This video shows Lee Ranaldo, of the late Sonic Youth, earlier this year performing a short, two-minute improvisation for looping pedals. It’s a test run of a piece of equipment, a hardware looper made by the company TC Electronic, and I was watching it to consider including the clip in the video playlist of ambient performances I started yesterday. The playlist grew out of my increasing attention to YouTube videos over the past year or so. That attention coincided with my getting into making music, into learning more about the tools and techniques employed by the musicians I write about and increasingly, through the Junto and my projects as a music supervisor, work with.
I spend a lot of time watching video tutorials. Often the music in these tutorials — for hardware and software — isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t remotely what I’m interested in myself trying to play. Given much the equipment I’ve been exploring (the OP-1, a small DJ console, a Monome, and a modular synthesizer rig, for example), it’s often glossy EDM or strict-meter techno that I find myself required to listen to while learning what a given knob on a piece of equipment does. Guitar pedal videos in particular are given over to arpeggio-crazed pop-metal and roots rock. (I have the lowest-cost version of the looper Ranaldo is testing in the video.) Occasionally, though, you’ll find someone like Ranaldo, an outsider to rote pop techniques, in the YouTube feed.
The “ambient performances” playlist began as me working backwards — rather than locating ethereal/ambient/experimental videos in the channels of equipment companies, I would instead look at live performance videos of ethereal/ambient/experimental musicians and pay attention to what equipment they’re using (often enough the comments to a given video will surface such factoids — the Ranaldo video comments, for example, unpack other equipment at his feet). I’m not sure the Ranaldo clip will make the Ambient Performances playlist, as it gets a little raucous toward the end, but no matter. It’s enticing to watch him develop the piece one layer at a time.