by Kristoffer Thorning, Postyr Project (Denmark)
For some years now, I have been working with different kinds of looping devices for vocal music. Here is a collection of my thought and ideas about this subject.
There is a lot of different loop options out there. First you should consider if you want a hardware or software setup. Both options have their own strengths and disadvantages.
A hardware setup like a Boss RC-50, DigiTechs JamMan, Kaoss Pad from Korg, TC- Voicelive Touch or other loop machines can be very tricky to incorporate into a sound setup with other devices. It takes a lot of work to sync the midi devices to other devices and to find the right place for the loop machine in the chain of other effects or loop machines. The devices are also limited to the way they were build, which makes it hard for you to expand or develop, when (not if (-:) your setup is growing bigger.
On the plus side, you get a dependable and easy way of doing your loop setup, and you don’t have to speculate about software updates or computer failures.
With a software setup you have tons of options to incorporate your loops into other things. You can find some really cool freeware stuff out there like Mobiüs and SooperLooper. If you are using Ableton Live or Logic’s Mainstage, you can use the build in loop machines there.
A lot of singers and instrumentalists like to have their loop controls at their feet instead of in their hands. So with a software setup you need a foot controller. I would recommend the cheap Behringer or the slightly more expensive, but very complex and extremely more tech-from-the-future-like SoftStep. Both are midi controllers and can therefore be setup to control any parameter you need for doing your loops (or controlling effects or channels or instruments etc.).
Because of the infinite possibilities a software loop setup gives you, it is easy to get lost. It takes some time to master, and it also means that you have to get into some basic programming to bring your loop setup to life. But you will end up with a personal setup that are fitted just for your needs and is very easy to expand and morph into new things later. There is a lot of cool tutorials out there for doing your sofware loops, but yet I haven’t found anyone specifically for singers and beatboxers.
My Hardware Setup
Let me dig into to a way of putting up a hardware loop setup.
Get yourself a Boss RC-50! It’s the most reliable and diverse loop station on the market, and it has a lot of connection possibilities. It has three loop channels, and it has the possibility to overdub loops on each channel, so you can make multi layered loops. You can plug in a microphone, and a stereo instrument and you even have an aux input as well. You have plenty of options for triggering samples, creating separated suboutputs and so on. The cool thing about it is that it loops straight out of the box and has some more advanced options built into it as well. The Boss RC-50 is the core in my hardware loop setup. It works as a midi clock master that controls the other machines in my setup. There’s a lot of talented musicians that use the RC-50. You can get started by exploring these videos:
and the crazy Rico Loop:
I haven’t used the TC-Voicelive Touch yet, but it seems to work fine even though you have to use your hands to control it… The most basic option is a simple one-loop pedal like the JamMan. You can’t really get it wrong. I know there are even more options. Take for instance the loop setup of Swiss singer Martin O. or some of all the other loop pedals on the market. I would like to know more about them, so if you know more, please drop a comment about it here.
In my setup I work a lot with the Kaoss Pad (KP) that besides giving me the option of using live effects on stage, has a nice intuitive looping option as well. On the KP you have 4 loop channels and the possibility to record two loops into one channel. The great thing about the KP, is that you can add effects to your loops and thereby create soundscapes and more produced grooves and loops.
One huge disadvantage though, is that it has a 16beat maximum and it has to have a tempo preset, which means that you can’t start a loop without first giving a tempo preset. In other words, you have to be in the same tempo as the KP.
This is where the Boss RC-50 and the KP really works great together. Setting up the Boss RC-50 as the midi-clock-master and letting it control the tempo of the KP, makes you able to get around some of the weaknesses of the KP.
You can see a clip with the great master of the Kaoss Pad, Beardy Man, here:
and read more about his setup with 4 Kaoss Pads and a Boss RC-50 here.
A loop machine is a great way of developing new ideas and working on small compositions and intuitive arranging in your rehearsal room or studio. It is also a cool way to use to your own voice and listening and practicing with change of timbre, pitch and pronunciation.
With Postyr Project I have been working a lot to integrate loops into our live concerts. It takes hard work to get the right timing and to find some “loop-holes” if the live looping for some reason goes wrong. More and more vocal groups experiment with live looping, and I think that there are some great perspectives in this. For me it is all about getting the right sound and putting the right feeling into the music, and I think that I in time can get a beatboxing loop even more integrated in some of the arrangements we do in Postyr Project. A loop always stays the same and it means that the listeners can focus on the melody or lyrics instead of the beat.
Kristoffer Thorning is singer, composer, arranger and technical wizard with Danish electronic vocal group Postyr Project. Listen to their debut album, read the article again and you’ll catch a glimpse of the future of vocal music. Stay tuned to Vocal Blog, Postyr will be featured with more blog posts soon.
What’s your opinion on vocal groups using electronic devices? Have you used it with your group? Let us know what you think about Postyr’s way of integrating the latest technology into their music. Thanks for joining the conversation – here’s to the future of vocal, a cappella and choral music!