Pat Rocks

Randolf Arriola: The Sound Man

By Patrick ChngEvents - 24 September 2014 6:00 AM | Updated 26 September 2014

Randolf Arriola: The Sound Man

The inaugural Y2K14 International Live Loop Asia Festival Singapore will welcome 20 Singapore and international live looping acts to the stage at Artistry, from 25-27 September.

The brainchild of Randolf Arriola, one of Asia’s most acclaimed solo live-looping musicians, the upcoming festival is affiliated with the Y2K International Live Looping Festival created by Rick Walker and held yearly in Santa Cruz, California.

Arriola was one of four headliners at the prestigious festival in 2010, and his experience in the US inspired him to do something similar in this region.

The festival director, founder of the Live Loop Asia online community, and a professional musician who uses live looping technology, said the idea was to create "an all-inclusive platform" for musicians to explore live looping.

Performances will feature music created using live-looping technology – equipment that records and plays back sound, to which other sounds can be added, overlaid, deleted, filtered and mixed to form an improvisational work on the spot and using no pre-recorded material.

InSing spoke with the 49-year-old about his musical journey and fascination with sound. 

Do you recall when you started playing the guitar? 

I first started picking up the acoustic guitar in my mid-teens. About a year after that, during the year-end school holidays, I worked my very first job as a waiter in a Mexican restaurant and that first month's salary went into my first electric guitar, a blue Aria Pro2 and a Roland Spirit solid state 30 amp. 

The following month, I got myself a Boss SD1 super overdrive pedal and then borrowed pedals of all sorts from everyone in my neighbourhood.

My dad, from the start, was violently against the idea of my obsession with the guitar and would make all kinds of snide remarks like, "waste time, good for nothing..."

He finally gave in and one day surprised me and just said, "Get some clothes on, we're going out you and me... want you to show me where is this place you go to for guitars and stuff".

We went to the music store and it was there that he asked me what were the cool guitars I had been eyeing and I pointed out this and that to him. He asked me which do I want and I said none. He egged me on, but I insisted I didn't want any guitar and when he asked what was it that I would want, I pointed out the Roland JC120 amp and the Boss Pedals. Haha!

How long have you been performing live looping? When and how did you start getting into it?

So among the pedals that my dad bought me was the just-released Boss DD2 Digital delay pedal that had up to 800 milliseconds. This was a big deal for me because the Analog Delay pedal had just up to 300 milliseconds. 

But with the DD2 delay, I quickly discovered, through playful experiments with the four knobs that control level, feedback, time and time mode, that I could achieve really unusual sounds.

They were sounds that I was familiar with because I recognised the crazy feedback oscillation swishing, like sounds from all the records that I was listening to, such as Roxy Music, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, etc. 

It was only in the internet age in the 1990s that I learnt that this was what was called live looping. I had read about musicians working with and creating complete works with tapes loops, like the Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (from 1966) or David Sylvian's ‘Gone to Earth’ album (1986) or works of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, including U2's ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ album (1984), but I never knew it was called live looping until I discovered the online community called Loopers Delight. Rick Walker contacted me (through this portal) when he heard my tracks online.

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Randolf Arriola getting ready for a gig. Photo: Anton Chia

So you have always had an interest in guitar pedals and effects from a very young age?

I think the real answer to that is it was really sound that fascinated me. 

How did the festival get going?

Through my experiences and observations of having been involved in other festivals of a similar nature, and also the events and shows I've played overseas. 

Live looping has many facets. It's a concept, philosophy, method, technique, technology and craft... it can be used in many ways so, to me, it's just an extension of the tools and instruments to help achieve the desired intended aural execution one hears in the head.

Usually, with the traditional range of distortion and modulation and echo pedals, one is only thinking in terms of a certain but limited range of sounds for the specific instrument within the context of a full band setup. 

In live looping, that context, depending on each unique creative individual, can either extend the instrument or really expand beyond your wildest imagination, the purpose for which the specific instrument was originally designed. 

This way of thinking and attitude was what I got from understanding and appreciating what musicians like Jimi Hendrix was doing with just his Strat and Marshall stacks, where what he achieved in his time was totally ahead of everybody's wildest expectations of what a guitar and amp was supposed to do, which was basically to amplify coherent musical sounds from the guitar then. 

However, it was through my discovery of John Cage's infamous silent piece "4'33" that totally expanded my whole outlook on what sound and silence and art was about. I was humbled to discover that it all traces back to the universal concept of the cycle of life and death. The universal loop, basically.

What do you hope for the audience and participants to take away from the festival?

An important point that I would like to state is that the Live Looping Festival covers the widest range of musical and creative styles: from singer-songwriters to beatboxing to ethnic songs and instrumental formats, to ambient and noise experiments.

My dream is that through this annual festival, folk from the region will find inspiration and that the networking will help them to also start their own in their locale. This will help build a regional circuit for us here, and also allow the bridge of creative exchange to happen with the already existing circuits in US and Europe. This is the very first of its kind here in Asia.

It’s free entry for the festival, right?

Entry is free but donations at the door are welcome. People can also buy merchandise, like the beautifully designed official festival t-shirts, that will go into covering costs and honorariums distributed across all people involved. This event is a non-funded, non-profit event. We do get sponsorship support from the good folk of TC Helicon and Mackie, among others.

What advice would you give someone who would like to explore live looping?

I would say, first and foremost, get onboard and join the ongoing Live Looping communities like the ones I've setup on Facebook: Livelooping101 and Liveloopasia.

Y2K14 International Live Loop Asia Festival Singapore | Date: 25-27 September 2014 | Time: From 7.30pm | Venue: Artistry | Address: 17 Jalan Pinang | Free admission but donations welcome | Website: http://liveloopasia.embryosongs.com