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In The Loop: An Evolution of Possibilities by Chris J. Smith

Updated: May 13, 2020

From the first time I saw, or better yet, experienced my first Keller Williams performance; it mesmerized me in a way where setting forth on the musical yet intellectual journey of looping was the only way to satisfy that insatiable craving. A journey, ripe with discovery and certainly plentiful of ways to achieve "that sound" (from software to hardware and every hybrid in between) has absolutely swept me off my feet and kept me tinkering inside a few more weekends then I'd care to admit. This journey, however creative, was never supposed to be easy. Still, I feel the winds changing and the fruits of my devoted labor rewarded by the day.

Growing up in a musical house, from a very young age I submersed myself in music. I loved it so much that I learned multiple instruments (and started this blog!), but it was the rhythm section that really got me hooked. As the backbone of a band-oriented composition, I loved it's function and groove (in funk and soul genres particularly) and how it subtly conveyed a song's heart and gently reinforced the songwriters vision. As I digressed through learning and playing, I wanted to BE that songwriter and front my own group, so I wrote more material then I knew what to do with and am still richly involved in the process of finding the right songs (and group) to play with. But, for whatever reason hidden somewhere in my ego, I never quite felt as fulfilled as when I was solely responsible for the artistic vision I was producing.

The downside to this is, as anonymous wisely once said, is that in a band you share the glory and the shame; but when it's a solo gig you own all that responsibility. Band's are also great because quite simply they are other humans to interact with. Different people who have colorful perspectives, personalities and vibes! They are people who will disagree with you, motivate you and basically; you will learn something new from them. That being said, the upside to footing it on your own is that your schedule, skills, work ethic and creative stamina are the only ones YOU need to worry about. You are the master of your own destiny!

Although the gigs have not been flowing from a spring lately, it is a time of experimentation for me as an artist. After about a year to process the disbanding of my group as well as watching my production partner move away, decisions had to be made to preserve my fulfillment and imagination musically. I spent my spring really expanding the borders of what I thought was possible as a solo player. After many restless nights googling terms such as "clocking" and watching every video on Electro Harmonix's 48000 loop pedal that YouTube had to offer, I decided for the sake of my own sanity to lay out a loose schematic of some of the ideas ricocheting through my head. This is what I came up with:

In a nutshell, I have a slew of instruments put through a mixer - expanding the inputs of my looper (which is clocked to my drum machine) - all combining at my interface which feeds both a headphone amp and speaker. It may not sound like any huge innovation, but for me it's unlocked some doors and I haven't even incorporated software yet! I suppose my goal is to just try and start making sounds with a setup and ease into the application stage, which has been known to go procrastinated by me. The idea of putting the mixer BEFORE the loop pedal really got the right gears turning as it allows me to keep a seamless flow of all my instruments in somewhat of a "zen" mode without hard-wiring mid-set, and with the loop clocked to the drum machine (which I hope to eventually be a MIDI chain leading back to my Ableton sequencer) I am able to keep all punches very tight and in time.

I think the beauty of this thing to me is that I want to produce in real-time. As a kid, my inspiration felt endless, but moving further into adulthood I find the time slots to sit down and truly craft music eluding me. Not to mention, inspiration has always built on itself for me. Once I have a foundation for my work it all becomes a pretty natural process, and I think my mind has always tended to work a little faster than demoing songs can match. The feelings associated with creating an improvisational, unique "A-B" composition from scratch and navigating around it is marvelous. It's challenging in that, with such repetitive material you really have to own your parts and have an almost jazz-like fluidity and vision for where the arrangement is and needs to go. FKJ (below) and Reggie Watts (cover photo) are looping artists that come to mind as doing this the best.

I feel software is definitely my next step to provide another sought after building block in my looping journey. Here is some experimentation of that with a sample ripped directly off vinyl by renown dub artist "Scientist" at the studio. Enjoy and more to come from me and my streamlined music production workstation!

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