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Drone production

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  • Drone production

    Sparked by an exchange on the Member Releases subforum, I thought it would be better to create a separate discussion in the Ambient Theory and Methods one.

    So let's talk about what drone ambient is, as a genre. And what are good composition and production techniques to make quality drone music?

    I'm not claiming to be an expert, tho I may have outspoken opinions. I am hoping to learn and improve my musical skills.

    One quote to start off, by John Cage:

    “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” | |

  • #2
    I like the John Cage quote

    As an aside, I have never ever listened to any John Cage stuff...

    Anyway, as for drones, I have my own opinions on what a drone is.

    In it's simplest form, bagpipe music utilises a drone, and I have always liked listening to bagpipe music, especially live.

    However, not a great example, I guess, as there is a strong melody always accompanying the drone. And, in quite a lot of my own drone creations I do like to have a bit of something playing over the top.

    I have, though, created some drones that are nothing but an ever changing soundscape for the ten/fifteen minutes of the piece.

    But perhaps that is where I am getting a bit mixed up, and I am creating soundscapes and not drones... Or perhaps they are one and the same?

    At this point I thought I had better listen to at least one of the pieces in question and I chose the first, Vibrational Cleanse.

    I actually enjoyed the listen. Drone or Soundscape? Not sure... I would agree that it is both a drone and a soundscape.

    I then listened to parts of Spirits as it was a long one, at 25 minutes, and although I would normally listen to something like this all the way through in one sitting, I need to be doing other stuff today. But, from what I heard, I thought it was enjoyable as a drone/soundscape.

    I also listened to Barry's creation Pipe Dream.

    At 14 minutes long I thought I should at least listen to all of this as it was slow developing and I didn't want to miss anything. Another enjoyable piece... Drone? Soundscape? Both? Certainly a drone in there, and the creature noises were great, as was the creaking bits and pieces. Then as the piece progresses a more recognisable melody develops, slow, of course, and this works really well for me.

    Regarding techniques... I honestly don't feel that I am qualified to share as, like I said above, I am not entirely sure what I am making is drone anyway, but I will say that my main weapons of choice are Adaptiverb and MGranularMB, along with Pro-R for reverb and Timeless 2 for delay. I use other effects but they are the main ones.

    I basically use those effects to effectively "blur" anything that I route into them. And I only use them as send effects, routing all manner of stuff into the effects busses and only allowing the original elements to poke through here and there.

    I won't post links, because I don't want to be seen to be flogging my own stuff here, but there are two tracks on my latest album on Bandcamp that demonstrates this technique. The first, called Poached Egg and Black Pudding on Crumpet, is all effects, with not much of the underlying stuff poking into the mix at all. Then there is a similarly named track, Poached Egg and Black Pudding on Toast, that allows a lot more of the original sequences and tracks to emerge into the mix. Okay, not a drone or even a soundscape, perhaps, but I deliberately created this track as a demonstration as to how I created the other tracks on this album.

    I have also made other posts here about this technique and I will see if I can find them and link them here as they have screenshots from my DAW.


    I may not post anything useful, but at least I do it often

    Bandcamp // SoundCloud // YouTube


    • #3
      Thanks for adding to that, and pointing out facets that need clarification.

      I think there are two things when we speak about drone. One is the musical phenomenon, which is a sustained note or chord, such as in the bagpipes you mentioned, and also known as pedal point in organ music. This can appear in a variety of genres.

      Then there is drone as a genre, in which that sustained note is the defining characteristic. I am talking here about drone ambient, tho drone metal is also a thing (many people here are sure to be aware of Sunn O)))...). La Monte Young, who can probably be considered as father of the genre, famously called it "the sustained tone branch of minimalism".

      This minimalism, in my opinion, invites the listener to a more meditative appreciation of the music, with an emphasis on the texture of the sound, rather than say the harmony, melody, or rhythm. What the John Cage quote above also indicates, is a focus not on change, but on a constant. I have compared this to soaking in a bath, with sonic texture instead of water.

      I have listened today to Pipe Dream, which is a very enjoyable piece. Rather than a constant held note, it has a constant repeating motif or arpeggio, very much like the Indian tanpura, or like a tape loop. I do think this qualifies as a drone, especially the way it is mixed as a constant wash of sound. But this drone at times practically disappears in the mix with other elements, which call a lot of attention to themselves. And I personally would wish for a drone to have a bit more focus on that constant texture.

      In this sense it is similar to my own mix for Drone Day. That has a lot of elements as well that may keep the interest, and I wonder if some people would consider these pieces to be "borderline" drone, and too busy. (Obviously as soundscapes they work well, and that is not the discussion.)

      Personally I am looking for more minimalism, which I think I took a step closer toward in my recent EP allotropes, but I feel I still have a way to go.

      Some drone music to consider from Éliane Radigue for solo cello, and La Monte Young: | |


      • #4
        ablaut Good points made above and I realise that I have to readdress what I think of as a drone. I would still like to use "Drone" in a description, as opposed to, or as well as "Soundscape" and perhaps "Drone-like" would be more appropriate. Or even "Dronescape," which is a label that I have used before.

        What I need to do next, I feel, is check out those YouTube links you have posted and get a better understanding of what Drone is, as a genre.

        Basically, the more I research about this I can only come to the conclusion that I have not been creating Drones at all.

        I would like ID_23 (Jason) to chip in here as I think he has produced some great Drone stuff.

        good topic this...


