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Introductory Loop-Making

Another weekend experiment

Another little weekend project straight out of any Electronic Music 101 textbook: make a tape loop with an old cassette. I’d never done this before. The cassette tape is from an old batch of unused 90-minute Maxells I have on hand. The loop was recorded on a Panasonic Standard Cassette Transcriber RR-830, a relic of when I’d record interviews on physical cassette and then transcribe from those cassettes. That Panasonic device has a foot pedal, which used to make the start/stop process of transcription a tiny bit more bearable, especially because it can micro-rewind an adjustable amount with each pause.

The audio of my first tape loop came out OK on the first try — I recorded a short strum on an acoustic guitar — but there was an issue with playback on the RR-830: After two or three cycles through the loop, it would come to a stop. I had high hopes of using the RR-830 in a performance setting, given the potential for that foot pedal, along with other attributes of the device, like control over tone and playback speed. (Another issue: there was a not so little gap in the audio, and it was suggested to me to record the audio first on a longer stretch of tape, and to then make the loop from a subset of that tape. I’ll try this approach next time.)

At first I thought the issue with the playback ending on the Panasonic had to do with a poor job on my part constructing the cassette. So, I took it apart and made it more taut by trimming the length of the tape a bit, as well as reinserting the second plastic reel. Still, the Panasonic ceased playing after two or three cycles. To test the newly refined tape loop, I put the cassette in the old, bright yellow Sony “Sports” Walkman, and it played well, over and over and over. Perhaps there’s a setting on the RR-830 that will make it less sensitive, and therefore capable of playing the loop on repeat dependably.

Making the loop was more painstaking a process than I’d expected, even after advance warnings from various experienced people. The standard cassette tape has loose parts, held in only thanks to the tension supplied by five tiny screws. In addition, getting the tape to the correct length, and connecting it into one continuous piece, requires a level of dexterity almost — but, fortunately, not quite — beyond my manual dexterity. I got it to work, which was a lot of fun in the end. The sound quality is excellent, which is to say it is rich with texture, not high-fidelity.

And if you want to try it out, the tape-oriented musician who goes by the name Amulets has a helpful video on YouTube. There’s also a good tutorial at instructables.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , / Comments: 5 ]

5 Comments

  1. Patrick
    [ Posted October 29, 2018, at 7:44 am ]

    Hi Marc, I was looking at the RR-830, did you get the loops to play nonstop on it? Or did you find anything that seems to affect this behavior or stopping after a few loops?

    Thanks, Patrick

    • Marc Weidenbaum
      [ Posted October 31, 2018, at 2:39 pm ]

      Hi, Patrick. I never got the loops to play non-stop on that device. The only variable I tweaked was the length of the loop, and neither tighter nor looser seemed to have any effect, unfortunately.

  2. Joshua A.C. Newman
    [ Posted July 22, 2020, at 11:08 am ]

    Hey, folks, the reason the loops stop is that the non-drive wheel is slack and there’s a sensor to make sure it’s turning. It’s how the auto-stop works. Anything you do that makes both wheels turn, from modding the deck to running a rubber band between the reels, will allow it to loop.

  3. Caleb P.
    [ Posted February 16, 2021, at 4:24 pm ]

    Thanks for your article! I just picked up one of these machines a few weeks ago to experiment with tape looping. After some monkeying around with the machine itself, I opted to toy with the cassette itself to fix the auto-stop issue. You can check out a detailed explanation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXkkQCQ1zok

    • Marc Weidenbaum
      [ Posted February 16, 2021, at 10:46 pm ]

      Stupendous. Thanks so much for having shared this, Caleb. I’ll give it a try.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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