For all the sophisticated synthesis and remix tools out there, for a lot of musicians, the best thing sound technology can do is just give them a way to record and play. Looping is a simple technique – it involves recording a snippet of sound, playing it back, and then adding layers. But used masterfully, it can become transformative, producing rhythms and layers and letting solo artists accompany themselves.

“How do I get started looping?” is a question I hear from a lot of musicians, particularly those who are already expressive with their instruments and voice. There’s a technical answer to that question, involving something like the Loop Station from BOSS. But before you skip ahead to what to buy at your music store, it’s best to have some musical ideas.

And so, our weekend inspiration today comes from K Ishibashi aka Kishi Bashi, the Japanese-American virtuoso looper, who mixes a variety of instruments and spectacular, present voice. National Public Radio, the listener-supported broadcaster from the United States, has an intimate look at his work and shares the video above. It’s worth listening to the full radio piece (streaming worldwide free), as Kishi Bashi picks apart his process and explains what he’s doing.

Part of what I like best about what he’s doing is the rhythmic invention, in the snippets themselves and the layers. And even something as simple as doubling the speed can have a huge impact.

For those new to live looping techniques, it’ll be eye-opening. And even for more advanced loopers, Kishi Bashi’s chops should give you some encouragement to hone your craft.

Kishi Bashi: Unique Performances In Time

It inspires me to look for ways of covering looping and other live performance techniques better here. From Ableton’s built-in facility to homebrewed Pd patches to pedals and plug-ins and the lot, there are many angles one could take technically, even before the all-important musical issues. So if you have some ideas of what you’d like to see, let us know.

BOSS, for their part, has held international looping competitions to judge users of their ubiquitous pedal. But there are other ways to go, as well.

  • Growl32

    Andrew Birdish

  • Signal To Noise

    Peter, thanks for posting this. Very cool.

    First Kishi Bashi is inspiring for all the right reasons — it is his music that is compelling, not just his musical technique. Those are consistently the best artists, IMNSHO. Other equally inspiring Live Looping musicians include, amongst others, Zoe Keating, The Walker Brothers (Bill Walker, guitar, and/or Rick Walker, percussion), Kid Beyond, and even more popular artists from time to time, like Imogen Heap.

    Second, THE online Mecca for all things related to Live Looping is Loopers Delight. The LD website ( contains many resources, including reviews of a good many pieces of looping hardware.  However, the real treasure trove is the Loopers Delight Mailing List, which is still extremely active and has been hosting discussions of all sorts of looping topics since the mid-90’s.  Beginners are always welcome, and plenty of experts are on there willing to help.

    Finally, there are lots of other options out there instead of the Boss loopers.  I know you’re probably mentioning them here because they’re rather ubiquitous (primarily because of Boss’ distribution channel) and can be easily found.  However, the RC-series loopers have, in my opinion, a major design flaw in that they only allow you to build up layer upon layer upon layer, with no easy way to *subtract* older layers from the mix — a function often called “feedback” on many full-featured loopers. 

     Listen to many of the demos for the Boss loopers or competition entries and you’ll hear what I mean (that is, if they don’t cut off the demo before this phenomena becomes obvious).  Beginning and moderately experienced Looping musicians have a tendency to keep adding layer upon layer until they’ve jammed up every frequency of the audible spectrum, and inadvertently build themselves up into an aural train wreck with no way out but to crash the whole thing off the rails (i.e. just stop the darn thing and start over again from the beginning).  Advanced loopers know how to watch for this and develop strategies to get around it, but you’re not going to know that just starting out.

    Feedback is one function that automatically allows older layers to gracefully fade out in the background, so that there is room in the sonic spectrum for newer material to be layered on, and is an easy way to avoid such train wrecks.  The Boss RC-series loopers (with the exception of the RC-50, for which there is a hack using patch cables in the aux outs) just can’t do this, however.

    To be fair, many other mainstream loopers, like the Digitech units, are similarly crippled, so check for that before you buy.

    For someone just beginning to experiment with Looping, I’d also recommend picking up the good old Line 6 DL-4 stompbox (or one of the newer Line 6 multi-effect units).  Not only does that one incorporate a good simple looper with a solid implementation, but if somebody decides that Looping is not really their thing, they’ll still have an excellent modeled delay unit they can do something with.

    Also, if someone wants a more sophisticated “mid-range” unit that they can grow into, both the Looperlative LP-2 and the Boomerang 3 units are good choices, for instance.  And of course, the upper model Line 6 multi-effects I mentioned previously.  I just usually don’t personally recommend the Boss units, though.

    • Peter Kirn

      Yes, precisely, the Boss was just one example – and I spotted the box for one in the video. 

      I’d be interested to know what you consider an optimal feature set spec for loopers, as I was thinking of building a sample patch in Pd. If you give me a rough idea, I’ll upload it to GitHub and then let others modify it with what they want.

      (PS, that *could* mean running Pd on things that behave more like hardware pedals, thanks to all the embedded Linux stuff we now have access to. Though I like the more conventional hardware pedals, too.) 

    • PaulDavisTheFirst

      it could also mean using your existing trusty laptop or shuttle-box computer with a $110 behringer FCB-1010 pedal (possibly the best thing they ever made) and SooperLooper running on the laptop. if you already have the laptop, this is the best $/feature looping option i’m aware of.

      of course, live looping tools are very much a personal choice, and as noted by a comment below, you have to trust them 100%.

