at this point is: how much of the ambient
looping paradigm is a deliberate gesture on the part of the performer,
and how much of it is the apparatus of the craft dictating the
performer's actions? Do people play ambient music with looping gear
because they're drawn to ambient music in the first place, or do
loopists tend to play space music because that's the sort of music
that the gear lends itself to?
Steve mentioned to us that he would take it as a complement if the
audience went to sleep to his music. Now, Mr. Lawson has a sense of
humor so deadpan that it makes Steven Wright look like Sam Kinison,
but he also seems genuinely comfortable with his music taking on a
more passive role. (Please correct me and/or slap me upside the head
if I'm wrong on this, Steve.) I personally had no problem focusing on
either of the other guys' sets. But when I loop, I feel trapped from
a performance point of view by this detached, abstract characteristic.
The main struggle for me with looping at this point is trying to use
the thing to engage the listener/audience in a more active way, which
directs their attention in a very focused manner. And to try and find
a way of having the looping feeding my own playing, as opposed to my
playing feeding the looping.
How to reconcile that with a musical technique fundamentally based
upon repetition of sound? I wish I could answer that one.
Of course, I could just stop spouting this rubbish, shut the hell up
and go to sleep (much like anyone who's tried to read this post has
surely done by now...)
Anyway. Thanks once again to everyone involved in the gig; I hope you
enjoyed it as much as I did.