Rhyme for rhyme til the mic stops working
April 4, 2012 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Kimbra performs Settle Down live at SXSW, looping her voice and singing, following in the live sampling footsteps of Imogen Heap and TuneYards.
posted by cashman (54 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
That was great! Was the crowd not interested or just stunned?
posted by Constant Reader at 7:41 AM on April 4, 2012

Reggie Watts does this also.
posted by Fister Roboto at 7:41 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've seen a lot of folks do this with instruments, but not with just vocals. Groovy.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:43 AM on April 4, 2012

Is she rocking two iPads? That's like the modern equivalent of Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick! Who's going to be the first musician to trick out a Neil Peart 50-piece drum set with all iPads?

Seriously, though, even though I've seen this trick done many times before, her version is mighty good.
posted by fungible at 7:49 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's becoming a bit of a tired gimmick but she did it really well.
Cool set-up too. I also liked how the second mic kicked in when she pulled away from the first one, almost like the 2-mic gated trick Bowie did in Heroes.
I agree that Reggie Watts is the master of this domain.
Poor, forgotten KT Tunstall.
posted by chococat at 7:54 AM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

That's such a great track. If you haven't seen her do this recorded live in the studio — or another great track also recorded live, Plain Gold Ring — they're both worth seeing. She does the vocal looping on the latter, too.

Both those songs just blew me away when I first heard them and I've pretty much enjoyed them both on the many subsequent listens. The rest of her album isn't all like this, and some of it is quite pop (which I don't like); but she's definitely impressive.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:57 AM on April 4, 2012

I saw Reggie when he was touring with Conan O'Brien's show. I'd never seen his act or the whole live sampling thing before, so it was a revelation.

Honestly, I found him to be quite a bit more entertaining than Conan, an opinion I suspect many other people ended up sharing with me.
posted by Fister Roboto at 7:57 AM on April 4, 2012

David Ford puts on some fantastic one-person shows with looping technology, though this one is live in the studio. Check him out!
posted by swlabr at 7:58 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I first saw Andrew Bird do this sort of live sampling in 2003 or 2004. It blew my mind then, and no matter how old the trick, I still love it when done well.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:59 AM on April 4, 2012

I've always enjoyed KT Tunstall's career-making first TV performance of 'Black Horse and a Cherry Tree' for this kind of looping shenanigans.

The fact these musicians can do this sort of thing live boggles my mind. Mentally keeping track of where everything is and singing and in some cases playing an instrument at the same time? Serious skill.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:59 AM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

El Ten Eleven
Check out that entire channel for more of their performances
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:06 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kimbra is great.

I think the first person I saw do that crazy looping yourself to make a giant song live was Juana Molina from Argentina. This was back in 2005. I'm guessing it's clearly a thing, since so many people do it.
posted by chunking express at 8:08 AM on April 4, 2012

The fact these musicians can do this sort of thing live boggles my mind.

It is both easier and harder than it looks (easy to get something good going, but hard to get something really really stellar and finish it in a musically satisfying way). Because you're jamming with yourself. Just takes a lot of practice.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:08 AM on April 4, 2012

It's becoming a bit of a tired gimmick but she did it really well.

Three examples in 3 years isn't quite tired yet.

She was great. The audience, especially those literally watching her on an iPhone, were depressing.
posted by DU at 8:18 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Kishi Bashi does this stuff, too. He was at NPR yesterday for a Tiny Desk Concert that I will try to remember to link when it shows up, because it was amazing. AMAZING. Here he is performing "Bright Whites," a song I think is inevitably going to show up everywhere, much as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes suddenly did a year or two ago. There's not as much vocal sampling in the video as he did yesterday, but it's ... really, really something to see this done well. It does feel a bit like alchemy.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:26 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recognized Sound Prism on one iPad. I'd love to know what app she's using for the loops?
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:26 AM on April 4, 2012

Three examples in 3 years isn't quite tired yet.

Musicians who feature looping in their live performances (that I know of off the top of my head):

KT Tunstall
Andrew Bird
Imogen Heap
Keller Williams
Reggie Watts
Julia Easterlin
Owen Pallett
Kishi Bashi
David Ford
Jamie Lidell

...and many, many, more. Just go to youtube and use search terms like "looping" or "loopstation" and see how many people are doing this. It's not not just 3 examples in 3 years...though maybe those are the only examples to have hit MetaFilter, as a musical trick it is just a little, a teensy little bit tired.

