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Sample and Hold: Making Ambient Music With Tape Loops

Sample and Hold: Making Ambient Music With Tape Loops

Welcome to Sample and Hold, the series on the LANDR Blog where we highlight one unique crate-digging session and the digger’s gold we came back with using Selector—the world’s first AI sample recommendation tool.

I’ve been really interested in ambient music lately.

Being at home for the last month I’ve gravitated a lot towards calming music to accompany me during my time alone.

I love how ambient music helps me clear my mind and forget about whatever’s going on in the world around me.

So, since I’ve been in the mood for ambient music I figured that’s what I’ll focus on for this edition of Sample and Hold.

I’m also curious how Selector will suggest the different parts I need to create a calming ambient track.

I’m fortunate to have a Digitakt sampler on hand at home, it’s perfect for piecing samples together into ambient music.

So, once I have my samples from Selector I’ll play with them in my Digitakt and make a composition for you to hear.

Let’s get started!

Starter sample: Piano Arpeggio

I need something that uses a sustained chord to get started with my ambient track.

So I picked this little arpeggio played on the piano that’s followed by a long decay.

The sample I chose uses an F# minor arpeggio with a ninth extension.

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It’s a brooding yet colorful chord due to its minor qualities and the extended ninth.

I think it’s a great place to start with putting together an interesting ambient part, especially because of its longer sustain.

All I have to do is add some reverb and I’ll have a ton of ambiance from the get-go.

Selection one: Atmosphere Loop 01

I need something that’s a bit weird to compliment the familiar-sounding piano sample.

A lot of great ambient music is made with synthesizers to make pads and sound effects.

In this atmospheric loop, you get a little bit of both.

On one side it has a darker low-end tone that matches the piano sample nicely, and you have some screeching violin sounding noises in the top end.

There’s also plenty of reverb in the sample so I think it will blend into my mix nicely.

Selection two: Airlift Single D

After choosing the Atmosphere loop I hit the Selector button hoping the AI tool would return something I could use as a drone in the background for my ambient track.

Drones are a very common part of many ambient tracks because they create the glue in the background that holds everything together.

I also just love how drones are so meditative and calming.

Selector gave me some pleasing options and I settled with this airy pad sample.

It uses a darker tone in the low end that will go well with my piano and atmosphere samples, but what I like most is the hint of white noise in the pad that gives the sample an industrial feeling.

Once I get this looping in my Digitakt it’ll make the perfect drone.

Selection three: Prophet FX One Shot

Now that I have my drone it’s time to find a synth sound that I can fit into my ambient track.

After reviewing the Selector results page from my drone sample I settled on this sample that pays homage to one music’s most legendary synths: the Prophet.

Preview of youtube video

The Prophet 5 was the first major release by Sequential Circuits in the early 80s.

With two oscillators, a variety of waveforms to work with and much more, the Prophet had a big sound that progressive rock bands absolutely loved

In fact, the Prophet’s name was first coined by YES frontman Rick Wakefield.

The Prophet 5 was also the first synth that could save and recall its patches.

Before the Prophet 5, someone could spend hours designing a synth sound and lose it if they didn’t write the settings down.

With total recall, artists could now create amazing sounds for a specific song and easily go back to them weeks later.

I’m not certain whether an original Prophet was used to make the sample I chose, but you can certainly hear the similarities between it and the classic Prophet sound.

Big sounding sawtooth oscillators, long decay and a shimmering high end are quintessential characteristics of the original Prophet.

I absolutely love this sample because it sounds like a psychedelic orchestral double bass section.

I think it will make a great counterpart to the other elements in my ambient track.

Selection four: Xylophone 57-62 Arabian Wet

Okay I’ve found a drone to put in the background, a colorful arpeggio, and some weird synth tones to put in the low end.

I’m looking for something that will contrast the droning long sustain in my other samples.

I need one element to put in the high register, something that will stick out above the rest of the track and give it some character.

To get that I filtered the Selector results from my Prophet samples for pitched percussion and I got a selection of marimba and xylophone loops.

Amazing! I found the perfect sample to take inspiration from one the greatest minimalist composers ever– Steve Reich.

Because this sample is an excerpt of staccato eighth notes, I can use it to recreate a famous experiment pioneered by Reich called tape phasing.

Tape phasing was developed by Reich in the 1960s when he took two identical segments of tape that had been modified to play in a loop and played them at the same time and manipulating their speed.

Offsetting the loops by different increments produced a range of hypnotizing textures and polyrhythmic effects as they went in and out of sync.

Preview of youtube video

I can do the same by playing with the speed of this sample in my Digitakt. Here’s what my “tape” loop sounds like.

 

When I let it play for a while you can hear all kinds of melodies and rhythms come out as the loops go in and out of sync with each other.

It’s a really fun experiment, and you can easily try it at home in your DAW or sampler.

Here’s a great tutorial from Loopop that clearly explains how to make a tape loop using the technique I used.

Preview of youtube video

AI-generated ambiance

I’m really happy with the results of this Sample and Hold session.

Selector really did an impressive job of helping me piece together the elements I needed to make an ambient track.

Here’s what I was able to create once I threw all these different samples into my Digitakt.

Of course, I mastered the track after bouncing it with LANDR.

 

Making ambient music is fun and relaxing, now it’s your turn. Get inspired by a Selector session and make something of your own!

 

 

Alex Lavoie

Alex Lavoie works as a staff writer at LANDR by day and moonlights as a drummer for folk-rock outfit The Painters.

@Alex Lavoie

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