Drone music doesn’t change much in tonality or tempo. The nature of this means that it can confuse some people and attract others. Unlike most other types of music, drone cultivates a unique emotional soundscape that allows people to sink deeply into it. Some drone music is less like a warm fuzzy hug and more like an assault on the senses, This is where many people’s opinions of what constitutes as drone music, and what is simply ‘white noise’ diverges.
Some people say that drone allows them to become intimate in a unique way with the music. Its monotone nature means that the music fits to your own mood and thoughts, rather than shaping and manipulating your mood like other music genres. The incredibly subtle shifts and movements in sound can be compelling when listened to with patience, over a long period of time.
In this unique programme on Australia’s ABC radio, legends of this much maligned and misunderstood genre of music come together to explain Drone to those who may or may not understand it. This mysterious genre of music can be either interesting or boring, or paradoxically both interesting and boring, depending who is listening.
Drone music and transcending reality
Tibetan singing bowl chanting, Aboriginal didgeridoo music, Benedictine monks chanting and many types of Middle Eastern music have been around since ancient times. The common thread is that this ancient drone music from all over the world has inherently transcendental and magical properties and religious significance. People tend to love to worship their gods while listening to a form of drone.
Pleasant Drone listening
Fripp & Eno: Evening Star (1975). The master of ambience meets the master of guitar drone; the result delivers equal measures of prettiness and weirdness.
zoviet*france: Shouting at the Ground (1988). From Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, one of the unsung masterpieces of the 1980s. Dreamy tape loop collages, half-buried percussion and a ‘tribal’ feel that manages to sidestep ethno-ambient World Music clichés.
Rosy Parlane: #1-4 (1998). A very sparse, stripped-back album of electronic loops from NZ, minimalism at its most compelling.
Stars of the Lid: The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid (2001). Two hours of deep-layered drone employing a rich array of sounds (strings and horns as well as digital instruments). An epic and emotionally affecting classic.
Brian Grainger & David Tagg: Pillbox Series (2008). More stunning low-key minimalism from two prolific US experimentalists. The entire series spans 48 tracks, each one a 20-minute piece. That’s a lot of drone.
Gregg Kowalsky: Tape Chants (2009). Low-fi, grainy drone that soothes and stimulates at the same time. Maybe the sonic equivalent of an exfoliating face scrub.
Fescal: Moods and Views (2012). From Seoul, an extended two part piece that moves subtly from delicate processed guitar tones to rumbling, cavernous washes of sound. Another excursion into low-fi aesthetics: tape hiss and crackle never sounded so lovely.