That being said the example in the FPP is way cool, and I am huge fan of Reggie Watts' and Imogen Heap's usage of the tool.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:34 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

So I was already debating getting an iPad3 because of things like Tapose, Paper, Sketchpad Pro, and GarageBand... but what the heck app is this (or these)? Because doing that with my voice/software instruments, the looping thing- if it was fairly easy to use and get loops going, that'd be the last part to actually make me go right out buy one of these things!
posted by hincandenza at 8:42 AM on April 4, 2012

That musical trick to pluck some strings on a resonating body is getting tired too if you ask me.

Or: It's not the technique, but what you do with it.
posted by ts;dr at 8:53 AM on April 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've also seen Pamelia Kurstin do some very cool things with theremin and looping (she performed with the Flecktones in my town a couple years ago), and Zoe Keating (drooled over by Jad on RadioLab many times) does great stuff with cello and looping.
posted by aught at 8:54 AM on April 4, 2012

Three examples in 3 years isn't quite tired yet.

The examples that happened to be mentioned before you posted your comment aren't the only people who have done it. Victor Wooten does it brilliantly in his bass solos (he did it when I saw him live, probably 7 or 8 years ago, with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones).

I'm not seeing a single comment that actually criticizes Kimbra's performance, so the defenses of her are rather preemptive.
posted by John Cohen at 8:57 AM on April 4, 2012

As a musician working with looping structures myself (going back to the eighties, when one did it with feedback on reel-to-reel decks), I'm glad (some) people are getting away from that awful, embarrassing trope of laying down a horrid loop of awkward beatboxing, then running through all their loop elements as the intro to a song. Yep, okay, heard the whole song in the intro—now what? There's sort of a loop renaissance going on, fueled by the fact that the hardware doesn't cost a fortune anymore and, even better, hardly costs anything at all, and maybe I'm overly sensitive to the gimmicks and cliches as someone who's employed them all at some point or another, but too much of this stuff looks like a demo reel for the manufacturers of the gear they're using, even when there's a hell of a lot of talent in play.

Start with the beatbox. Add some layers.

Add some little tentative vocal figure.

Now harmonize over it. Harmonize over that.

Now sing (or rap, or slam that poem).

Turn loops on and off. Add harmonies to those.

It's not that those things are bad. Conventional pop songs are as formulaic. It's that the potential of the hardware is so much more, but we're just seeing the same thing all the time, and you have to wonder—would this stand as a song, without the gimmick of its construction laid out like scaffoling? Watching Tuneyards, for instance, I'm always struck by how I just don't need to see the actual setup, any more than I need to see a band tune up all their instruments before they play. The music is great without the prelude. The looping gear most use is capable of storing these elements, so why not set it all up, start the camera, and then just go?

My theory here, and I'm just talking off the top of my head, is that this music is about reclaiming a sense of authenticity while still taking advantage of the wonders of technological progress. We see drum machines as insincere and unreal, and we're suspicious about musicians using machines, having seen too many appalling autotuned atrocities, backed by unseen studio hacks, lip-synced by the essentially talentless, and the loop is a way of saying "hey, look—you're seeing every single gesture in the construction of this music, and it's real." Unfortunately, it's just too much about flavors of the same thing, and I'll grant you that I'm particularly bored with the retro-retro-revived-revival of human beatboxing for the billionth go-round, but...sigh.

Mind you, I'm probably just bitter that I can't get any play because my own music is generally desperately slow and prone to putting the listener to sleep, but I'd very much love to see more people using these tools to transcend what's becoming a little too familiar. I also get pissed off when I hear people playing factory presets on a synthesizer, so I'm a bit of a crank in that regard.
posted by sonascope at 9:01 AM on April 4, 2012 [12 favorites]

I feel like I've been seeing street musicians do versions of this for decades. Why is it suddenly so popular?

