Bill Walker: Adventures in Looping

February 11, 2014
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Looping has become a common tool in the artistic arsenal of many a modern guitarist. Often, a single loop is lathered with layers that, in the hands of a Dustin Wong, can become a riot of interlocking rhythm, recalling Phillip Glass. Alternately you have Noveller, whose mix of ambience and melody is as evocative as her hand stitched film work.
 
Then there is Bill Walker, whose rootsy loop work could easily be mistaken for an actual band performing. A mastery of the eight-track Looperlative LP-1, with its ability to record multiple loops and then subdivide, punch into, and reverse them—allows the California guitarist to avoid any hint of static repetition. Walker’s performances are marvels of spontaneous composition; though enhanced by seeing him construct them, their musical interest does not rely on it. The tunes speak for themselves, as is evident on his solo release, Sanctuary.
 
 
 
What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?
I was into the normal teenager stuff, British Invasion, American rock, pop and soul, but also the emerging finger style guitar playing of people like John Fahey and Bert Jansch, as well as prog rock and fusion music. I was attempting to play and assimilate different influences. There was a lot of music playing in my home, my parents were huge classical and jazz music fans, My dad would bring home records that he had read reviews about: “Hey kids, I brought home an album by this band Yes, ever hear of them?” I can remember hacking away at Roundabout, at an unsupervised high school party, thinking I was starting to get somewhere on the guitar.
 
What led you to create experimental music?
I was looking for a way to expand what I could do as a solo guitarist, so I became fascinated with loop recorders and how they could enhance my solo performance. The deeper I delved in to it, and the more sophisticated the tools became, the more possibilities were at my fingertips. I could create a kind of guitar chamber music, and evolve a compositional style that went beyond the typical solo guitarist approach. In a live looping improvisation, I’m now often creating upwards of four to eight separate tracks of looped guitar, utilizing a number of sampling techniques, including track speed toggling, reverse, replace, and group commands that allow me to dub tracks in and out to create song forms on the fly. I’ve described it to people before as musical action painting; I seem to get the same blank stares as when I tell people I’m a live looper. Looping has been around for a few decades now and still most people don’t know what you are talking about.
 
Whose music inspires you, past and present?
Like many of my generation, I witnessed the first Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan show. Who could watch that and not want to play music? I loved the British Invasion, Soul music, the San Francisco sound, Folk, Jazz and Blues, Classical music. I soaked it all up at a time when the airwaves were a kaleidoscope of style and sound. When it comes to guitarists, I’ve always liked lyrical players, and sonic adventurers; Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck are continuing inspirations. The great music on the ECM label in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s that included guitarists Like John Abercrombie, Ralph Towner, Terje Rypdal, David Torn, Steve Tibbets, and early Pat Metheny has had a lasting influence on my music. I’ve been focusing more on slide and lap steel guitar in the last few years so I’ve gotten a huge amount of inspiration from slide masters like Sonny Landreth, Debashish Bhattacharya, and David Lindley.
 
How did you get better at your current style?
I spend several hours a week in the studio improvising, and working with my loop recorder. Each new piece of technology I’ve encountered has required more and more hours of woodshedding to explore the possibilities. The Looperlative LP-1 eight track recorder I currently use offers many more options than my first real looping machine from the mid ’90’s—a Lexicon JamMan. It has taken many hours to explore them all. I’m currently learning Mobius on Laptop and that is another big learning curve, with even more possibilities.
 
Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?
I used a handful of instruments to make Sanctuary, primarily a Strat- style part-o-caster with a rosewood fingerboard, a mahogany Tele Thinline part-o-caster, a Renaissance RS-6, an Asher Electro Hawaiian lap steel, and a Solanemo custom made lap steel.
 
The effects were an OWA 1960 compressor, a Custom Tones Ethos preamp, a Zendrive, a Line 6 M9 and M5, an Eventide TimeFactor, and a Neunaber Wet reverb. For amps, I used a vintage Fender Princeton reverb, and Vox AC-10, with Bluestone pro DI/cabinet sims. I recorded the loops with the Looperlative LP-1 and improvised the forms live in the studio. I would record on eight tracks simultaneously, with my loops going to separate inputs on my interface for maximum flexibility in postproduction. My general method was to record everything to DAW including the initial loop creation, but we ended up editing pieces in post production and in most cases that meant trimming long improvisations down on both ends.
 
Erdem Helvacioglu who produced and engineered the CD, did a masterful job of fattening up my guitar generated percussive parts, adding unique signal processing touches and editing my one man band excursions into more cohesive structures. There was very little overdubbing on my part. Occasionally we might duplicate a loop or phrase and move it around, reverse it or pitch it down in Melodyne, or a bad note might be eliminated.
 
How have you built up an audience for your music?
I’m doing the normal things people without record labels do, wading into the exciting and rewarding pool of self-promotion. To that end people can find me on Facebook, YouTube, and in early 2014, my new website will be launched.
 
Read more goodies from Michael Ross at Guitar Moderne.  

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