Loop Orchestra Not Overtly Orchestral Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

In a time when contemporary electronic music is dominated by the use of laptops, it's...

Peter Marsh 2004

In a time when contemporary electronic music is dominated by the use of laptops, it's some kind of statement to create music solely from analogue tape loops. Still, this project stretches back some 20-odd years, so maybe this adherence to now-vintage technology is just a result of a will to completely explore its possibilities rather than a rejection of all things glitchy and granular.

Though the concept of the loop is intrinsic to much electronic music, one made from tape has its own distinct qualities. It's a physical process, full of capstans, razor blades, motors and perilous Heath Robinson contraptions involving huge lengths of tape, bottles and weights to keep it in motion. And it's a physical skill to operate them; anyone watching Delia Derbyshire on BBC Four's Alchemists of Sound documentary effortlessly syncing up four identical length loops could tell you that.

The Loop Orchestra don't go for that level of precision, but there's undoubted skill in their dense, vibrant constructions. The original concept was to mimic a real orchestra using loops, but the title of this album sums up their approach here. In fact the openingtitle track is a bit orchestral, though swamped with shortwave radio static and increasingly fractured, distorted bursts of strings, organ and guitar.

Loops emerge into the mix or disappear almost subliminally, and their differing lengths means that their rhythmic relationships are always in flux. This results in some wonderfully unlocked grooves, as on the lovely "Radiophony", where bells, strangely recessed percussives and flutterings of cheap electric organ combine to form the most attractive music here. Likewise, "Gam" lives up to the gamelan reference implicit in its title, in a miniature of piled up clangs and chimes.

Here, the Orchestra evoke the ethnological forgeries that Zoviet France were constructing back in the 80s, or the grainy vinyl manipulations of Phil Jeck. But on the final "Profiles", they shift tack and leave us with an unnerving collage of screams, weeping and groaning, sometimes accompanied by buzzing horns, a ritualistic drum or wobbly, hysterical violin. Loops of field recordings give the whole thing a stong sense of narrative, though quite a strange one. It's disturbing stuff, and not something you'll want to play if you've got a cat in the room.

The Loop Orchestra leave their sounds as they are; no effects are added, save for a spot of mixing. Hiss, wow and flutter (that's not the name of the new Kraftwerk line-up by the way) are all there, and sounding fine. You end up thinking that this music couldn't have been produced any other way, and maybe not by anyone else at all. Which can't be a bad thing. Lovely.

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