Monday, March 21, 2016

The Art of the Looper

Dating back to the Great Recession, many local live music venues in Sarasota--restaurants and bars--favor single-player musical performances, in order to minimize the cost of hiring talent. 

In order to make up for the lack of band members at their gigs, soloists have added the "looper" machine to their setup. This allows them to record the various complimentary sounds that would have been provided by bass guitar, drums, vocal harmonies, and even horns. As the musician starts a song, he/she records each "other instrument" sequentially on the looper, layering the sounds required for that particular tune. The looper only keeps one song in memory, then is cleared before recording the next song.

Purists can deride the simple utility of this machine-based system, but when I see the looper in action, I'm impressed by the on-the-fly orchestral arranging skill of the performer. The musician has to hear each instrument's note-flow in his/her head, then has to know how to lay down each track so that it will cohere with the overall arrangement. 

In the Sarasota live music scene, some of the most talented looper arrangers, in my opinion, include:
  • Andres Colin - Not only does he loop a wide array of sophisticated instrumental sounds with his synthesizer guitar, he sings in multiple languages.
  • Tommy D (Doerr) - He dutifully introduces his "band", including the drummer and bass player. Creates a very danceable sound with selective use of the looper.
  • Bain Beakley - His arrangements, and the lead riffs he plays on top of them, have a jazz complexity that adds dimension to a clear musical thru-line.
  • Frankie Lombardi - King of the long lead guitar riff, he first layers drum, bass, and harmonic looper sounds that give him a solid foundation for his intricate instrumental breaks.
Next time you're out enjoying the hard-working solo musician onstage, with only the looper for backup, notice the impressive show-design process that's going on in front of you. And maybe throw a little extra tip money into the cup to compensate all the "band members" that he/she is creating for your listening amazement!

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