Mind you, I'm probably just bitter that I can't get any play because my own music is generally desperately slow and prone to putting the listener to sleep,

Hey, you ought to try playing loud rock and roll these days. It's like you're a practitioner of some arcane hobby. Like scrimshaw.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:05 AM on April 4, 2012

Or, as my father used to say, my performances were like watching an accountant at work.
posted by sonascope at 9:10 AM on April 4, 2012

I love that Imogen Heap track. Especially that part in the middle where she pauses (or turns down?) the looping, sings a lyric, and when she brings the loops back, they start exactly on the beat (no dead air or residual from the tail of the previous iteration). Tight.
posted by spacewrench at 9:20 AM on April 4, 2012

spacewrench - She's using a Repeater, so she's got direct volume control over four loops, and she lets 'em run while she's doing the a capella bit, probably watching the visual metronome (even though she also appears to have naturally great timing, as well) to bring it all back with a nice snap.

Sigh—the Repeater's still just an amazing instrument, which is why its sad that they'll all just eventually fritz out of existence, one after another, until they're gone.
posted by sonascope at 9:30 AM on April 4, 2012

These live-looped performances can be cool, but for me ultimately unsatisfying. Or rather I should say, cool to see once but not cool enough to be interesting as a genre. Primarily because there is only so long a song composed of a single chord with various kinds of riffing over it can hold my interest.
posted by slkinsey at 9:30 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just as an historical aside, I thought I'd throw in a video of one of the progenitors of the whole concept of looping music, from all the away back in '79, complete with awkward introduction—Robert Fripp, demonstrating his Frippertronics rig.
posted by sonascope at 9:35 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nobody can beat Jamie Lidell at this game.
posted by mkb at 9:53 AM on April 4, 2012

So it looks like she's using a TC-Helicon VoiceLive Touch to do her looping instead of a tablet app.
posted by cyphill at 10:21 AM on April 4, 2012

just the other week, i saw annabel alpers perform as "bachelorette", opening for magnetic fields. she used a smattering of precut loops, and added in a lot of live voice and instrument layers. very nice stuff.

having loved reggie watts for years, i keep waiting for this genre to gel with some sort of agreed-upon name. i guess according to Doleful Creature, that term may be "loopstation"?

but perhaps it's not really a genre at all, but more akin to a new class of instrument. if that's the case, then i look forward to loopers in other musical styles (bluegrass? classical?) as the price of the equipment goes down. the mind boggles.
posted by bruceo at 10:38 AM on April 4, 2012

I thought this was well done.
posted by carter at 10:46 AM on April 4, 2012

Why do I keep flashing on Les Paul & Mary Ford?

How high the moon....
posted by mule98J at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2012

Theresa Andersson isn't too shabby either.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:02 AM on April 4, 2012

D'oh on preview Kevin beat me to it. Yeah my all time fave is still the super talented Theresa Andersson performing her tune 'Birds Fly Away' in her kitchen.
posted by bitterkitten at 11:03 AM on April 4, 2012

I think the trouble with loop-based music right now is that it has become a de facto genre, when it really shouldn't be a genre, in the same way that music using synthesizers isn't really "synthesizer music" or music using guitars isn't really "guitar music." Unlike, say, the theremin, which loudly announces its gimmicky, timbreless presence at every appearance, there's a way for looping instruments to just be a part of the overall musical stew, instead of "hey look—I'm looping!"
posted by sonascope at 11:25 AM on April 4, 2012

@bruceco: loopstation is just a common search term because many of these musicians are using a Boss Loop Station stompbox for the looping. If there's an actual genre name it probably has roots in process music.

Oh and totally agree that Theresa Andersson is a gem.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:29 AM on April 4, 2012

I've always been partial to Dub FX - he describes what he's doing when he does it too.

It's neat to see it done out in the open, basically in the middle of a street market.
posted by synthetik at 11:32 AM on April 4, 2012

I'm sure the iPad makes this a lot easier, but it's been going on for awhile. Here's Bobby McFerrin singing along with his analog looping machine.
posted by doctoryes at 11:40 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Andrew Bird's been doing this for years; this concert for the release of Weather Systems in 2003 is incredible (and is free to download -- thanks Live Music Archive!)
posted by me3dia at 11:48 AM on April 4, 2012

DJs (e.g. Cut Chemist) also sometimes do this kind of stuff.
posted by box at 11:51 AM on April 4, 2012

Why bother going to a live show just to watch it through a damned iPhone screen? Are these folks deranged, or is it some other issue? I don't think I've ever seen a more disconnected audience watching a more compelling performance.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:59 AM on April 4, 2012

So... there is an app for this? I'm serious!

