Early tape loop experiments with Eno, Fripp, Terry Riley, and Pauline Oliveros

As a huge Eno fan, I was always fascinated by the idea of Frippertronics. This process (made famous by the album (No Pussyfooting) by Brian Eno and Robert Fripp) used two tape decks, situated a small distance from each other. The tape travels from the supply reel of the first machine to the take-up reel of the second machine. In addition, the sound is recorded on the first machine, and played back on the second machine. By adjusting the distance between the machines, and by feeding the output of the second machine back to the record head of the first machine, very long delays can be achieved (on the order of several seconds), where the delays feedback away at a very slow rate. Put the right input into such a system, and the result can be very ethereal:

Delving deeper into the history of looping, I found that Eno and Fripp’s work had been preceded (by a good decade) by the work of Terry Riley. Riley had first used the feedback tape loop technique in 1963, in “Music for ‘The Gift’”:

In this piece, Riley fed recordings of the Chet Baker Quartet into a tape loop system, to create a disorientating effect. Several years later, Riley would use a feedback tape loop system to create improvisations with a Farfisa organ, as featured in “A Rainbow in Curved Air”:

Pauline Oliveros also experimented with feedback tape loops. In her 1965 composition, “Bye Bye Butterfly,” Oliveros made use of swept oscillators (and the difference tones between them), tape echo, and classical snippets to create a dense, beautiful ambiance:

It is interesting to contrast Oliveros early electronic work with her performances with the Deep Listening Band (as described in a previous blog post). Both the early electronic work and the later acoustic work create sustained sound through the use of delay and reverb, but Oliveros’ current work relies upon the lengthy reverb of unusual acoustic spaces.