The Etymology of Sampling #2 – The Loop

The Etymology of Sampling

In our next edition of The Etymology of Sampling, we will be looking at the word “loop”.

The term has many meanings outside of sampling and music but we’ll see where we can go with it. The history behind “loop” is one of mystery. It derives from the late 14th century meaning “a fold or doubling of cloth, rope, leather, cord, etc.”, but before that, its origin is unclear. Some say it came from the Gaelic lub meaning “bend,” originally lubiam in Irish). From there, the English may have mixed it with the Old Norse hlaup, meaning “a leap, run” related to a “running knot”.

Others claim a more streamlined history, coming from the Middle English loupe ‎(“noose” or “loop”), derived from lowp-knot ‎(“loop-knot”) of North Germanic origin, from Old Norse hlaup and hlaupa going right back to the Proto-Germanic hlaupaną, originally from the Proto-Indo-European kleup, meaning to spring, stumble. This seems more plausible (and convoluting).

It wasn’t used in reference to magnetic recording tape until 1931. This is where we get our use of the word “loop” from. The godfather of sampling and looping, Pierre Schaeffer, used special discs with a closed groove to repeat sound samples. He later used magnetic tapes to create tape loops. These formed an integral part of the musique critique genre and was later taken up by electronic music pioneers Karlheinz Stockhausen, Terry Riley and Steve Reich in the 50s. By the 60s, tape loops found their way into popular music and with the advent of synthesizers, samplers and drum machines in the 70s and 80s, hip hop turned the concept on its head (much like the breakdancers of that era.)

When hip hop caught wind of this electronic technique, the loop transitioned from the tape to the sampler button, repeating a short sample in the same circular motion of a loop-knot you’d find in a 14th century rope. And then you have things like Fruity Loops (now FL Studio), a digital audio workstation synonymous with hip hop beats.

Albums with the word “loop” in them

The Chemical Brothers – Loops Of Fury
Stereolab – Dots And Loops
William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops
TUAMIE – Water Loops EP

About Luke Alex Davis

Luke Davis is a music producer and editor of music blog Sampleface. In his spare time, he enjoys watching tennis and football and reading.