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: