Last month, we created a well-behaved dual-loop setup using Ableton Live 8’s new Looper instrument, which acts like a looprecording delay pedal. This month, we’re gonna get messy, stacking up loops with independent length, speed, and direction. The loops also shift in relation to each other, so standard chord progressions are tough to play. Instead, you must perform in a single chord or mode and focus on texture. Embrace the strangeness!
Liberal use of delay and reverb complements the unpredictable, floating music this process creates. Using Live effectively is all about control, and two carefully chosen mappings (see Step 3) are all you need to impose order on this chaos. Experimenting with different settings, signal flow, effects, and mappings is part of the fun; treat this article as a launching point for your own unique variations.
Before proceeding, you should be familiar with MIDI mapping, sends and returns, and the basic use of the Looper device.
Step 1. Create an audio track for your unlooped signal — let’s call it “Input.” Then, create a return track with a Looper in it. Configure the Looper as shown: Set Quantization, Song Control, and Tempo Control to “None.” Set Record to “X bars then Play” (as indicated by the green play icon), turn the Speed knob to -12, then set Input > Output to “Never” and Feedback to 100 percent.
Step 2. Create a second Return track with its own Looper configured as shown here. Settings are almost identical, but unlike the first Looper, Speed and Feedback should both be zero, and Record should be “X bars then Overdub,” (orange plus sign visible).
Step 3. On both Loopers, map the Multi-Purpose Transport Button (large button with dot on left) to your sustain pedal. On Looper 2 only, MIDI map “Reverse” to a free note or controller.
Step 4. Raise both sends in the Input track and perform. Tap the sustain pedal to start the Loopers recording and again to hear them play back. On playback, you’ll hear a half-speed version from the first Looper, and one at normal speed from the second. The first Looper will be in playback mode, the second in overdub mode, and the sustain pedal will swap their roles.
Step 5. Play a phrase into the second Looper, and while the last note is decaying, hit the Reverse button (i.e., the note or controller you assigned to it) to hear it backwards. You can even harmonize with yourself in a strange form of retrograde canon while the first Looper lumbers along at half speed.