In the new Scottish folk-inspired musical Islander (playing on Seattle Rep's Leo K. stage October 20–November 19), the two actors on stage are able to layer their voices and make soundscapes using a recording technology and process called looping. What is looping, and how does it work?
According to musical instrumentation site Native Instruments, looping in music refers to “the repetition of a musical phrase or section, creating a continued musical texture.” Looping is a technique used in many music genres, from electronic dance music to acoustic, group to solo performances. This process allows a musician to record one phrase of music, and then layer their (or another person’s) voice directly over it to create harmonies or overlapping, repeated sounds. Artists can also make other noise effects—such as ocean waves, sharp yells, beatbox rhythms—that will repeat over and over again in the same way.
With live looping, as performed in Islander, the audience gets to watch the artists on stage record their musical phrases and layer their voices in real time. In this show, the actors use a looping station with a foot pedal. They step on the pedal to start and end each phrase as it’s recorded into a microphone, and use the loop station to control which recorded phrases play when and manage volume. The actors control the entire soundscape!
It helps to experience looping in action to understand how it works. Watch a few video examples of musicians looping live below.