Who does not love exploring the musical warp and weft of minimalist music? I know I do and Steve Reich is a particular favourite.

In the good old analogue days I would make a large (room size) loop of magnetic tape and run that through half a dozen assorted old tape recorders arranged around my room – with some intricate Meccano constructions to keep the tape taught and moving. With some recorders set to play the sound and others to record the sounds played a sound recorded as the tape passed through one recorder would be replayed when that portion of tape reached the next tape recorder and re-recorded on other tape recorders. Thus building interesting delays and overlaps of sounds.

Reich’s experiments revealed that two loops containing the same sounds could be started playing together but one, from slight mechanical variation, would slowly fall behind the other thus creating interesting shifts in the combined sound. He used this technique for both constructed tape pieces and composed pieces such as Clapping Music

As we moved from the analogue world to a digital world one no longer had to mess about with bits of tape. Reich once observed that where he would spend a month splicing bits off tape together to construct a piece you could now do the same thing on your laptop over a couple of evenings – while watching TV.

One of the best tools for such sonic experimentation is Reaktor which has a an extensive library of User created instruments – several of which are inspired by Reich’s work such as..

Reich Tape Looper:

and It’s Gonna Grain (a play on Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain) and Reichatron which I used for Purple Shift – using two identical loops with one slowly drifting out of sync until it completes its orbit and ends up back where it started


Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed:

But of course the repeating patterns of minimalism is not everyone’s idea of good music and the maximalist Frank Zappa found it ripe for parody with Spontaneous Minimalist Music Composition…

Who does not love messing about building software synthesisers? I know I do and a basic component for these are oscillators.

Oscillators are used in all manner of things but it is the wobbly wobbly oscillations that can be used to produce a sound that are of most interest. Such things have been around since the late 1800s but today one can recreate their functions with computer software. Here is a simple example I made using the excellent Audulus app.

Who does not love the confluence of coding and music? I know I do and live coding adds a performance element to the process.

Live coding involves writing code that is producing music from scratch and editing and changing the code as the music develops.

As can be seen here once values are changed the revised code is passed to the computer for processing (when it flashes pink) and the revised music is played…

There are an increasing number of languages available for live coding. The above example is Sonic Pi which is probably the easiest to start with as it comes as a ready to go app and does not require any faffing around in the Terminal etc. Others include ChucK, Alda, Extempore which grew out of impromptu (Mac only) etc. There is some debate as to whether graphical languages count as coding but I say they do so that is the end of that debate.

Here is an excellent demonstration of the process by Andrew Sorensen using Extempore…

So that this A to Z thing does not become a catalogue of old records L is definitely not for the greatest record ever made…

Who does not love a bit of Bebop? I know I do and one of the first Bebop records was Ko Ko by Charlie Parker.

Bebop grew out of a desire to break away from the swing and dance bands popular at the time. The young (early 20s) Charlie Parker’s experimentations allowed his to improvise over a melody with out being tied to its structure. From 1942 to 1944, the time that Bebop was taking off, there was a musician’s strike that stopped them working for record companies. In 1945 Parker and his band recorded Ko Ko. Miles Davis, then 19, was the band’s trumpet player but it is thought that Dizzy Gillespie played on the recording as Davis struggled with the piece although he is included on this broadcast version…

Who does not love eccentricity? I know I do and Ivor Cutler was an acceptable role model.

Ivor Cutler

Jammy Smears was one of his mid 1970s albums. During that period he was frequently featured on John Peel‘s radio show. Although never being considered part of the mainstream he seemed to always have a record contract and an appreciative audience that spanned several generations.

Abandoning a teaching career, including a spell at Summerhill in the 1950s, his quirky poetry and songs could be found on the radio and by the 1960s on television. It was one such TV performance that attracted Lennon and McCartney to him giving him a part in their Magical Mystery Tour film.

If you are anywhere near Brighton in May you can see a show about his life and works…