Often times the best movies are those that deliver more questions than answers. Did he really survive or was it his imagination? Did she ever really love him? How did he not realize he was already a ghost? Great music is the same way. It piques you interest raises your own curiosities on not only the ‘how’ it was done, but also the ‘why.’ This week’s article showcases five looping tracks that you may cull inspiration from in the common ground between ‘why’ and ‘how.’
1. Endru, 'Root of the Rhythm'
Our first entry finds us in the Czech Republic from vocal loop artist En.dru. Utilizing a ‘less is more’ approach Endru is very much in line with a latter day Bobby McFerrin. Minimal vocal effects with maximum results. Spot on diction and pitch with very effective vocal percussion with groove to spare, ‘Root of Rhythm’ provides a stellar blue print for any vocal looper to follow.
2. Idiot Savants (Featuring Rico Loop), 'Pig'
Lets face it: many loopers are solo artists by choice. We want to do what we want how we want it right? Looping titan Rico Loop makes an appearance in a Jazz club in Frankfurt as part of an ensemble featuring two(!) drummers, a guitar. bass and of course Rico on….well….everything else. Shifting styles, key centers and overall vibe, ‘Pig’ is an incredible display of collective musical energy and is worth watching the band have Rico as a true equal in the group and set the initial vibe of this piece.
3. David Ford, 'Go To Hell'
Don’t let the song title fool you, Eastbourne (UK) artist David Ford isn’t all doom and gloom in his 2008 single where he plays on anything that’s not tied down. Who doesn’t like a video where the artist plays a jar of sugar and two forks….and bass, guitar, drums, piano, background vocals. The established musician will understand the artistry behind the ‘one-take-to-make- approach, but will be left wondering…How many takes did this take?
4. Randolf Arriola. 'With or Without You'
As a massive U2 fan, I have watched tutorials on how musicians will get ‘The Edge’ sound, but every now and then you will run across an artist that will pay homage to a certain quartet that was born in the blue collared streets of late 70’s Dublin and ultimately take that inspiration to another level. Singapore based Randolf Arriola has earned over a million views with his incredible take on ‘With or Without You.’ Gear heads will appreciate his creative choices in the not only his effects but also the amount of each he deftly applies. The speed in which the entire song is built also speaks volumes in Randolf’s mastery of the looping artform.
5. Beardyman, 'Open Jam'
Beardyman is more or less the living embodiment of the Konami Code: unequaled in not only his execution of looping, but also the sound design and tech behind the sounds in which he fashions his music. Many have seen him in his live performance where he mixes, mashes and loops music and comedy in equal fashion; many more have yet to see this side of Beardyman. A flawless , hour-long set that showcases the Beardytron ( his custom set up) in full flight.
I recently caught up with Rico Loop on the banks of the Elbe River in Usit, Czech Republic. In a spacious flat with the windows open welcoming the early evening air inside, Rico found himself in a very familiar situation: experimenting, improvising and pushing himself into new musical and (at times) spiritual places. The calm early autumn air served in the stark contrast to the fervor and fury in which arguably one of the most well-known and well-respected loop artists in the world throws himself into his work and continues to shine as a luminary in the looping community.
“Looping for me started out as creating my own venue for self-expression. After traveling the world in the 90’s I came back to find I wasn’t a good enough singer to front a band, nor was I a good enough guitarist to be invited into one. Looping allowed me to make my own band and discover my own music.” Sitting on the balcony of a third floor flat, Rico’s eyes register a far off memory and reveals it to me in the amber light of a cigarette. “When I was little, piano was my first instrument. I never practiced though.” The look of surprise on my face gave away my disbelief. “Instead I played what I could with the experience I had and the experiences that made me who I am. This still fuels my music today. My initial loop set up was small, just a single looper. Then a few years later a looper came out with three loops on it.” Rico stands to stretch and smiles, “I thought, who is going to use this?”
Rico has been visible on the international looping stage for a number years. Touring, giving workshops, school performances and street shows have all kept the native Berliner busy and releavant. This level of success has failed to cloud his vision of what brought him into the looping community, nor diminished his efforts in promoting the looping artform. “Freedom attracts people. If it is an honest thing you are doing, then it is a good thing. Performing in parks and street performing taught me a lot about being truthful with my music.”
"The heart always listens....."
“Realness always touches you. I once performed at a park and saw a lady roll her eyes at me while I was performing. Maybe she didn’t like my music, maybe she didn’t care for how I did it. I caught this with my peripheral vision. She stood up, made her way through the crowd and started walking out of the park. I finished the song a few minutes later and through the crowd, above everybody’s head I saw the lady standing behind a tree. I felt my music had kept her there and changed her mind. I pointed at her and said, “The heart always listens. Then she smiled and left.”
