Loops have become an integral part of modern music making and, while for some musicians, this might simply be a few drum or percussions loops over which they layer their own guitar, bass, keyboard and vocal parts, for others – the ‘loopers’ amongst us – creative use of loops is taken much further. And although looping is something of its own sub-culture, it actually crosses a very wide range of musical genres.
While loops can be manipulated in most mainstream DAWs, a whole range of more specialist products – both hardware and software – are now available for loopers to practice their craft. Where I never cease to find this craft most impressive is when seen ‘live’, where the musician essentially performs and records the loops in a live performance, building up an arrangement and then dropping loops in and out and perhaps adding a main instrument or vocal over the top.
Hardware products from companies such as Boss and Digitech have, in the past, dominated in this context but, if you are brave enough – and well rehearsed – you can also use your iDevice. And perhaps the most high-profile iOS looper is the Loopy HD app from A Tasty Pixel (the developer all iOS musicians owe a debt of thanks to for giving us Audiobus). So, for £5.49 (or the equivalent $/€ price), just how much fun can you have with mashing together a few loops in Loopy HD?
Loopy HD’s main workspace revolves (ouch!) around a set of circular loop waveform displays (not unlike the ‘loopeye’ in Ueberschall’s Elastik loop player available for Mac/Windows) and there is a choice between six, nine or twelve loops in the display at any one time depending upon how complex you like to get. You can either record live audio into a particular loop slot or, if you tap and hold the centre of the loop slot, import a loop file (WAV, MP3 and AIFF are all supported) via the context menu that appears around the loop slot itself.
The first loop recorded or imported defines the project tempo and all other loops are tempo-matched to maintain sync. The orange toolbar at the left-edge of the display can be toggled through a number of different control options, one of which it the tempo section. Here you can adjust the project tempo (and time signature) either numerically or by tapping.
Usefully, loops do not have to all be the same length so, if you want to you can, for example, layer a 2-bar kick loop against a 4 bar percussion part and an 8-bar bass line and all will stay firmly locked in sync.
Other control palettes in this sidebar include the transport controls and the loop-length controls. In the latter you can set a length of a loop for a particular slot prior to recording in it. Divisions are displayed in bars and can be as short as 1/32 of a bar are allowed and loops can also go to 32 bars and beyond (well beyond it you require and this might be useful if you want to, for example, record a complete vocal take live while to mix and match with your various instrument loops to build an arrangement. The final control palette provides both visual and audible metronomes.
You can adjust the volume and pan of a loop via the loop slot’s context menu (although there is also a short-cut for volume adjustment if you just tap on the waveform and drag clockwise/anti-clockwise). Equally, if a loop is not quite playing back in time (perhaps the snare is slightly off the beat?), a two-fingered gesture (no, not that kind of two-fingered gesture) allows you to rotate the waveform within the loop slot to adjust this.
Once you have a loop slot’s context menu displayed, you can rotate this to show two further options – reverse and decay – and while reverse does pretty much what you would expect, the decay option is used when overdubbing loops, allowing the existing loop to be faded out as the new one is recorded.
Initiating a live recording simply requires you to single tap the centre of a particular loop slot and there are also options for overdubbing (either automatically or via a two-fingered tap). For newbie live loopers, the recording process does take a little practice to perfect so that you know exactly what is going on but it is not a massive learning curve. Incidentally, if you are interested in beat-boxing and vocalizing all your sounds, the app seems to work pretty well with just a pair of headphones (standard headphones rather than Apple’s mic equipped ones worked best for me) and your iDevice’s built-in mic.
If you run out of loop slots, you can simply drag one loop onto the top of another and they are combined, freeing up a slot for something else. Equally, if you want to trash a loop and start again, you just tap in the centre and drag down which brings up a context menu allowing you to re-record or to just clear the loop slot. There are a number of other settings available within the app’s menu system that allow you to configure how the recording process behaves to suit your own preferences.
The app also includes a very straightforward session management system and the ability to record a whole session. This latter options can also capture any live audio input so, if you want to sing or rap over your loop-based bed/arrangement, you can easily do so. Recordings made in this way can be exported via email, SoundCloud, audio copy or via iTunes transfer.
In Audiobus, Loopy HD can be used as either an Input or Output device. Rather wonderfully, when loading the Loopy HD app into the Input slot you can choose to send either the final stereo output or the output of an individual track through to apps further down the Audiobus signal chain. If you wanted to transfer a full Loopy HD project to your favourite DAW app you could, therefore, do it on a track-by-track basis.
It has to be said that in use, Loopy HD pulls off the kind of trick that most app developers would think of as something of a Holy Grail; it manages to combine fabulous creative possibilities, ease of use and genuine fun all wrapped in a beautifully executed interface. As a tool for experimenting with loops – either pre-recorded or recorded live into the app – this is as good as I’ve used under iOS.
The app has some serious potential for those that like to use loops as part of their live performance rig. This type of use would require more time mastering the user interface than I’ve spent but the potential is clearly there. As the app includes a pretty comprehensive MIDI specification, with the right additional hardware, it would be possible to trigger Loopy HD’s operation from a MIDI keyboard or pedal board. The latter would be quite interesting with IK Multimedia’s soon-to-be-released iRig Blueboard and scanning the Loopy HD forums suggests that this is a combination that IK themselves are already testing.
I had no significant problems using Loopy HD within Audiobus and passing it’s output through to my usual DAW (Cubasis in my case) or in processing that output through an app such as Turnado sat in the Audiobus effects slot. While I’m not someone with any real ‘live looper’ experience, in a recording context, even in my inexperienced hands, Loopy HD is a brilliant tool for creating or manipulating drum loops or musical beds for inclusion in a recording project.
Even for a novice user, Loopy HD is a great little musical sketchpad for creating musical ideas. For dedicated loopers, the app might not have all the bells and whistles found in some looping devices (for example, the range of effects is not extensive) but it is a beautifully slick interface and, in the right hands, capable of some wonderfully creative things. It is also a brilliant addition to an iOS recording toolkit for anything from creating and manipulating your own loops to building a complete backing track.
Loopy HD is a top-notch app and I’m tempted to say that if you’re an iOS musician and can’t have £5.49s worth of fun with this, then you really aren’t trying hard enough. For anyone who works with loops – whether live or in a composition/recording context – this is highly recommended.
For a quick look at Loopy HD in action, then check out the video below.
If you are interested in seeing just what Loopy HD might be capable of in a live context then you really should check out this video by Dub FX – awesome :-)