Not all hardware loopers are created equal. This is quickly discovered when you dive deeper into creating sonic architectures with time‑based effects. Some looping devices can be very basic, some geared towards a self‑accompanying singer‑songwriter, and others capable of entering another dimension.
Looping has been around for a while — long before musicians were looping using the ubiquitous big green box from 1999. Back in its earliest days, looping was achieved by creating a long delay‑line system with tape machines. ‘A Rainbow In Curved Air’ by Terry Riley from 1969 is a classic example: it was achieved by stringing the tape across two separated tape decks to achieve a time delay, which enabled him to continuously layer on top of what he had played a few seconds earlier. He named this system the Time Lag Accumulator. A diagram of this type of routing can be found on the back cover of Brian Eno’s album Discreet Music.
The late ’70s saw the release of the Fairlight CMI. This allowed you to record samples into its computer which then allowed the sample to be played back at any pitch along the keyboard, but the sample’s length would be stretched when pitched lower and compressed when playing higher.
Now, tying these concepts (and many more) into a single looping device brings me to the Electrix Repeater. Released in 2001, the Repeater still holds up as a unique, creative tool in 2023. Once I acquired mine in 2020, I was on the hunt for the 20‑year‑old software update for it that really expands the looper’s capabilities. An updated Repeater allows its four available tracks to become independent of each other: track 1 can be playing forwards as track 2 is in reverse and pitched down a fouth, while track 3’s playback is re‑triggered to create a stuttering effect, and so on…
Released in 2001, the Repeater still holds up as a unique, creative tool in 2023.
Like the Fairlight, the Repeater’s loops can be re‑pitched by playing them on a keyboard or sequencer connected via MIDI. The Repeater is able to re‑pitch the samples without stretching or compressing their length. The tempo button on the front panel allows for time‑stretching without changing the pitch of the recorded samples. Amazing glitch effects can be achieved with some simple MIDI mapping to trigger the play button or reverse playback.
Loops can also be stored onto a CF card to recall in a later session. One area modern‑day loopers fall short, I believe, is in their sample/recall capabilities. Generally, you either have a sampler aimed at the DJ/tabletop musician, or a looper geared towards instrumentalists. The Repeater, which was made with both DJs and musicians in mind, really captures the best of both worlds.
A beautiful example of the Repeater being played in real time is on David Bowie’s opening track to the album Heathen, ‘Sunday’. Here, long‑time Repeater user, brilliant guitarist and sonic pioneer David Torn (who kindly sent me that 20‑year‑old software update) is playing both guitar and Repeater. He’s seamlessly changing the pitch of his recorded loops to the chord changes and stuttering the playback to create haunting glitch effects.
As an improvising musician, this device has allowed me endless expression and exploration in my own music. Even after 22 years, the Repeater remains at the top of its game.