A Lesson on Live Looping for Bass
Guest contributor Russ Sargeant shares this live looping lesson with us, on bass using Mobius software and the Behringer FCB1010.
Solo musicians have a new powerful weapon in their arsenal, or rather access to technological advancements on an established idea. Live Looping has been around since the days of the tape delay machine. One of the most famous advocates of this technology being Les Paul who pioneered innovative, advanced techniques using such machines. The tape delay effect, using namely the Echoplex hardware, has been used since the 60’s by such well-known players as Chet Atkins, John Martyn, Jimmy Page and Andy Summers.
Today the technology has really come of age. Multi-instrumentalists like Keller Williams are truly pushing the boundaries of the medium and bassists such as Eberhard Weber, Arild Andersen and Steve Lawson are producing beautiful and unique music using a variety of digital platforms.
There are many different systems that can be used for live looping, with hardware and software loopers available. There is extensive information available on the internet at web sites such as Loopers Delight.
I have chosen, for one reason or another, some financial ;) to go for the software option. I use a freeware package called Mobius to create my loops. It is available to download from Circular Labs.
Mobius is essentially eight synchronized stereo loopers that can be used in any combination with extensive MIDI and computer keyboard control. Loops can also be saved to and loaded from files (although I have yet to use that option). It is available for both Windows (XP and above) and Mac OS X (10.4 or higher). It can be run standalone or as a plug-in to your DAW. I use it standalone and for the moment use two of the eight tracks available.
There are some drawbacks of using a software solution like Mobius. Having to drag around a laptop, mixer, midi-interface and foot controller to a gig, which of course requires more set-up time can be a pain. There is also the critical issue of latency when interfacing with your computer – using a high quality audio interface such as the M-Audio FastTrack Pro and a laptop with plenty of disc-space and RAM deals with this, and for the aspiring solo musician on a budget, it is a very viable option.
You will also need a MIDI foot controller of some description, to enable hands-free operation of Mobius. I use the Behringer FCB1010 which gives me more than enough options for creativity in a very solidly-constructed unit. Similar units include the Roland FC-200 and the smaller Boss FC-50. Shown below is how I have my FCB1010 set up to control Mobius. For detailed instructions please consult the Mobius documentation. Here is a link to the FCB1010 manual PDF too for reference.
MIDI and audio interfaces are also required as mentioned earlier. I also use a small mixer to allow myself multiple inputs and a small effects processor for the all-important wow factor!
Let’s get started!
OK, assuming you’ve digested that lot, let’s get creating! For the sake of this lesson I will use a solo bass piece of mine called ‘What Goes Beneath’. I had previously recorded this as a regular instrumental (listen here), but wanted to produce a solo bass live-looped version for live performance. The track for this lesson is available on Soundcloud.com Use the widget below to interact with it. You will need to view it for reference.
Making some music
I have placed marker comments on the Soundcloud file and have numbered them 1 – 8 to tie-in with the following eight areas covered in this lesson. All clear? Lets’ go…
1. Laying down the background loop
The background loop is a 2/4 phrase of harmonics, as shown below. I play the first bar, then hit Record on beat 1 of the 2nd bar and again on beat 1 of the 3rd bar (indicated by IN and OUT below. This gives makes it easier to hit the pedal in time, rather than trying to hit the pedal and start playing at the same moment. So we are now left with Mobius playing back our repeating 2/4 phrase.
2. Playing the main theme
I then continue to play through the main theme twice, with our recorded 2/4 phrase as accompaniment. This has an uneven time structure, with a bar of 2/4 splitting the 4/4 time signature. This will become apparent later on.
3. Preparing for our next recorded section
While playing our main theme, we now have to prepare to record the next section of the piece. This is where the rubber hits the road, as while I am playing I have to hit my Track 2 pedal in readiness to record on this separate track. I have found this relatively simple activity needs some practice as it involves honing coordination skills that don’t necessarily come naturally. What I do here is hit the pedal shortly after I start playing so then I know it is done, rather than leaving it too long and (possibly) forgetting to do it!
A note on Track Synchronisation
OK, now here I need to mention a setting I have in place. I use Mobius with ‘Track Sync Mode’ set to ‘Loop’ (see the Mobius manual here for details). This setting keeps the Tracks in sync with one another and also allows me to punch in just before I start to record. Without this setting turned on, I may have to hit record just as I start to play and the loops would invariably drift out of time.
You will also notice from the Mobius interface that I have a visual readout of the timing of each track. This allows me to see exactly where I am at any time and my punch-in position when recording will start. With much rehearsal however this becomes secondary.
4. Recording bass line for the next section
Track 2 is already selected, so I hit record just as my Track 1 readout is in its final cycle and start to play my bass line on the first bar of the next section. What I am doing here is laying down some simple root notes to accompany me when I begin to play the melody. Then again as before, I punch-out on recording just before the track sync time and continue to play the melody, now accompanied by the bass line I have just recorded. :-)
5. Muting the bass line on Track 2
Here, just before I start to play the Arco section, I quickly use Expression Pedal 1 to zero the volume on Track 2 while I play. I keep it muted then while I play the whole second ‘verse’ of the main melody. Note: Throughout this time, Track 2 ‘root’ bass line is still playing, just at zero volume). Then, due to the uneven time structure, I ‘fill’ before bringing the volume up again using the same expression pedal for the next ‘bass line-accompanied’ section of the melody. I repeat this accompanied section twice.
6. Replacing Track 2 with a new Arco recording
Keeping an eye on the visual aid in Mobius, just before my next arco section, I hit record and play the eight bars with the bow. I then punch out just before the end of the last bar. Note: at this point Track 2 is now already playing back the recorded arco section, just at zero volume.
7. Fade up bowed melody and play the bass line on the final section
Next I fade up Track 2 and accompany the bowed melody with a bass line.
8. Finishing up
I continue to play as long as I want to here, then mute Track 2 a last time with the expression pedal, finishing off the melody with two fingered D notes. Then pick up my bow and simultaneously play the last harmonic to finish whilst hitting my Global Reset pedal at the same time to end Mobius’ playback. Phew!
In working with this looping setup, I’ve found that it encourages lateral thinking and experimentation to achieve goals. Work with the technology and see what it is capable of. There is no right or wrong and there are no hard and fast rules. What I have given you above is an example of my methods. Simply ‘be creative’!
I hope this blow-by-blow lesson has been of use to you. I would love to hear your comments and experiences in using this, and hope that it encourages you to experiment with live looping yourself. It’s a lot of fun and although technically demanding, it is very rewarding. Peace,
Follow me on Twitter @RussBass.