LISTS The Loopy Universe of Guitarist Matt LaJoie By John Adamian · February 21, 2024

Maine-based guitarist Matt LaJoie has developed a special musical relationship to his digital-delay looping pedal, a connection that expands the ways he thinks about playing, composing, and listening. The repetitions, the layers, and the patterns made possible by the delay pedal are what make LaJoie’s music what it is.

“At this point, I would feel more comfortable playing a show with just that pedal and a microphone rather than just a guitar,” LaJoie says over the phone.

Listen to the solo piano recordings that LaJoie released in 2023 under the ML Wah moniker using the same principle as his guitar-based work: a fragment of sound woven into the background creating a rhythmic and melodic texture against which to improvise. LaJoie had no real experience playing piano, he says, and that was part of the point.

The looping is what allows LaJoie to sink into the music, orienting his playing in a more removed and in-depth fashion than what happens in real time. “When I set the loop, and it comes back around, and I’m hearing it back, it really is like I’m hearing it for the first time,” says LaJoie. “It’s made me a much closer listener than I ever was before.”

LaJoie tells a story about his first encounter with a digital delay as a player: After having seen some performers do inspiring things with looping machinery, he visited the local guitar shop and took one of the pedals for a test drive. “I definitely overstayed my welcome,” he says.

Almost all of LaJoie’s subsequent releases have been the result of that interplay between digital looping and real-time exploration. The releases are live recordings of LaJoie playing along with snippets and tidbits of his own playing captured and refracted or repeated with the use of his digital looper. He’s playing along with himself using a digital tool, but the end results are semi-organic in that there are no overdubs.

“Everything that I release under my name has been recorded live, solo,” says LaJoie. One thing that a listener will notice, though, is that sometimes, after repetitions have started to have a lulling effect, LaJoie will tweak a knob to either reverse or change the speed of the featured bit, destabilizing the whole affair.

Points of connection can be made with other artists, like the tape delay recordings of guitarist Henry Kaiser,; the similarly loop-based collaborations between Robert Fripp and Brian Eno; or the decaying tape loop opus of William Basinski. LaJoie’s recordings hover in that same ambient ether, but there’s a hypnotic lightness that makes his music conducive to meditation.

LaJoie has said that he tries to get himself into a meditative zone, a zeroed-out perspective, when playing and recording. He wasn’t very good at seated, deep-breathing-style meditation, he says; playing music allowed him to get closer to that kind of detached calm that he associated with the practice. “When I record, it really is– When I’m in that improvisational space, I’m in a no-judgment zone,” he says. “I’m just trying to stay in the moment and to keep that piece of music that seems to be happening right in front of me.”

The pandemic, in its semi-mandated isolation, helped nudge LaJoie into a musical practice, “a working method,” that prioritized daily improvisation and documentation, yielding hours and hours of recordings as source material to build on, cull, and archive. In addition to providing the musical kernels for the releases he’s made over the last 30 months, the daily process also morphed into the Colander project, a weekly series shared with his Bandcamp subscribers that eventually totaled 226 tracks, clocking in at over 24 hours of music.

There is an ease with which a listener can approach LaJoie’s music and be gently engulfed by it. The patterns and repetitions can induce a calm focus. A listener slowly starts to become familiar with the rhythmic and melodic contours, as if exploring the possibilities of the loops along with LaJoie.

“Creating an environment is really important to me,” says LaJoie. “The perception that the listener brings to the piece is what completes it. It’s not complete until someone else who is not me has heard it.”

Creek Baptism 

On “Aquifer,” the first track off of 2021’s Creek Baptism, there’s a hum, then some muted metallic pecking, some harmonics, a hint of arpeggiation, and then a pattern starts to emerge. You could count it as a seven-beat cycle, but does it even matter? There’s a music-box quality to it as LaJoie begins improvising against the chiming repetitions. “Tigris & Euphrates”—are you feeling the watery riverine theme here?— is built upon what sounds like reversed and then looped snippets of feedback, its prismatic sprays closer to light than sound; it twinkles, then builds, then fades. “Brookside Manor” is centered on a slow skeletal three-note ascending figure. Bass and bottom-end aren’t LaJoie’s go-to tonal choices. He toys with the possibilities of tinny sounds once they get thrust into a hall of mirrors or digitally smeared across the sound spectrum: take “For Drona Parva” with its ghostly, high-pitched, braying swirl.

Land Mass 

Land Mass is a little more earthy, perhaps. On the title track, which is almost 24 minutes long, there are low-end slides that set up a kind of subterranean groundwork. The cumulative growth of the arrangement has an almost Wagnerian swell to it, suggesting a looped and metallic iteration of the bubbling overtones of the Overture to Das Rheingold. On “Allagash,” there’s a strange sense of depth and distance, like stereoscopic vision, when two slightly offset versions of the same thing get formulated and reconstituted in the mind, approximating three dimensions.

Crop Circle 

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LaJoie goes from elemental and subterranean to extraterrestrial on Crop Circle, a collection of songs more rooted in the otherworldly, exploring themes of “expanding-universe encounters of the first, second, and third kind,” as LaJoie writes in the release notes. Opener “Earthship” has a slippery, metallic glimmer that evokes the alien life of popular imagination and the vastness of the cosmos as well. “Neon Skyline” uses an analog drum machine (as does “Arktober”) to create a desert noir vibe with appropriate overtones of Area 51.

Red Resonant Earth

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On Red Resonant Earth, also from 2021, the muted metallic repetitions start to pile up in stacked strata and then slowly dissolve and fade, like on “Rusted Chalice,” with the foreground turning into the background and then turning into nothing as a new foreground emerges. “Return to Rock Pick Mountain” has a crackling bend to the recurring riff on which the track is built; the suggestive mind can hear something of coal and clay in the music. “Taos Hum > Claymaking” is built on a silvery droning thrum, something akin to the foundational vibrations of a tambura or a shruti box in Indian classical music.

On Garudan Wing

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On “Garudan Wing,” from 2023’s On Garudan Wing, one starts to hear those rounded steel drum tones associated with Jerry Garcia’s late ’70s envelope-filter explorations. There’s a pentatonic wind chime wafting-in-the-breeze aspect to this 19-minute track, a fitting association for what is described on the Bandcamp page for the album as an “air hymnal.” As “Brushstroke,” the second track, progresses, a high piping–sped up and reversed–sound toggles between piccolo and feedback while LaJoie patiently tugs at the melodic possibilities suggested by the tinsel-like fragment. You can hear the points at which a pattern gels before LaJoie isolates it and completely reconfigures it, plunging it into infinite reflections of itself, where what you were listening to is suddenly inverted and heard from some other angle.


2022’s “Searching,” released under the ML Wah moniker, is vastly different from LaJoie’s other loop-based abstractions. It’s a song with touches of psychedelic gospel-soul-folk and lyrics about a daily quest, for love, for stillness and insight. (There’s an instrumental version as well.) No looping effects. It’s a departure, but between the chords circling and cycling in their own repetitive orbits, and the atmosphere of calm, spiritual yearning, the link to LaJoie’s other less harmonically centered work is clear.

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