Tape Loop Techniques

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Reasons why we use a tape loop instead of a looping sampler

I will outline two methods. Method One is suitable for people with only very basic equipment. Method Two is more advanced and requires some special tools.

How to Make a Tape Loop: Method One

Materials

  1. A 1/4" reel-to-reel tape machine. A small, domestic two-track is fine.
  2. Some 1/4" audio tape. You can buy this new, but it seems a bit expensive to me. I use old reels of tape that I found in an op-shop.
  3. A sharp cutting tool. The sharper the better. A craft knife works all right, but a razor blade is ideal. EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION AT ALL TIMES when using a razor blade.
  4. Some adhesive tape, the thinner the better. I use 20 mm wide sellotape, it works fine.

Method

  1. Cut a piece of tape. The length depends on the speed of your machine and the time period that you want. Check the back/bottom of your unit to see if it tells you the speed. A standard speed on cheap domestic machines is 3.75 inches per second, or 9.53 cm/s. So if you want a 3 second loop, cut a piece of tape about 30 cm long.
  2. Make a loop with the tape and bring the ends together (shiny side up), overlapping about 1 cm.
  3. Cut across the overlapping ends with your cutting tool, on a 45 degree angle.
  4. Stick the two ends together with sellotape. Make sure you put the sellotape on the shiny side, the outside, of the audio tape.
  5. Trim off any excess sellotape.
  6. Put the loop onto your machine. You need to stop it from getting tangled. Run it around something to keep it under tension.
  7. Now record some sounds onto the loop. Press record, make a sound, then press stop.

The problem with this method is that when you press stop you will imprint a small silence or click on the tape. If you have more equipment you can use the more advanced Method Two:

How to Make a Tape Loop: Method Two

Materials

  1. A 1/4" reel-to-reel tape machine. A larger, more professional machine is recommended, as it will be easier to find and mark edit points on the tape. On small, cheap machines this is more difficult, but it's still possible (see below).
  2. 1/4" audio tape, as in Method One.
  3. 1/4" splicing tape. It's a lot easier and faster to use than sellotape. Find it online somewhere.
  4. Razor blade.
  5. A splicing block. Professional machines have them built in. If yours doesn't, find one online.
  6. A white grease pencil, also known as a china pencil.

Method

  1. Record some sound onto the audio tape.
  2. Listen back to the tape. Locate the approximate point where you want the loop to start.
  3. Move the tape manually over the play head to locate the exact edit point. This is tricky on basic machines because you can't disengage the pinch roller while in play mode. So you just have to yank the tape backwards with the pinch roller still engaged. This isn't very good for the tape, but you might not care.
  4. Mark the edit point with the grease pencil. Again, not easy with a small machine, as there isn't much room.
  5. Find and mark where you want the loop to end, as above.
  6. Move the tape into the splicing block and make a 45 degree cut at each edit point.
  7. Form the tape into a loop and bring the ends together in the splicing block, shiny side up. Make sure there is no gap and no overlap.
  8. Tape the ends together with splicing tape.

Suggestions

  1. When recording with Method One, make abrupt sound changes within the loop by grabbing the tape with your hand to stop it moving over the heads. Release to restart recording.
  2. Use Method Two to connect several different pieces of tape into a loop.
  3. Make a Moebius Strip (put a half-twist in the loop). The twist results in silence for half the loop's duration. This can be an easy way to lend structure to a piece of music. Here is a short demonstration piece. (920 KB) The electronic sequence and the percussion in this piece were recorded on either side of a twisted loop. The alternation between the parts was achieved by mixing down the two sides to another tape.
  4. Take your tapedeck outside. Make a tape loop that runs around your house.
  5. Make a sound-on-sound loop. If you route the tape so that it bypasses the erase head, the tape will not be erased when recording. New sounds can be added over the top of the contents of the tape.
  6. Make a synchronised loop. Easy if you have a four- or eight-track machine. If you only have a two-track, don't despair, it's still pretty easy. Just flip the tape over and record on the other side. This loop (138KB) was made on a two-track. Here are the component parts: side one (98KB) and side two (98KB).
  7. Use videotape. I tried this and got nothing, but maybe I had the wrong kind of video tape. Maybe you need Beta?
  8. Make a cassette tape loop - very tricky i must say (M.Veet). Apparently you can get cassette tape splicing blocks, which would make this easier. You need proper splicing tape to make cassette loops, as sellotape is too sticky and gets caught on the pinch roller.

Thanks very much to M.Veet. Your kind donation of an "Autocrat" reel-to-reel machine made this page possible.

2 May 2010

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