I can agree that by itself looping is mostly just a nice gimmick (especially when it's one person a cappella) since they aren't necessarily just coming up with that entirely impromptu, and there's no good reason to not have all the tracks pre-recorded as sonascope suggests- although I guess in electronic music circles, this is decried as being "DJ PressPlay", which I don't fully understand as a criticism. If working the musical ideas ahead of time was good enough for Beethoven...

Still, the power to me is of quickly structuring up a segment of music by adding in layers as described: create a beat and harmonic scaffold, add in a few layers of harmony and counterpoint in the moment, play around with turning different ones on and off, and when you get it right save it off as the central part(s) of a more completed work for when you get home. I'd *love* to be sitting on the bus to and from work, headphones hanging out of an iPad, doing loops of piano/drums/guitar/bass/strings/etc of whatever just popped into my head (and only because I can't very well plug in a mic and start singing while on the #550), then shipping that file to a more full featured workstation when I get home for further refinement and expansion.

Is GarageBand on the iPad the app for me?
posted by hincandenza at 11:59 AM on April 4, 2012

I think McFerrin's actually using a crowdsourced Mellotron there.
posted by sonascope at 12:01 PM on April 4, 2012

hincandenza - My go-to composition workstation on the commuter train is NanoStudio, which works great on my iPod Touch and my (1G) iPad, though for purely synthetic stuff, I use the iMS20, too (it's limited to monophonic lines, however). If you're more beat-y, you can do iMaschine, as demonstrated by the aforementioned Jamie Lidell, though it's more suited to the iPod/iPhone form factor. I don't use GarageBand, which is too crippled and consumer-driven for my tastes.

If you've got a few bucks to toss around and clear and happy memories of the eighties, there's always the Fairlight Pro app, which is pretty much a Fairlight Series II in an app, sans the iffy synthesis and filters.
posted by sonascope at 12:09 PM on April 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

My argument about this kinda stuff would be, that regardless of the actual musical content, you ought to be (like Theresa) a really stellar, charismatic/infectious peformer to pull this off and make it interesting.

While it may be impressive on some level, depending on what happens as a result, if it just looks like a person furiously twisting knobs and stepping on pedals, I won't really care. And then I'll say to myself "this person's time would be better spent making backing tracks, and figuring out what else they could do to impress themselves upon me as a live performer."

I really have nothing against backing tracks if they add to the context of a live show.
posted by bitterkitten at 12:14 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good point bitterkitten. Theresa Andersson is a stellar singer, fiddle player and all-around performer. I remember seeing her with Anders Osborne in 1995 when she was a wee child tearing it up on stage. Her one-person-band thing is just an extension of her already amazing talent. Of course I may be biased as I have a thing for Swedish women.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:25 PM on April 4, 2012

awesome. also, fucking dance, hipster kids!@#$%^
posted by es_de_bah at 1:31 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sigh—the Repeater's still just an amazing instrument, which is why its sad that they'll all just eventually fritz out of existence, one after another, until they're gone.

yes, this makes me sad. I do improvised live electronica and my performance style is completely dependent on the Repeater. I keep looking for a replacement but so far nothing has come along.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:20 PM on April 4, 2012

Someone needs to shoot paint balls at the people in that crowd. They make me want to go on a binge and pee all over them.
posted by Brocktoon at 5:43 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hate that kind of editing. Stay with one shot for more than one second, geez. Makes me crazy.

Also yes, that crowd. Wonder what it felt like for poor Kimbra to have to play to them.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:48 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jon Brion used to do (maybe he still does) a Friday residency at the Largo club in Los Angeles, where he would often create and perform original music using looping techniques like this. He would combine vocal performance with his ridiculous mastery of multiple instruments. I only went once, but it was pretty mindblowing.

An edited clip of one of his performances.
posted by kcalder at 2:17 AM on April 5, 2012

Oh man this is a good cover / mash up thing: Head Over Heels Vs. Two Weeks by Kimbra.
posted by chunking express at 7:27 AM on April 5, 2012

Re: the crowd at Kimbra's thing - I dunno if it was just those particular people, or what, but Austin audiences in general have always tended to be super reserved (been here 17 years) unless it's specifically a big audience of drunken party types or it's a dj dance fiesta. However, typically when each song is done, they shout and clap like mad, so it's not like they aren't appreciative. There's bunches of Austin City Limits performances where you can see this. Doesn't look all that awesome in videos, tho.
posted by bitterkitten at 7:47 AM on April 5, 2012

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