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What’s Live Looping?

Your voice in the moment – no stopping, no loss of inspiration.

We asked three prominent live-loopers to tell VoiceCouncil what it is and reveal some of their favorite vids by other artists…

Mister Tim: Here’s your user friendly, entry-level definition of Live Looping that applies to all vocalists and genres: “electronically layering music in real time.”

This performance by Imogen Heap was the one that got me thinking about looping not in a repetitive dance/electronica form but in a melodic, through-composed form. Imogen ROCKS:

Lilli Lewis: It’s the cool thing that happens when an artist sends a seed idea through a pedal, computer, or other technology and lets said technology send it back to them over and over again so that the artist can develop and explore said seed ad infinitum.

Watch the vid just below; it’s Michael Peters, a live looping artist from Germany who blew my mind at the 2009 International Looping Festival in Santa Cruz.

For those who might mistake the looping idiom for simple or gimicky, performances like these represent the cutting edge of Live Looping composition that’s going on out there, and Michael’s set was some of the most beautiful time-space that I’ve ever had the privilege to co-inhabit.

Beardyman: Live looping is the creation of music, all in the moment, uninterrupted, no stopping no loss of inspiration –basically you layer sounds on top of one another until you have something that sounds like real music.

It can get very detailed. Some artists like Kid Beyond, Imogen Heap and KT Tunstall use live looping to create versions of pre-written songs live.

Jamie Lidell, Tim Exile, me and many others use it to improvise new music on the spot.

It’s the quickest and most efficient way of getting ideas out of your head and into the real world. I’d recommend it to any musician even if just for making simple demos or just for fun.

The best thing about Tim Exile is that he’s a genius. . . Reaktor. Nice:

Our three live loopers will be back with VoiceCouncil 2 more times in the next few weeks to share more about live looping….

Beardyman has been hailed by the BBC as “The King of Sound and Ruler of Beats” for his renowned beatboxing skills and use of live looping technology. He is the first beatboxer in UK history to win 2 UK Championships in a row; he also uses music technology to loop and sample his vocals. His live production of original material is making a huge impact worldwide. Check out his channel, you won’t be disappointed.

Lilli Lewis grew up on a dirt road outside of Athens, GA. Now residing in Hammond, LA, she is an award winning singer/songwriter, a favorite among contemporary women’s solo a cappella, a composer, an opera singer, classical pianist, and a rocker wannabe, in no particular order of importance. www.lillilewis.com

Mister Tim is the mastermind behind more than a dozen award-winning a cappella groups, including 2010 Harmony Sweepstakes champions Plumbers of Rome, internet sensations moosebutter, beatbox quartet Mouth Beats, and all-original vocal bands VoxBom and THROAT. He is a published composer and arranger, a dedicated teacher, and a solo artist, most recently with his solo vocal live looping show “Vocal Magic.” He was a headline performer in the Las Vegas Strip production of “Toxic Audio,” is in demand for speciality corporate music projects, and is an active educator, coach, and clinician. mistertimdotcom.com

  • Cb

    Hey live loopers, what software do you use for your performances? What advice can you give newbies interested in live looping?

  • When I first started I used Ableton Live, but I currently just use a simple guitar stomp-box loop pedal (Digitech Hardwire DL-8). Looking forward to trying the VoiceLive Touch loop function when it comes out.

    Newbies: DO IT. Looping is not a skill that benefits from talking technique or theory (at least until you've done it for a while). Get a pedal, or software, and DO IT.


    So, I'm well into the throws of beta testing the Touch and let me tell you it's awesome. It boasts all of the “best-of” sounds from the Voice Live 2, and in my humble opinion, will be much easier for the novice to grasp than the the VL2. Still, I love my VL2 road beast!!! You can throw that thing at the wall and it won't break…haha, not that I'm going to try that!

    The touch pad took some getting use to but I became well adept after a week of solid use. And hey, for the newest generation of users a touch pad interface is in perfect synchronicity with the technology of today. iPods, iPads…etc…very similar.

