Music Appreciation: Drone


49 Responses to “Music Appreciation: Drone”

  1. smallteam says:

    Thank you.

  2. UncaScrooge says:

    Good work!  It’s not often that someone tackles a wide-ranging musical subject on the internet with wide-ranging musical knowledge.  I am in deadly earnest here:  Good work.

  3. waetherman says:

    I was really hoping this was going to be an article on the peaceful civilian uses of UAV technology.

    • Funk Daddy says:

      I too pictured a AV equipped UAV that would attend a crowded concert on your behalf. Also if it could hold up a lighter after a particularly good song I might buy one. Can’t bear the crowds.

  4. franko says:

    i think surely brian eno should warrant a mention here somewhere, but aside from that (and the aforementioned GIANT, CLICKABLE AD FRAME for state farm), there’s lots of great stuff to explore here. i love drone-based stuff, but somehow i missed Earth & Earth2. i must check it out!

  5. nixiebunny says:

    I’ve listened to “Heroin” dozens of times, but never noticed the drone before. That’s the thing about drone – it works on a subconscious level.

  6. darladoon says:

    excellent post, thank you

  7. chadmulligan says:

    Hear hear well spoken Bruce! If you want to understand what “drone” means in a 21st century musical context, reading this article is an excellent place to start.

  8. nixiebunny says:

    And then there’s Sunn(0))).

  9. Tom Fox says:

    Awesome article. Drone’s been known and loved for generations and you’ve managed to pen an article that doesn’t makes us drone lovers sound like nutcases.

    Old instruments from most cultures often had drone elements to them too. The sitar being a good exmaple, but even in western culture we had hurdy-gurdies, violins with sympathetic droning strings and the god awful drones of the bagpipes. Some of my own new instruments have had drone incorporated into their design, it allows more textures to be played by one person making it more interesting to listen to. In my opinion anyway.

  10. Tom Fox says:

    Also, a fun thing to do, is to play all the videos embedded in this post at once to create the ultimate drone!

  11. darladoon says:

    Music Appreciation: Drone, Part 2 (please!!)

    henry flynt, taj mahal travellers, david tudor, steve roach, dolphins into the future, popol vuh, tangerine dream, gas, ash ra tempel, alice coltrane, don cherry, roy montgomery, spacemen 3, terry riley…

  12. Bryce Caron says:

    It’s great that you included Earth in this. I would like to point out brash white noise on the other end of the drone scale. Anyone who’s seen My Bloody Valentine live can attest power the show’s climax, when they play blisteringly, punishingly loud white noise for ten to thirty minutes. The volume is so intense that your brain starts to shut down its listening capabilities, and starts creating what I like to call micro melodies, trying to make order out of the chaos. It’s the opposite of magenta meditation, but with similar results.

  13. chadmulligan says:

    My favorite drone experience was seeing Pelt open for Sonic Youth at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC. They generated 45 minutes of crushing psychedelic mindstopping drone and after they were done the audience, which mostly consisted of alterna-kids, were totally silent and stunned for at least two minutes!  Totally unforgettable.

  14. darladoon says:

    i was once on the 71 Muni, in the Haight, and some guy’s ringtone blurted out the first few bars of “Heroin”….and everyone on the bus started impromptu singing along….only in the Haight would that happen 

  15. rocketjam says:

    The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe has talked about the importance of drone in his music. Many (most? all?) of his band’s songs have some sort of droning tone mixed in to the background throughout.

  16. jhhl says:

    You haven’t mentioned Maryanne Amacher, so I’m mentioning Maryanne Amacher. And for people who want portable, continually evolving drones, there are a number of iPhone apps, including my own Droneo. 

  17. M Ehm says:

    Destroy All Dreamers (Automne)?
    Cure (Carnage Visors)?

  18. JackHertz says:

    Great article! You forgot to mention the original drone music, NATURE!!!! Man has been listening to it since he could hear.

  19. An entire post and ensuing comment thread about “drone” without one single mention of  Thomas Köner ? Shameful.

  20. William Tatalovich says:

    John Cale played/plays viola, not cello.  Other than that, great article!

  21. Wild Rumpus says:

    Thank you Marcus.  I am so incredibly loving all of your links in this article.  I have loved Velvet Underground and  Ragas for a long time, and this article has explained some things to me about what I like about Drone, and explained the history, and opened my ears to some new stuff.

    Like you, I didn’t realize this was a genre but now I see.  Well done and thanks.

    Doesn’t one of my favourite 80′s bands Jesus and Mary Chain deserve a shout out?

  22. MrJM says:

    A different flavor of drone music from the Mekons’ Jon Langford:

  23. vuzh says:

    It cannot go without mention that Drone music is a very prevalent area for exploration in the Creative Commons Netlabel underground.  The good thing about this is that you can check out a huge amount of drone music for free.  One great place to start is David Nemeth’s netlabel release news feed at

  24. David Pescovitz says:

    I just want to pause and say that Marcus’s article and this thread are fantastic. I thought I knew at least a little something about drone, but this piece and the comments are like a wormhole to an entire universe of new music for me. Thank you all!

