AMULETS is Randall Taylor, a one-man experimental looping ambient artist out of Austin, Texas who works with tape loops and guitar. And to start off the year, Randall wants to show you a key element of his technique – making tape loops from cassette tapes.

Tape loops, as associated with the likes of Steve Reich, began mainly on reel-to-reel decks. Using a cassette means some more precise surgery. There’s the cassette housing to contend with, mainly – which means disassembling and then (importantly) re-assembling a delicate plastic case. And the tape itself is smaller, too – 0.15 inches rather than 0.25 inches.

But there are some advantages to working this way. Apart from the ready availability of cassettes and the ease with which you can record on them, you win up with the loop on a self-contained cassette.

And whether or not you venture into the world of splicing cassette tape, you owe it to yourself to listen to AMULETS’ music. The sounds are fragile, rough-hewn, guitars melting into gaping chasms and caves, as if he’s sculpting with the tentative magnetic particles of the tapes.

It’s sure to earn some comparisons to other ambient varieties, but there’s some unique sensibility here. And he’s insanely prolific, carving out tape releases in a steady stream.

To layer the sounds, he uses dual four-track recorders, as in this video for National Public Radio in the USA. I bristle a little at how not using a computer has become a band of honor, but here, it’s necessary to understanding the physical reality of what you’re hearing and the directness with which he composes. That Tascam is his axe as much as the guitar, and so it’s fittingly memorialized in enamel pins and album artwork.

There’s a surprising treasure trove of tape music and tape loop how-to’s on YouTube, covering just about every conceivable technique and hardware. You’re liable to be able to plan around whatever used hardware you’ve rummaged, rather than the other way around.

One of the best comes from Chris Randall, aka both the mastermind behind Analog Industries / Audio Damage / blog plug-ins and modular hardware and a gifted musician himself. For the high-end loop, you get to do this one with a Nagra:

It’s funny, actually: this kind of tape imperfection is as I understand it genuinely one of the hardest things to model in the digital realm. I think it probably would be valuable to get better models, as you could imagine sound degradation that could never exist in the real world. But here, it might miss the point anyway: these pieces are kinetic sculptures and live magneto-mechanical instruments, not just particular sounds.

I love this ensemble ambient work:

AMULETS has you well covered on social media identities; find them all on his site:

http://www.amuletsmusic.com/

  • fluffy

    nothing new under the sun.
    lots of ambient buddies like tape imperfection & magic from some years ago. also using again these techniques & old tape devices….especially marcus fischer, who deserve more attention, imho.

    • Mmmm… wait a minute, if someone were to post a “here’s how to play chords on the guitar” video on YouTube, for free, would your first response be “yeah, but you’re no Eric Clapton”?

      • Basically, yes.

      • fluffy

        no offense here, and all my respect to the article/artist. just saying there are more people doing amazing (looped) stuff with tape, from william basinski to jérôme noetinger.

        and no, i don´t like clapton, i prefer derek bailey 😉

    • Teetons Friar

      Have you finished stroking your chin yet?

    • wndfrm

      hey! marcus is a good friend, and yes, he deserves way more attention. i am often running sound for him at local shows here in pdx.. always a treat.. one of my favourite performances involved a super long loop suspended by balloons =D

  • Brian

    The while cutting if cassette is what makes this interesting back in the 90s I used turntables and casetttes with guitars but I didn’t cut tales had a drum machine and 8 but sampler for loops

    • Teetons Friar

      Reading this made my head hurt and my nipples ACHE.

  • DPrty

    Nice!

  • Awesome concept/technique…

    • wndfrm

      you’re joking right?? cassettes are a pretty hot commodity these days.. and have been for the last 5 years or so.. tons of small labels are thriving on the format, they offer an analog format that has unique (ahem) characteristics, and cheap reproduction…

      • wndfrm

        eh? i was responding to a totally different comment.. odd..

  • James Husted

    I used to be in a three-piece synth band back in the late 70’s (Young Scientist) and each of us had a reel to reel as part of our setups. Samplers were rare and very expensive. We did tons of loops using the R2Rs with loops hanging from them (sometimes upside down decks so the loops would hang right), and sometimes loops between decks in a Fripp/Eno sort of arrangement. You are correct, the saturation and distortion in tape decks is hard to emulate. They are a mechanical nightmare over time though. If I was to do this with cassette tape, I would definitely try and find a splicing block (cut at 45 degrees too) and definitely find some splicing TAPE too. Using scotch tape is asking for trouble over time. The adhesive will leach and it will eventually stick to the capstan and really gum up the works. There are still plenty of companies selling splicing tapes and blocks for cassette tape. A google search will show you plenty.

    • shemraq

      that’s cool

  • Armando

    Had no idea this guy lived in my town. Going to check out his next show, this is rad. Thanks for the heads up Peter!

  • Loowfizzz

    oh yes thanks for the heads up! perfect for the cold days.

  • lala

    It’s like hopping into a time machine to go back to the dark ages of the 80s.
    In my mind I see people running around with shoulder pad, permanent waves and to much eyeliner.
    While I like activities that make no sense this is to retro for my taste.
    Why not stay on topic of this blog?
    Create DIGITAL music/motion

    • Polite Society

      Why not just accept an article on a beautiful esoteric technique for what it is?