by Chad Kamer
Andrew Bird is a very talented man. Part of his talent is his ability to play several instruments. However, he’s not out to be a one-man band with a pair of cymbals between his knees and a bass drum strapped to his back. So how can he show off his talent on multiple instruments in live performance?
The answer is loopers. Loopers allow artists like Mr. Bird to record a sample of music, overdub that sample, and loop the outcome continuously, which allows him to pick up a new instrument and perform over the loop playing in the background.
In the video he starts the song by looping his violin and then adding on to that initial sample by overdubbing more violin. He then picks up his guitar and sings, whistles while playing a xylophone, and later returns to his violin to end the song.
What may not be immediately apparent is the talent of the band. Since the loop is unchangeable it acts as a musical metronome, which requires the entire band to have perfect rhythm in keeping in time with it. Of course, the band isn’t the only one that has to follow it, Andrew Bird does as well, and he has the even more difficult job of recording the loop in time live.
Folk artists like Andrew Bird aren’t the only ones that use digital loopers in live performance. Beatbox artists like Beardyman can create layered beats by overdubbing their various beats.
Using loopers is expanding the capabilities of solo artists since they can now act as their own backup band. Loopers can also save the artist money by not requiring actual musicians to play the same sample continuously, instead, a digital looper has replaced the need for these musicians. Better still, live looping is a talent in and of itself, and just one of the many talents of Andrew Bird.
There are several loopers on the market, and most will do the job well. The Digitech JamMan comes in both solo and stereo versions and has a history of quality with an affordable price. The Boss RC 30 is popular, but for those who want to go in depth with looping, the Boss RC 300 will fit the bill. If multiple effects is the desire, the Line 6 JM4 is primarily a looper with other effects built in, and it comes with a bonus of built-in loops recorded by professionals to get the creative juices flowing. Multiple effects stations also have loopers built in as an option, but the looping is rudimentary and will not meet the needs of someone who is looking to explore the world of live looping.
Here’s an example of Andrew Bird using loopers at last month’s Coachella:
Chad Kamer is a musician from Vancouver, British Columbia and is currently finishing his BMus degree at the University of British Columbia.