    TC has taken great care to create layers within the touch interface so you may get stuck first, as I did, when editing…if it seems to lock up on you…I assure you that it's operator error…follow the manual and you'll be in like flynn!!!

    One of the features I love most is the Aux In/Headphone jacks. Granted this was gifted to us on the VL2 but it seems a graceful fit for the Touch. I loaded all of the backing tracks for my band's current set list into my iPod and began jamming pronto. I even played it back, with my loops, and live singing through one channel on my PA. Know that the EQ structure on your mixer will effect all that you hear but what a great way to work out the bugs in your performance before hitting the big stage.

    The sampling features are deep and astounding and you have the ability to add more layers than you could possibly ever really need. At first I only sampled loops of my voice but then started sampling sections of the backing tracks from the iPod and it worked like a dream. Here's the catch though…you had better be on target with your punch points because it plays back exactly what you give it…soooo, if you're looping start/stop points aren't on time…the loop won't be either…but that's on you…not the machine!!!

    TC gives you 3 ways to use loops…my favorite is the SHOTS Loop feature, which allows you to store 25 loops inside of the 5 favorite buttons…pretty kewl. However, you may initially find that one of the other looping features will be easier to gel with if your jamming live with your band.

    The presets store just as you last left them, each time you recycle the device, and here's where I feel the Touch outshines the VL2. With the VL2 we have to create steps to shift through varieties of harmony. With the Touch you can create steps by saving them to the fave buttons…but there's a golden coin inside of this feature. You'll want to save your primary harmony structure into a favorite, but instead of wasting all of your faves on steps…consider having each fave as a completely different texture. Why? Because, the touch interface is so graceful and fast that you can quickly punch in and out of any of the 7 harmony placements at any given time, in any given preset…four can be lit at once.

    The only issue I currently can take with the Voice Live Touch is that you cannot save any of your loops. So, for the novice, when you cycle the machine off and then turn it back on to show off for your friends, you're going to be really bummed that all of your labor is missing. The TC techs told me that this is a “wish list” feature…probably contingent upon future user demand. We'll see?!

    So, you have two choices: 1) Cry and get upset…or 2) Embrace the power of this machine and decide that you're just going to have to not be lazy and will have to rehearse the live looping that you wish to inject into your performance. In essence, you'll have to recreate your ideas each time you use it…but you just might find something more interesting by doing so…heck half of my best work is the derivative of making a cool and formidable mistakes. I'm sure you are all akin to this anyway.

    I believe TC will price this between the cost of the Voice Tone models and the Voice Live models, which offers a very posh option for those on a budget. You're gonna' have more goodies than you can shake a stick at. So, even if you're bummed about not being able to save your loops, you simply won't be able to find a better, more graceful, vocal instrument for the buck and it's so flippin' fun to use.

    Sadly, I haven't tested the looping patch for the Voice Live 2, which I understand isn't as in depth as the Touch is…but I will engage this tonight! I believe that if you were lucky enough to grab the update when it was available from the voice live application that you may be the only users that ever get to have this for the VL2. Snooze ya' lose = hahaha. After loving on the Touch, I can see why TC has dedicated the VLOOP feature for the touch…it's bound to work better.

    Last but not least…I've forever wanted a stand mounted processor for the simple fact that as a front man I cut my oxygen supply off each time I have to look down at my feet to change patches on the floorboard, not-to-mention disengaging the audience. I feel it is a very smart and savvy decision for TC to have put our technology at our fingertips.

    That's my two cents for now…more to come…hey if you have questions about the device…hit me up…if I haven't tested these options…it'll give me more fodder to toy with so bring it on!


    Brian Stevenson (Singer for Sonic Erotica)


  • Ableton Live is the Bizomb for this type of interfacing…hey, have you used it in tandem with the Novation Launchpad or similar midi devices yet? Pretty slick…had a chance to toy with one a week ago…not only looks kewl but is fast for the fingers :)