I remember making cassette loops in high school, hunched over the plastic guts of a disemboweled Maxell, splicing together bits of brown magnetic tape and piecing everything together with a jeweler’s screwdriver. I’d hear the murmur of my parents and sitcom laugh tacks downstairs before putting on my headphones to retreat into a jacked Funkadelic or Public Enemy loop. A few years later I spent hours at the college radio station recording the hiss and crackle at the end of old 45s, messing with the equalizer and believing I was visionary. I listened to these loops nonstop for a week while walking along railroad tracks after midnight. I lost the tape after I moved out of the YMCA and I mourned as if I’d lost a masterpiece, although I’m sure I’d be embarrassed if it ever resurfaced.

I don’t have memories like these when I use digital software to make music. I copy, paste, drag, and zoom to get the sounds I want. This feels like office work. I’m not a musician but I like to loop old songs while I write. I’ll grab a snippet of a record or a bit of AM radio fuzz and let the machines run while I scribble in my notebook, occasionally adding another layer or adjusting the delay length. This ritual stabilizes me; I may have discovered a replacement for cigarette breaks.

There are too many possibilities in front of the screen. I have a folder with 12,675 different drum samples and my eyes glaze as I scroll through endless files, paralyzed by choice. Our digital age of infinite options must have some limitations, even if they’re artificially imposed. I miss the memories and chatter that bubbled in the back of my head while working with tape decks, knobs, and cables. I don’t hear these thoughts while I sit in front of a monitor. So I picked up a couple of guitar pedals and bought a cheap tape recorder at a Walmart in Mississippi (the last one, sitting on the bottom shelf covered in years of dust). My first effort is a busted loop built from a bit of sludgy John Coltrane with a shot of Connie Francis plus plenty of static and reverb. I let this loop run all afternoon, gathering steam before pressing the red circle for eleven minutes. Not much happens besides some shifting levels and and delay fiddling, but I think it’s a nice groove for writing or thinking about writing.

Connie & Coltrane at the End of Time

From American Decay | 2015 | Download

This track appears on American Decay, a collection of loops and reverberations recorded between 2009 and 2014.