  25. B E Pratt says:

     Don’t know if this would quite classify as drone, but it comes close: Yoko Ono’s ‘John, John (Let’s Hope For Peace) on side two of Live Peace in Toronto 1969 is Yoko singing the title accompanied by nothing but feedback. Eventually she starts screaming (put this on and watch dogs cower and hide!) and the thing ends with just massive waves of feedback. Even without visuals, you can tell that the audience and esp. the MC was stunned. Personally, I thought it was awesome. Still do.

  26. Marcus Boon says:

    I second David’s comments … thanks for cataloguing further drones, people!

  27. swlabr says:

     Of course the first thing I thought of. I started clicking all of the links, and my olden times computer started hiccuping, which turned into a different sort of aural experience.

  28. I know it’s just a band that appropriated other sounds, but why aren’t The Beatles, especially the drone-and tape loop-based track “Tomorrow Never Knows” mentioned anywhere?

    • chadmulligan says:

      IMHO, the Beatles weren’t really innovators – in this case, they borrowed from Ravi Shankar , the NY minimalists, and musique concrete – also they really didn’t do much drone outside that tune.

      • I agree, mostly – but their one contribution probably got heard more than anything else listed here, and probably influenced anything after 1966. I would listen to some more Beatles though – I’m pretty sure the drone happens in parts of Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, and Yellow Submarine.

        • chadmulligan says:

          Well, another Beatles tune with a drone outside of “Tomorrow” would be “Within You, Without You” of course, and I think “It’s All Too Much” has drone-esque qualities.
          Sent from my iPad

  29. strangevibe says:

    I do find myself saying oh really? regarding the drone tendencies of Debussy and Bartok, but I’m willing to be educated.  Ostinatos, sure, but drones?   Examples of the most droney Debussy and Bartok?

    • chadmulligan says:

      “Classical music” isn’t my thing but I don’t think that you will find drone there. if you are looking for drones in an orchestral context, look for works by Giacinto Scelsi (especially “Quattro Pezzi Per Orchestra.”) It takes a lot of tricks to get an orchestra to drone, but when Scelsi did it, the music was amazingly powerful!
      Sent from my iPad

      • strangevibe says:

        It is to some extent my thing, and  I’m afraid the author may be counting on the boingboing demographic not to call him out on those name drops.  Nevertheless I’ll second your choice of Scelsi as a leading light of dronology in concert music.   I also think that the fellow above talking about pedal tones as an early instance of drone is stretching it – the way pedals work functionally with changing harmonic overlays is psychologically and perceptually very different than drone music.  If I were forced to justify Debussy as a proto-drone guy I suppose we could at least say that with the whole tone scales and generally pushing things in the direction of stasis (in contrast to classical tension/resolution structures and the drawn out tension of late romantics). So he was opening a space for more floating structures which suspend perceptual time.

        I’d probably mention the organ music of Messiaen as being perhaps closer to drone in spirit – something like The Celestial Banquet is very *vibratory* and the pedals cutting across the dissonant chords tend to lose the functional character associated with pedal tones in music prior to mid 20th century.  It’s not very far from work of Scelsi like In Nomine Lucis.

        I find a lot of Morton Feldman’s pieces work in a manner similar to dronology – it’s common to hear things along the lines of the listener needing to “inhabit” the pieces, again they’re vibratory rather than narrative in structure, and like drone music can’t really be memorized.

    • strangevibe says:

      I would also mention Alfred Schnittke as a composer who incorporated dronelike sections in his poly-stylistic work.  Have a listen to his 3rd Symphony in which sections emerge out of dronelike baths.  A lot of his work that I’ve heard seems to have that flavor, of structures emerging from or melting into dronelike textures.

      There is also his purely electronic work on the ANS synthesizer which is pretty straight up drone:

      • chadmulligan says:

        Thanks for the suggestion. For some reason, I never picked up on Schnittke but he sounds totally ace.

        • strangevibe says:

          Check out Valentin Silvestrov as well – he also has a way of taking very familiar sounding and loved-for-good-reasoned romantic and melodic styles in and out of strange resonances, or undercutting sweetness with some barely audible dissonant crosscurrents – perhaps less dramatically than Schnittke.
          5th Symphony is a good place to start, plenty of shorter work on youtube.

          It’s a bit random how we do or don’t pick up on composers – I wasn’t aware of Scelsi until a couple of years ago and have been exploring Schnittke for a while but there’s still a lot I haven’t heard.

  30. Thank you for a wonderful breadth of links to explore.

  31. togetherless says:

    I’d like to add Oren Ambarchi’s Grapes from the Estate and Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Playthroughs to the list.  A couple of modern tone generated compositonal drone masterpieces

Leave a Reply