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ATPM 10.12
December 2004


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The Desktop Muse

by David Ozab,

Getting More Out of Your GarageBand Loops

One of the greatest sources of artistic inspiration is accidental discovery. Whether it’s a slip of a finger on an instrument or the slip of a pencil on paper, accidents, though usually just a nuisance, can occasionally open up new creative possibilities.


Such an accident happened to me while working in GarageBand. I was in the middle of Sunset Boulevard (track 5 on Sanctuary, the second CD by Synaxis of the Saints of America) when I accidentally dropped a synth loop onto an organ track. Since the loop was a MIDI file, the notes on the synthesizer became an echo of those just heard on the organ (excerpt). By a slip of the mouse, I had unintentionally employed a well-worn compositional device: the exchange of a motive (i.e. melodic idea) between instruments.

I’m On to Something

I liked the result so much that I employed a similar technique on another song: Awakening (track 10 on Sanctuary). I expanded upon the idea, though, not only re-orchestrating a MIDI loop (electric piano to electric guitar), but also running a sampled violin loop through guitar distortion. (Here are the original loops and the modified ones.) My plan was to have a distorted violin and a screaming electric guitar, but the violin sample actually sounds like a guitar! Fortuitous accident number two.

So Much Potential

I finished these tracks several months ago, and the CD has been commercially available since September, so why am I writing about this now? Well, I’ve just started working on the as of yet untitled third Synaxis CD, and on the very first track (tentatively titled Transit) I discovered yet another application of the technique described above: orchestration. Especially when working with large, and timbrally varied ensembles (like the orchestra), composers will layer instruments as key motives repeated by an increasing variety of instruments, making the resulting sound bigger at each repetition. (The classic example in rock music is a guitar riff played clean at first and then repeated with distortion). Well, I applied a similar technique in Transit. The “hook” in this particular composition is a GarageBand loop titled Synth Array . The first time I present this sample, it is in its original form. When I come back to it, after an eight-bar solo, I layer the original against a distorted copy to achieve the aforementioned “bigger sound.”

Make the Most of Your Loops

The palette provided by GarageBand (plus the supplemental Jam Pack CDs and third party loops) offers numerous creative possibilities. The techniques I’ve described above can expand this palette even further, and also help tie together ideas within a song.

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Reader Comments (1)

robert trudeau · December 12, 2004 - 14:44 EST #1
Nice tipping, Doz! Maybe not an earthsplitting insight, but well explained.

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