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When a Snippet Becomes a Symphony: Introducing the Oddly Appealing YouTube ‘Superloop’

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech

In addition to awesome viral hamster videos and endless clips of old TV shows, the vast land of YouTube also contains many newer genres that are distinct to the digital era.

Supercut” videos are one prominent example: Those custom-made radical edits condensing, say, every “oh! and ho!” on The Sopranos, or (my personal favorite) all the times the “Enhance!” gimmick has been deployed, into one head-spinning clip.

But today I want to speak up for another YouTube genre that as far as I know doesn’t have a name but needs one.

I’ll offer up this: the superloop.

The opposite of a supercut, the superloop condenses nothing. To the contrary, it takes one brief moment of sound or video and repeats it.

For a senselessly long time.

Example: Here is just that short, supercool drum-fill moment from Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” looped for 30 minutes:

Or: Here’s the funny moment in a TV commercial when some guy asks “Do you guys know how to post videos to Facebook?” repeated for 15 minutes:

Or: “The Aracuan Bird,” a short snippet of a crazy musical bird from a 1940s cartoon, repeated for 15 minutes:

That last example was suggested to me by Ethan Hein, a musician and educator who has explored the appeal of repetition, more than once. Hein has written quite smartly on the notion of repetition as a cornerstone of musicality, and even about the parallels between a compelling sonic loop and an animated GIF.

In short, a repeated snippet seems, through sheer repetition, to be capable of taking on qualities that ultimately strike the ear as appealing, and even musical. 

Admittedly, the Phil Collins example above was already music, but the superloop version is still transformative in a way that illustrates why I find this form appealing. At first, you hear the original snippet for what it is: a thing taken out of context. But as it repeats, it somehow morphs; the repetitions fade into one another and a new, transfixing non-melody emerges. The first time I played it I didn’t expect to let it run but was startled when I realized that 30 minutes later the soundtrack that I had inadvertently come to find soothing had ended.

That said, real-world experience offers the caveat that repetition doesn’t always add up to musicality: What I’m calling superloops might, in fact, arguably descend from the venerable (and obnoxious) meme, You’re the Man Now, Dawg, which involves the totally grating endless repetition of that phrase, as croaked by Sean Connery in Finding Forrester.

There are other repetition variations. Thanks to my Yahoo Tech colleagues, I am now aware that you can search YouTube and find 10-hour loops of “Never Gonna Give You Up” (sort of a supersized rickroll, I suppose) or countless other videos.

And yet, these lack the power of a short phrase repeated: Even when they involve songs, no fresh musicality emerges.

Same goes for another bizarre YouTube subgenre: long (up to 24-hour!) ambient-noise videos based on repeated clips of, say, the Enterprisefrom Star Trek, idling, or other more obviously relaxing background sounds, like a rain forest. (Hat-tip on this to Marc Weidenbaum.)

These are magical and amazing in their way, but the sound being repeated is (by intent) not distinct enough to coagulate into a new musical form.

So the superloop as I’m defining it is influenced by these YouTube traditions. But it’s something specific.

At this point I should remind readers of other repetition variations we’ve covered on Yahoo Tech in the past: MobiusTube is an absolutely genius tool for making any music video repeat, in unpredictable chopped-up form, endlessly. And ListenOnRepeat is a more straightforward but still appealing way of simply putting any YouTube video on infinite repeat.

So we’re not shy on repeating ourselves about repetition here.

But I insist that the superloop is more specific: It’s self-contained, and involves a very short but distinct audio (and optionally visual) phrase that, by dint of 15 to 30 minutes or more of repetition, acquires a new, and totally unexpected, musicality.

When it works, it’s a really good thing. I hope we see and hear more of it.

I hope we see and hear more of it.

Did I say that already?

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter, @notrobwalker. RSS lover? Paste this URL into your reader of choice: https://www.yahoo.com/tech/author/rob-walker/rss.