What Is A Loop In Music:what does it mean to us?


I am currently getting ready to present a paper at the university of Liege with my colleague Ben Challis. It is  entitled

The Impossible Made Real: A Typology of Loops and an exploration of the impact of immediacy and hypermediacy in Popular Music.

Now in the closing stages of the conclusion, I am comparing two key opinions on how repetition works. The first is a minimalist mantra often credited to Brian Eno, which goes something like –  ‘repetition as a form of change’? For example, although a loop may repeat indefinitely, the time and circumstance through which it is experienced changes. In other words our listening experiences can evolve during the course of listening to a piece, or perhaps as a performer we may respond to the loop stimulus differently as time goes by.

My big question is how does this resonate with Roland Barthes’ view that ‘The bastard form of mass culture is a humiliated repetition’. He continued ‘always new books, new programmes, new films, news items, but always the same meaning’ (Barthes 1975: 24).

According to Barthes, we are duped into thinking music (and other forms of media) are giving us different experiences, but the reality is they are a subliminal  form  of repetition. This is a similar to Adorno’s view that all popular music is ‘standardised’.

So, when listening to the beginning of a piece such as In C by Terry Riley, does the experience precipitate an evolving and profound meaning, that changes during the course of listening to it, and each time we experience it? Or, is it simply a ‘bastard from of mass culture’, which evokes essentially the same meaning each time we experience it?

Letters on a postcard!

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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2 Responses to What Is A Loop In Music:what does it mean to us?

  1. Joe says:

    Hi Paul. I have an ARP paper that mentions loops as artifacts of songwriting ergonomics (band jamming or sequencer software). Will send this. I don’t think ‘In C’ has a place in this discussion because (a) it’s not popular music and (b) musically, it’s not about looping: it’s about ‘phase’. The loops are just part of the mechanics of its performance. I do find Barthes’ view fascinating though, given that I’ve been trying to offer explanations for the inherent conservatism in popular song form.


  2. carza says:

    Thanks Joe. Would love a copy of your paper. After the conference is finished I will be knocking this into shape for publication. I see your point about the phase/loop of In C. I personally think it about more than phasing as it has so much player autonomy – therefore improvisation. We will have to chat about it sometime.


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