    • Jesse Engel

      Hey Peter, thanks for the looper highlight. I think this is a not so small segment of the CDM reader base and it’s nice to see some focus.

      I thought I’d chime in on your pd ambitions. There are many very good, free, currently existing  software loopers (sooperlooper, mobius, etc.). However, one of the main features lacking from almost all software and hardware loopers is sound on sound recording (Overdub, feedback, etc.) with realtime timestretching (changing tempo without changing pitch). I’ve tried looping with bands for many years, and this would dramatically improve any setup as you could sync the loops to the band instead of expecting the other way around which kills creativity and doesn’t allow for tempo variations. Aparently the Electrix repeater used to do it, but the company went defunct a few years ago. Ableton does timestretching, but not with the sound on sound looper. SooperLooper and Mobius do great sos looping, but inferior timestretching. I contacted Jeff @ Mobius to try to get him to incorporate the free Dirac algorithms, and it would be a powerful combination if he ever got around to doing it.  Several people have tried making pd or max patches, and the basic functionality is fairly straightforward, but some of the details of syncing and windowing loops start to become maddening when not working at the sample rate. I (perhaps unadvisedly [It’s a lot of work :)] ) have been writing a Max4Live device for the past couple of months now using the DiracLE~ external for time stretching. It does timestretching, overdub, multiply (change loop length), and pitchshifting fairly well at the moment. I’m now stuck on doing overdubs after timestretching and the possibilty of rewriting using multiple buffers.If you or any other CDMers would like to take a look, help out, or use it as a starting place, I’ll upload it to to share. 

    • nckn

      hi jesse, i would love to have a look at your efforts. can’t promise to contribute, but maybe give some constructive feedback. would be great if you could post a link for thanks a lot!! 

    • Michael Wenstrup

      I agree whole-heartedly that there seems to be very little interest in integrating quality (or even not quality!) realtime tempo and pitch changes into software and hardware loopers. I understand the limitations of hardware devices, but I would love to see some sort of implementation of this. I have seen it in circuit-bent devices, and the sounds that can be made are wild.

      I looked into the Electrix Repeater a while back, and it just seems like it was a bit ahead of it’s time. They surface every once in a while on ebay, but I would have to think getting them serviced is a paaaaaiiiin. The features that thing had were just unbelievable, I cant think of a looper that currently offers a similar set, althought the EH 2880, Boomerang 3, and LP-2 (although prohibitively expensive for me) each have a few key ones.

      Im not an M4L user, but I have some friends that are, so if you want to put up your patches I would love to take a look. I feel like with the creativity and resourcrs out there today, it shouldn’t be beyond our abilities to create something with the pitch/tempo warping features that a record player had 100 years ago…

    • Peter Kirn

      Also, amazing comment! Thanks!

    • Michael Wenstrup

      Hey S2N, I am in the same camp as you when it comes to the feature search; I started with a DD-6, moved to a Headrush, then Headrush + DL4, and now I have the Boomerang 3. I absolutely LOVE the sound quality, the multiple modes, stereo connectivity, and the editing (Copy/Undo/etc.) features.

      I am interested to see how you use the feedback function, I have experimented with it, but found it a little too unwieldy to incorporate for more than a few particular moments. Can you point me towards some songs/videos where you/others use this? I feel like it is one of the few features I have really yet to explore. I understand they have a mod where the feedback can be controlled by an expression pedal, something I’d like to try as well.

      It would be cool if CDM would feature some of the more interesting musicians using loopers, I for one havent seen anybody doing stuff as cool as DOSH was doing a few years back:

      He has contributed to a few Andrew Bird albums and often joins him live, its quite an experience!

  • gbsr

    shit man, that was amazing.

  • Mike Baker

    “It inspires me to look for ways of covering looping and other live
    performance techniques better here. From Ableton’s built-in facility to
    homebrewed Pd patches to pedals and plug-ins and the lot, there are many
    angles one could take technically, even before the all-important
    musical issues. So if you have some ideas of what you’d like to see, let
    us know.”

    Hey Peter – excited to see you potentially focusing CDM a little on this area. I’d love to see (selfishly) some information on Ableton use by more traditional (for lack of a better word) musicians. Obviously, the app makes instant sense for DJs and electronic musicians, and the web is awash in tutorials aimed at this audience.

    However, if you’re more of a singer/songwriter – particularly if you’re a guitarist relegated to using your feet to interact with the app – you’re probably finding a surprisingly large absence of how-to information related to Ableton, controllers, translator apps, hacks, etc.

    Some interviews and inside information on _exactly_ how artists like Kid Beyond, Zoe Keating, Gavin Castleton etc. conceptualize and then build their Ableton-centered live looping rigs would be awesome. And if all this puts some pressure on Ableton to make some teensy weensy tweaks to their next version of Live, to make it more useful for this type of performer, well then, that might be nice too….;)

  • teej


    This performance reminds me just how much is at stake in a live loop piece. Playing a solo instrument or just singing are terrifying enough on their own, but you are now adding this element (the looper) which can very much make or break the entire performance with one wrong step, literally. You would really need to completely trust your tool of choice, having to use it effortlessly while also ignoring it enough to be able to fully play your instrument and sing your ass off. Very impressive.

  • Tekknovator

    wow, I was listening to kishi bashi because he popped up on bandcamp somewhere. I liked the songs on their own, but it is great to know what an amazing musician is behind the project… Also an interrestin discussion! Looping is not my favorite technique, but interesting.