infinite loops

My intense interest in, and occasional forays into, electronically produced music have led me to start thinking about the question: more and more “pop” music produced these days is based on loops of between – let’s say – two and 16 bars, i.e. between roughly 5 and 30 seconds or so. It’s crafted cumulatively, in layers, but the basic pattern usually remains the same. I wonder: what effect does this have? It’s generally agreed that music is a powerful medium, able to in some senses bypass the forebrain, exert a direct effect on the emotions & psyche and probaby realign organic elements of the body as well. What happens when a force this powerful is boxed in, so to speak – over time, does it somehow begin to box the listener in? Is part of the reason for our shrinking attention spans due to music composed in 10-second bites?

You could argue that many kinds of music, some of them ancient, are also organized according to this principle of building momentum through endless repetition, though the elements of the pattern change very slowly or not at all. This is true, but there’s one crucial difference: these kinds of music (West African drumming, for instance, or forms of chant from various cultures) are performed by humans, meaning that each repetition contains tiny variations – some purposeful, some probably not. In addition, the momentum is also marked by (micro)changes over a longer period of time: in volume, tempo, accenting . . . the feeling of increased intensity is generated at least partially because the music is, in fact, getting more intense.

OK: this is kind of an esoteric argument, but here’s my point: I love hip-hop, some R&B and a whole lot of other stuff that – these days – gets made on computers. However, I am beginning to feel a little boxed in by these loops, as fat and powerful as they may be. I’m giving some thought to how one might step outside the box, without having to give up the (undeniable) advantages of working in Ableton or your program of choice. Surely these microchanges can be orchestrated into the music; surely we can think in larger arcs so that, instead of a strictly vertical stack of layered tracks growing over time, we end up with something organic where you can’t hear the grid anymore. Anyone?