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Tape Loops & DAW Technology

Experimental composer Steve Reich, used tape loops to make his 1963 work ‘it’s gonna rain’ which featured repeated spoken lines and ambient sounds on reel to reel tape. Tape loops can be played in several ways, the tape can be manipulated with a finger and slowed down to create effects such as phasing or even effects applied to create fresh sound from the same loop.

Tape loops have also been associated with more ambient sounding music such as works by Brian Eno and William Basinski. In 2001, Basinski had tried to salvage some ambient tape recordings from the early 1980’s and discovered that the magnetic tape had started to disintegrate as it passed the tape machine head. As the tapes literally flaked as they played, Basinski allowed the loops to play and added some reverb to create space. The finished piece is one hour long and was completed on the morning of the 9/11 attacks, stills of the disaster feature on the CD cover.

Reel to reel recorders used tape around ½” thick, this tape could be manipulated much more easily than the magnetic tape within a cassette however using cassettes has several advantages. By using four track tape recorders and stereo cassettes, it is possible to record four separate tracks which can be played back one at a time or all together. In the case of reel to reel systems, they would only be able to play back one sound on each machine meaning multiple tape machines would have to be playing at the same time. Given the age of this technology, this would be an expensive method of producing tape audio.


By using the above method, I have recorded the voice of my Masters course colleague, Wilson Noble, performing two poems which feature in this blog. ‘It Sifts through Leaden Sieves’ by Emily Dickinson and ‘Leaves falling, Quietly Falling’ by Norman Bissel  both contain key verses and words which I wanted to use to highlight seasonal change. Similarly, I recorded some ambient sound such as a glockenspiel strike which I recorded on one machine at a high speed then played back through a second tape player at normal speed and backwards. This is intended to give an unsettling bell sound.



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©2017 by Jacob Hodge