Tuesday, September 1, 2015

(Many) Loopers Have Issues

I've become somewhat of a looper freak. It turns out the building up complex track with your modular, using a looper as the 'multiplying device', is both a useful and fun way to create a track. Over the past few years, I've tried a bunch of different loopers, and now I've got a bone to pick

Most commercial loopers that I've used (or tried) have a fundamental problem for me: they will only loop in time. You create a 'master track', then every other loop that you record has to be some even-numbered multiple of that track length. This is great if you are trying to be Reggie Watts and making a tight beat. But what if you are doing a sloppy ambient piece, with drones sliding in and out to create a never-ending harmonic swill? Can't do it.

I've gotten to the point of poring over user manuals before buying a looper so I don't get stuck with this problem. You see, I want to be able to choose whether or not loops are synchronized, and use the differing modes for different composing processes.

So far, the biggest 'losers' are all Electro Harmonix loopers. I love the layout of these loopers, with their front panel mixers, easy bouncing functions and great sound. But there is no way to de-sync. The looper (i.e., Pickup Engine) in the Octatrack is similarly hamstrung, requiring all loops to slave to a master loop's length.

Sorta-winners include the Boomerang looper pedal, which does have a de-linked mode, but is so non-visual as to be a complete head-fuque. Much better is the Boss RC-505 - a device I was using until recently. It has the most flexible looping engine I've ever worked with, but is combined with some of the worst internal effects I've ever heard in a Boss unit.

I'm currently experimenting further with the Octatrack; rather than using its Pickup Engine loopers, I'm trying to get comfortable with live sampling into the standard sampling engines and working with that. Not sure it'll work, but I'm trying.

Do you have a looper that you love? Does it do de-linked looping? If so, let me know your experiences - I'm all ears!!!



  1. Pigtronix Infinity Looper! You just turn off the "sync multi"

  2. We're discussing this over here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/LoopersDelight/permalink/10154069199354918/

    1. Whoa - fantastic link. Thanks, I'm gonna dig into that one!

  3. Hi Darwin,
    Thank you for writing about your musical world! When I saw the title of todays article I knew immediately what you were going to say. I sold my EHX 4500 for the same reasons. I also had the Boss RC-500 and hated the effects implementation and sounds so much I returned it (the the looper itself was super fun just not worth the money).

    I've had an Octatrack for 1.5 years and it is my favorite piece of equipment. I use a combination of PU and Flex machines to live sample everything from my modular to live instruments and sound FX. It is a creative BEAST. I've spent far too much time trying to get around the sync limitations (that you mentioned) and loads of super annoying bugs in the firmware. I'd be happy to share my workflow if you think it would help.

    Be well,

    1. There you go - my experience exactly. I'm glad that you are finding your way with the OT; I'm hoping to do the same. If you can easily share your workflow ideas, I'm all ears. Tests so far prove it can be done, but are inconclusive as to whether I could actually perform the gyrations during a performance!

  4. Dude! Check out Mobius Vst. You can unsync or resync. Drag and drop the files into reaper, set them as loops. This is not a live performance system unless you have a really stable rig.

    1. Last time I tried Mobius it hurt my brain. But maybe I've grown a little - and the idea of using it in Reaper is actually a good idea (I'm planning on using Reaper for an upcoming class at the local Uni).


  5. Just some side notes on OT Pickup machine sync. Checkout p. 69 of the manual. "SEQUENCER TO PICKUP SYNC
    The Octatrack sequencer can be tempo synchronized to a Pickup machine recording. This
    is useful if you want to mix pre-progammed tracks with Pickup machine loops and don’t
    want the sync of the sequencer to drift.
    Press [TRACK] + [TEMPO] to sync the sequencer to a Pickup machine loop. The BPM
    value normally shown in the top left corner of the LCD will at the same time be replaced
    with information about which Pickup machine that is controlling the sequencer BPM. To see
    the tempo of the loop the sequencer is locked to, open the TEMPO window.
    If Pickup sync is activated when the sequencer is stopped and Pickup machines are playing
    loops, pressing [PLAY] will make the sequencer start playing the next time the synced
    Pickup machine loop starts over. If no Pickup machine is playing, the sequencer will start
    playing immediately when [PLAY] is pressed."

  6. And here is an interesting thread on Elektronauts about using Flex machines for looping. In a nutshell they are using a recorder trig on step one to sync flex machine playback. http://www.elektronauts.com/topics/view/8767

  7. I have a Boss RC-505 and I totally agree, the FX are appalling, the only one I use is the beat repeater. Still, I've been in a very similar position as you for a long time, I've also considered the Octatrack and ended up with the Boss, because in the end it's really the one that comes closest, despite its pimped-up car looks and the lousy fx. The only thing I'm really missing on the Boss is a decay or loop feedback setting, so you can have loops slowly fade out in time.