With technology moving at a unbelievable speed Rico has and continues to do with relatively little gear what many artists require twice as much gear, gadgets and gizmos to achieve. “I don’t understand how we can have mobile phones that can do anything. We invent these machines, but we can’t invent more peace and fellowship between people.” Many of the artists mentioned in the same breath as Rico showcase technology as the force behind the creativity. Watching Rico perform, one could gather that technology is used to reign in his own energy and creative impulses. Truly a soundtrack to putting the cart before the horse.
“I’m not much of a (gear) nerd and I don’t like having lots of effects on my voice. It isn’t honest. It isn’t truthful. My voice acts as my voice, not as something else. If I need effects for a particular venue, say an Electro club then that is where the KAOSS Pad or Micro Korg come into play.” When asked about vocal effects as a whole, “There are companies making great things for vocal effects. Many of these products are for people that can sing.” He then pauses and the replies with a laugh, “And those that can’t sing!”
The inspiration behind Rico Loop’s music is very much his own impetus. In an age of manufactured stars, reality TV and insta-celebs, Rico remains dedicated to what made looping his prime muse. “Inspiration is the biggest thing. The loop machine is a great teacher, every now is a new now. It has brought me more answers that it has raised questions and the possibilities are endless.”
I asked Rico about how a machine remains fresh and new despite it’s nature to repeat. “You have to let go of control. You have to remain open to the grace of music….open to it’s muse.” Rico has stated in past interviews that his muse can be the wide open spaces of mother nature or even those in front of him. “ A performer at times, can be only as good as his audience, But you have to groove.”
"Being flawless onstage isn’t artistry."
Watching live performances of Rico, groove is never on short supply. Performances from Los Angeles, to Berlin, Ibiza, India and beyond show this. “Groove is a mystery. Determination, love and joy…all of those make “groove.”” With improvisation such an integral part of his shows, I reflect my curiosity on making a mistake onstage. Rico’s eyes light up, “Integrate the mistake. It can lead to a deeper level of music and bring out your best.” Many musicians will have a set way of constructing a show, Rico explains the richness of improvisation, “It is a huge luxury to go onstage and not know what you are going to do! “
Telling Rico Loop that he is at an international level is met with as much belief amazement as telling him that you will get wet when walking in the rain. Humility, but not with the expense of self-awareness reigns supreme. “There are incredible musicians in every genre. Jeff Buckely and Kurt Cobain are songwriters who inspired me early on but I soon realized being a virtuoso doesn’t necessarily make you fun to listen to. Being flawless onstage isn’t artistry. Artistry is the intentions and authenticity of your craft. Performing without reflection or self-control is artistry. Removing the blocks to your own genius is artistry.”
Experiences on and offstage, traveling and being an icon in the looping community have forged Rico Loop into a focused and motivated individual yet something happened that changed Rico’s life and facilitated a transition and ruminating period for his future: Fatherhood. When asked about how fatherhood has affected his career, Rico takes care in his words and pauses for clarity, not dramatic effect. “Oh man. It has made me more self-reflective and made me strive to be a more effective musician both on and offstage.” He then admits, “I am the least professional musician I know! I am working getting more videos, tutorials and records out in the coming year.
Rico is very aware of the effect of marketing or lack therof can have on your own career when your are truly a one man show. “Beardyman is an artist who inspires me. He does things I won’t be able to understand in this life. His music inspires me. He embraces the crazy and runs with it. He takes lots of chances in his music, that really interests me. I wish he didn’t make fun of his own music, to me it takes depth out of it. He is one looper that continues to make new ground for all of us.”
With a yawn and a stretch I understand that the Czech night is starting to wrap Rico in her embrace and our time together is soon coming to an end. Rico glances over at his rig set up in fellow loop artist Endru’s flat as if he missed a stray piece of inspiration that lounged idly by. He is putting up the last invites on social media for the show they are conducting the following night in Usti. I thank him for his time and he adds one last piece for me to consider. “Everybody is a musician….just not everybody knows how to play an instrument.” I consider this for a moment, and Rico has to move to other commitments before he calls it a night. Our time is over and I am left looking for clarity on this cryptic insight, hoping that answer is somewhere along the Elbe River in the Czech autumn air.
Rico Loop can be followed on his website
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September 15, 2015
A common question I get when I am out performing is, “What loop pedal should I get?” Many musicians I talk to are in the initial stages of using loop pedals and see so many new units on the markets, they wonder if it is a worthwhile investment and others have used loop pedals for years and are considering upgrading. So after my short tenure performing, teaching, touring and long hours “in the shed” practicing, my answer is this:
“Whichever is best for you.”
