Don’t Play It Again, Sam

I know this may outrage more than a few readers, some of whom are my friends, but I’m going to go out on a limb here. Loop music is stupid.

If you’re stupid and want to be a musician (or think you are one), then making music with sampled loops is great. You get to bask in the glow of having accomplished something or other, without the inconvenience of having to grapple with any of those nasty intellectual challenges. If you yourself are smart, but your intended audience is stupid, then again — loops may be an ideal solution.

But if you’re smart, and aspire to make music that smart people will want to listen to, then being seduced by the prevailing musical culture, which glorifies loops, would be a dreadful mistake.

Good music involves a dynamic interplay between repetition and change. Too much change, and the music will be incomprehensible. Too much repetition, and it will be boring. But how much is too much?

Ultimately, as an artist, the only thing you can trust is your own understanding of the materials you’re working with. And if you’re smart, you will have a great deal of understanding of musical materials — of harmonic and melodic relationships, of rhythmic interplay, of timbral color, of large-scale structure, and so on.

When you load up a few loops, you’re bypassing your critical intelligence. You’re failing to interact with the material. In fact, you can’t interact with a loop, not really. That’s the definition of a loop! Sure, you can ramp the filter cutoff frequency up or down. You can nudge the delay send or the distortion level. But it’s still a loop. It’s still stupid. At the point when you start interacting with the stuff inside the loop — cutting out a snare drum hit, changing a few notes in the arpeggio — it’s not a loop anymore. It has become interesting.

Making music with loops is seductively easy. You can make ten seconds’ worth of compositional decisions and let the music run for three minutes while you zone out on the groove.

That’s my definition of stupid.

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5 Responses to Don’t Play It Again, Sam

  1. The MIDIGuru says:

    Hello. I am the original authentic midiguru. (midiguru@midiguru.com) (www.midiguru.com) I know what you mean. Back in the 80′s samplers were gaining popularity (actually 1979) and sampling became a music tool. The Mellotron was na sample player and U know how old that was. In some of my releases I could have the background vocals sampled and then spread them all over the track. This saved me more than 50% of time and money doing backing vox tracks. It also made the vocals tighter because i they were all perfectly sampled, giving the track a polished sound. The singers liked it because they worked less and still got thier money. Soon i was teaching others to sample. Nilford Labs hired me in 1981 and we soon developed Hybrid Arts ADAP. Soon samplers became easy to operate and whole song loops as U describe were making hits. Like Rick James’ song superfreaK mad MC Hammer’s can’t touch this. About the time I did “Daughter Brite”‘s album, DJ’s started coming to the studio to record. They called themselves musicians. They were not and became insulted when i told them so. You can’t play in a given key and you can’t write down your performance for others to play. They were castrated arrangers. Only able to arrange recordings layered. Yes they came up with som good sounds, but having no legislation they stole from us. Well when Jay-Z sampled my record “24 Carat Black” legislation was in place and now i get paid again for it. I am not mad now. Let them be stupid a while longer.

  2. Yonatan says:

    Interesting to read.
    As much as I hate loop music, and from the same reasons you mentioned, I don’t expect people who make this type of music to stop.
    After all, you create the music you like. It’s all a matter of brain chemistry. If their brain has been trained all of their life to hear loop music, then it’s fairly reasonable to expect they’ll like it. It’s their right, it’s what they know, and I can’t blame them.

    Now, to say that this is music to sit down and listen to, is another thing. You can dance to it, in which case the music isn’t really the center of focus. But if someone who creates this kind of music expects the listeners to sit down and think about a piece of looped music, then it’s a bit pretentious.

  3. Andy Kosela says:

    Music and sounds in particular are universal. They deal with harmonies and hidden vibrations of the universe. The older I get the more i start to appreciate even the music that i don’t like, like heavy metal. At certain level and when you are open enough to different point of views you start to realize that we are all dealing with the same mysterious harmonics of the sounds. Instead of blaming other people for what they do, we should concentrate on what *we* are doing, and do it the best we can. To finish iit off — DJ’s, hip-hop producers *are* artists and musicians — if somebody claims different then they are just very close minded.

    Yonatan –> I think you need to sit down and listen to some of the real sampled music — honestly I think there is more artist that make you think then make you dance in this genre…

    • midiguru says:

      As to the question of whether or not a DJ is a musician, I’ll refer back to the bright-line test I proposed a couple of years ago. Pick your favorite DJ. We’ll invite him to a jam session. He can bring his gear and set it up. At the beginning of the jam session, the guitar player will say something like, “Blues in G — one, two! One, two, three, four!”

      If the DJ can come in on the downbeat with the rest of the band and play something that makes musical sense, then he’s a musician. But if he stands there with his thumb up on his turntable and says, “Wait, wait — I gotta find some vinyl in my crate that will go with that!”, then he is not a musician, he’s just a jive-ass poseur.

      • Andy Kosela says:

        I’m sure many DJ’s would pass your test then, but I also think that you miss the point entirely of the *purpose* of creating music. Putting labels and pointing fingers like you are a musician because I said so, is not a very mature and intelligent approach to this beautiful artform. I’m sure many people just don’t care what others are saying — they just creating what they like and do it *how* they like it…

        DJ’s took the turntable (essentially a passive device for only listening to music) and made it into an active instrument that inspired a whole generation of people. They already went in the history of music whether somebody like it or not.

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