Silence in Motion: Types of Loop Music

A lot of the music I have created over the years is of the loop variety. This is loop music (sometimes referred to by the anachronistic moniker “tape loop music”) in the tradition of Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Terry Riley and others, rather than loop music in the sense of EDM, house or trance.

Put simply, a loop music composition in this sense of the term consists of several tracks made up of short phrases or individual notes of sound, followed by differing lengths of silence, which are then repeated for the duration of the composition. As each track completes it’s loop over a different period of time, the sonic content of the overall piece varies as the tracks play out of phase with each other. There are some visualizations on my website that illustrate this concept, but it can also be understood statically as illustrated below:


In the above visual, the numbers represent the sound portion of the track and the hyphens represent a unit of silence.

The loop systems I tend to use break down into four broad categories:

Single Note Loops

In “Single Note Loop” pieces, each track consists of a single note followed by a length of silence. Examples of this type of  loop are Friday 401 and Vox Vocis Ortus Sursum. Typically the opening melodic structure tends to be comprised of a significant number of notes that have interesting interval relationships between them. The second iteration of a note will be based on two factors:

  1. How it sounds in relation to the other notes sounding at the time; and
  2. The duration of silence that occurs between the second iteration of the note and the first (ie: the loop length).

The loop length of each note in the piece must not be the same as another loop in the piece. If it is, the two notes will always be the same distance apart (in time), resulting in a static (but likely unrecognizable) interval between them. Another important factor in these kinds of loops is that the total duration of the various loops used in composing a piece should not be readily divisible by the length of any other loop (ie: 30 seconds for one loop and 45 seconds for another) at least not within the duration of the piece; otherwise repetition will become apparent to the listener upon sufficent attention!

Matrix Loops

In a “matrix loop” there is typically a smaller number of discreet notes involved, but multiple voices are used to create an aggregated note as a starting point, and with different lengths of silence, the different components of the aggregated note are heard individually. The Ice Gods Awaken and Stellar Invocation 1: VEGA are both examples of matrix loops.

Pitch-Normalized Precompositions

A “pitch-normalized precomposition” [my own term, not to be confused with pitch normalization in linguistics] is a piece that is written as a short composition and then is broken down into separate “pitch-normalized” tracks based on the note in the scale that is being played (ie: all “C#” notes isolated as a single track; all “E” notes isolated on a separate track, etc.) The resultant tracks are then looped with varying lengths of silence at the end to create the resulting loop piece. One example of a pitch-normalized precomposition is A Scattering of Assemblages [upcoming release].

Phrase-Normalized Precompositions

Similar to pitch-normalized precompositions, but “phrase-normalized precompositions” typically use a short musical phrase as the building block for loops. Usually a longer musical phrase is broken up into shorter blocks of notes that are less identifiable than the longer phrase. Probably the most famous piece of this nature would be 1/1 from Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports”.

Hybrid Pieces

Of course the above are not mutually-exclusive, and techniques and concepts can be combined in all manner of ways. The main aim (as it should always be in music, I believe) is to create a composition that people will want to hear. And that is where the artistry comes into play.


This post has been in “draft” mode for over three years. I have periodically come back to it to edit little bits, but I have never truly been satisified that I have fully captured what I intended to capture. However, it is high time for me to let go and release it into the world, so here it is. I will write more as more becomes apparent to me, and hopefully it won’t take three years to publish next time!

I also reserve the right to update this post if new info becomes available!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.