Sorry. No above all-end all pedal. No Excalibur. No great mystery. No silver bullet. Simply put, your pedal should reflect your needs, abilities and aspirations. When I first jumped into live looping, I picked up the RC-20 from the team over at BOSS-Roland. At this point in time, I was performing primarily as a Trumpet player in different musical settings. I didn’t know the difference between an XLR or a ¼ quarter inch cable. I was used to coming to the gig, putting my mouthpiece into the horn and that was the extent of my gear! (Oh, to be so simple again…) Soon after watching somebody loop for the first time, I was hooked and my musical aspirations were altered forever.
The RC-20 from Roland was my initial pedal for two reasons: price point and features. It was sold to me at a price I could manage (Thank you Guitar Center) and the features onboard were simple for me to understand on this new musical path I was going setting upon. Simplicity and stellar construction won out over more complex pedals and computer programs. One microphone and a few cables later I was up and running. My first night I was able to stitch together a (very) rough version of “Stand By Me.” Live looping had taken a hold of me.
Sometime later I found myself needing more room to grow into and the BOSS RC-50 found it’s way onto my pedalboard. I was now a bit more experienced and was needing more than two loops to compose with and was slowly working up my dexterity to build and utilize loops in entire song writing process, rather than just having it a “glorified vamp” as one musician called it on a show. I now had more recording time and had what was to me, easier controls and more options to choose from. Independent EQ’s, MIDI Sync capabilities and all start/stop functions for using in a break in a song to solo over. True, these aren’t the only differences but these are the ones I used the most at this part of my career.
The MIDI Sync was huge. I had picked up the BOSS GT-1OB to start using effects and found that my knowledge was incredibly limited. Compression? Phaser? Delay? Reverb? Not….a…clue. I did what any mad scientist would do. For a year straight asked my elf the same question night after night of practicing, “What does this button do?” Using MIDI sync I was able to sync my loop pedal and my effects pedal for synchronized effects.( MIDI OUT of the Loop pedal to MIDI IN on the GT-10B) I am flattered when people assume I am a technician regarding gear, but at the end of the day, I do what I’ve done since I was little, explore and place the square peg in the round hole. I will save effects pedals for another blog though, so keep an eye out for that.
When the BOSS RC-300 found it’s way to me I felt like a 16 year old kid who was given the keys to his Dad’s convertible for the weekend. Way more options, recording time, huge design and programming changes and….built in effects? The game changer for me was the ease of operations and also the built in effects. While attending my first NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA I witnessed Rico Loop for the first time. To call the man a wizard at looping is an understatement. Bass, voice, harmonica, guitar, melodica, a bottle and vocal percussion were all utilized in the composition of his music, the majority of it improvised. Taking mental notes of tempo changes, modulations and using areas of the RC-300 that I never thought of as a musical device (i.e. using the volume switches for effects) and of course, the built in effects, left my head full of new ideas and avenues to explore when I went home a few days later. If you get the chance, take a peek at Rico Loop’s videos from NAMM!
Now with the arrival of the RC-505 from the BOSS-Roland team, the envelope has been push even further. Longer recording times, more effects, more MIDI options and two more channels to record on make this an even more versatile workhorse to anchor a musician’s pedalboard. Smaller in dimension and lighter, it can fit into a smaller footprint than it’s predecessors. I find the RC-505 easier to navigate in the “brains” of the pedal as well.
The market has numerous options for choices in loop pedals. Digitech, TC Helicon, Vox and Line 6 all have versions of loop machines. I won’t give an armchair of review of each one, because I do not have the experience needed with any of those for a educated opinion about it. I have seen them in action and have heard all of them help the musician utilizing them make beautiful music.
Again, the pedal you decide to invest in your pedal should reflect your needs, abilities and aspirations. There is no perfect car to buy or perfect tool. It has to be perfect for you. I have a six foot table full of pedals when I perform, and I had the pleasure of watching Grison Beatbox win the World Loop Championships with probably the smallest rig of any artist to perform that night! There are plenty of demos, reviews and performances around the web to keep you up for days on end. Read some reviews, think about what you want and then try it out at your local music shop. If your local shop doesn’t have it in stock, there are plenty of looping communities with websites and microsites in just about every social media outlet. Contact an artist who uses what you want, the artists I have reached out to have been very generous with their time and expertise!
Good luck on your own musical path and thank you for being a part of mine and reading about a part of mine. Any ideas of thoughts about gear and such is always welcome on this blog. I look forward to hearing from you!
Just Alliance's Blog
Thoughts, ideas and musical musings from this Silver State Loop Artist.