Disintegrating Loops

A few days ago I posted about Giovanni Lami, but I think it’s better to create a new thread to discuss general disintegration techniques for audio loops. Artists like William Basinski or Giovanni Lami are working mostly with analog tape recorders and objects like sandpaper or razor blades to degrade the tape over time.
I would be interested if any of you explored this technique – either with tape recorders or other digital/analog tools? Some building blocks like wow, flutter, distortion or lowpass EQing are obvious and common, but but there has to be more to recreate this magic, if that’s possible at all.


Not yet tried but there are few techniques shown in this video from Hainbach…


I just experimenting with disintegrating loop experiments this past weekend while at a retreat (there was a talent show that I was doing sound and lighting for…). I’m a Eurorack guy. So I was using an envelope filtered violin (autowah style) as the sound source and a Reflex Liveloop as my delay with a Rossum Morpheus filter in its feedback path. Can’t remember the precise settings on the filter, but it cut the low end on the repeats in a most pleasing fashion.

Years ago on a TV science show I saw someone make their own tape out of (sticky) tape and rust. From time to time I’ve wondered if going that way would be a good time: make something new but which will probably be quite crap and liable to degrade quickly.


There are a lot of online demonstrations of this thing called “generation loss” in various formats, with sometimes fascinating results (to my ears, anyway).
VHS tape:

A variety of .mp3 codecs:

That sounds nuts. I wonder if you can glue iron filings onto tape and record onto it.

His teeth get more terrifying with every pass (while he’s still visible).

Loopop made this video a couple of months ago that covers this

I have been using this technique for a while, with the difference being that I do it all ITB (in Live)


How do you do it? This video is mostly about the basics (LFO, layering, phasing…). I’m mostly interested in the magic that happens with one pure physical tape loop – and if it’s possible to replicate this without using tape.

I’ve been making tape loops and exposing them to direct sunlight in varying degrees to see how much the heat/light can breakdown the tape. There has definitely been a tangible difference, but it is hard to articulate. My thought is that I might make a longer loop (20 seconds or so) leave it out and record the results each day for the period of like 30 days to see what becomes of it.


Obligatory post of this classic example in audio:

And an homage using the lossy compression YouTube applies when you upload a video:

I like this kind of thing a lot and I think it would be really interesting to play with digital loops as well as physical media. Like a loop with a controlled probability of introducing a bit error somewhere each time the loop repeats, or some other artifact. In digital systems I suppose you have to simulate the exact parameters of the kind of degradation you want, studying how to model sandpapered / baked magnetic tape (or heated vinyl? or weird artifacts you can probably introduce by messing with an oil can delay?) seems quite interesting.


I’ve done disintegration-ish style loops using Enso looper in AUM on the iPad.
I record a loop, usually overdubbing a few times with high overdub rate. Then remove the source audio. Then you can punch in and out at various points and you will slowly strip away the previously recorded audio (you’re recording over it with nothing). If you do this judiciously you end up with a disintegrating loop with bits of the loop having faded out audio interspersed with crackles and pops (You could probably automate this last part of punching in record using MIDI routing and another app).


I wonder if you could get precision audio destruction in this style by using a high(ish)-power laser pointer on the tape - this could conceivably yield some very interesting cuts/peaks/pops, assuming the damage was regulated so as to not physically melt the tape to the point of destruction.


@instantjuggler and I did a music and circus workshop where there was a section exploring various performative physical abuses of tape loops.

44:20 dang, I wish I had this loop still

there’s a final piece that came out of this, @instantjuggler where’s the final vid?


I made some disintegration loop patches with ZOIA, which is pretty easy to accomplish by feeding the delay-line module back into itself. Then you can add the effects you desire to make the loop age. But it even disintegrates without any fx after a long period of time.

It does not sound like tape, but it sounds pretty sweet to my ears. Just a different flavor of loop aging.


I’ll second enso loop for it’s ability to dub in place while adding saturation and filter. I’ve had also really good results with the Cocoquantus where if the feedback levels are high enough, it can take minutes with the loopers recording to squelch out into silence.


W/ is very viable candidate for this method!


I think the Strymon El Capistan is excellent for this kind of thing.

The last show I played, I had this amazing moment where I just stopped playing (guitar) for about two minutes and listened to this drone I had going in the El Capistan that was just magical.

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just gonna chime in that W/ does this pretty well with modulation on the record head attenuation (THAT). takes a little time to get a loop “there” but definitely gets there.


Also, if your play speed is set slow with W/, it will down sample incoming audio if I remember correctly. (Slow “tape” speed, lower sample rate)