        I may not post anything useful, but at least I do it often

        Bandcamp // SoundCloud // YouTube


        • #5
          My 2 recent pieces used convolution reverb mainly with a synth sample as the impulse response file, I've been using Deleight for effect on most tracks lately as well. I did similar with this where the initial sample was suppressed 100%, just the reverb(along with a couple of delays and Molot compressor) with piano playing overtop, waves vinyl vst added in last. Others I've done are more soundscapes, sustenance of cinnabar and tarmac gazing for recent examples. I do have Knagalis vst with sitars and bagpipes(among other instruments), trackspark offered it last year. Mixing reverb with that would probably work quite well too and i should get around to trying it.

          re: John Cage I always liked this quote of his that previously opened Attenuation Circuit's newsletter - “If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience.” He also liked to say that everything we do is music - (I think I've shared this before on 4'33 as well, he had a fairly meditative approach even employing his own self-created tarot cards into the writing of it - but meditative is also something that drone strongly lends to)

          As for musical genres(not only drone), if one were to picture a diagram for them I'd say Venn is best to allow for all the intersections and overlaps that life is full of, rather than classifications we're all familiarized with. VU and Spacemen 3 adopted drone elements into some of their music, though I wouldn't classify it as drone genre strictly even if they can be used as great examples of it. I think some of Sun O)))'s and Boris's work could be classified as kind of metal ambient. Merzbow has released ambient works, which I don't think has to be calm and relaxing necessarily. I think some of Arvo Part's compositions could be considered ambient as well, coming from a different approach than something like Merzbient(a 10hr album and takes some dedication to get through all of it, but one can pick up and leave off wherever)

          So maybe drone works better as an element than as a broad classification; drone ambient as a genre could be a result of overlap from many different places imho
          Last edited by Ambire Seiche; 07-02-2018, 04:33 AM.
          | Ambire Seiche - @ heart this | @ Sonic Squirrel |
          | @da


          • #6
            Great idea for a discussion... thanks for the shout out Andy!
            I am by no means a drone aficionado, or feel confident enough about the history of drone in music, but I think that the term ‘drone’ is now quite often used as a description of technique rather than a genre or label (I am useless when it comes to deciding where to pigeonhole my own works!). For me it is as much about texture, both in macro and micro.. like surface detail and patina, or impasto paint, or even the map of an unexplored land or planet. Quite often I perceive my own pieces in much the same way as I approached printmaking, I was obsessed with creating texture by means of natural process... I loved the organic chaotic element that had an impact as to how I would proceed... I would look at this surface as a landscape, and how that would or could be modified to increase the interest. Dark ambient drone, soundscape and noisescape for me, are approached in a similar manner... I would start somewhere with a sustained note, or stretched audio or repeated sample... and process the audio surface as a landscape, scraping away sounds to reveal underlying archaeological audio, or building up texture elsewhere, to obscure or obliterate these similar artefacts of rhythm and or melody. This treatment means that there is always interest and many levels, so for close listening as well as ambient background listening there are still enough features on this slowly evolving/decaying landscape of sound. I hope this garbled explanation helps explain where I am coming from. Imperceptible change, like glacial melt, continental drift or desert erosion all resonate for me too... as I believe this is a fundamental part of drone ambient, or ambient drone, not a big fan of genre labels, as everything evolves and takes in influences, boundaries are becoming fractalized, which leads me to another huge source of inspiration for me; fractals... their infinite complexity and uniqueness of form, as well as the repetition of that form... I guess there could be genre called fractal ambient! This is not an exhaustive explanation on my view, it might change over time too...


            • #7
              Excellent discussion! I'm a big fan of all forms of drone. Comments below are my opinions and in no way represent any presumption of authority or accuracy.

              I agree with ablaut that "drone" is both a musical phenomenon as well as a genre classification. The degree to which a drone (the musical phenomenon) is the focus of a track probably determines how strongly that track is considered a drone (the genre). I also agree with Ambire Seiche and ID_23 that, much like "ambient", the "drone" genre can have a multitude of variants, flavors, and styles, depending on the composition, arrangement, and augmentation with other elements.

              As a listener, I'm not concerned about whether or not a given track "is a drone" or "has a drone". If I enjoy it, it's a great track. Sometimes I want to listen to a glacial drone which focuses on micro-manipulation of textures. Sometimes I want to listen to a melodic drone which slowly moves from one space to another. As an artist, I likewise try to focus on adding as much or as little as the track needs to "feel complete" (and always struggle with finding that line), rather than trying to fit snugly within a specific genre.

              The label used to describe a given track is just an attempt to set expectations for the listener--so the artist (or label, or whomever) will use specific terms in an attempt to describe a track which may or may not align with the listener's perception. This can be especially tricky when it comes to broad categories like ambient and drone. And even for more mainstream categories, the characteristics which determine the label used evolve over time as cultures and tastes evolve. So I don't put too much weight on the label--especially when it's a top-level genre like "ambient", "drone", "industrial", etc.
              remst8 -


              • #8
                Binaural beats can be good for making drones, though it's rare that I've heard it done very well. I've played with Gnaural software some in the past but haven't delved too deep into it. (paul stretch 2 offers binaural beats option as well)
                | Ambire Seiche - @ heart this | @ Sonic Squirrel |
                | @da


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Ambire Seiche View Post
                  Binaural beats can be good for making drones, though it's rare that I've heard it done very well. I've played with Gnaural software some in the past but haven't delved too deep into it. (paul stretch 2 offers binaural beats option as well)
                  Droneo on iPad or iPhone is great for binaural, and standard and non standard drone production... a great starting point often.

                  Droneo by Henry Lowengard


                  • #10
                    One of my favorite tools for producing drones is Animoog. Pick some Timbres, draw a Path, set the Path rate real slow, add some Orbit variation...Happy Droning! Use the Hold button. I enjoy starting another note after the first one has traveled some distance on the path and listening to the interactions. And another...

                    This drone is just two Animoog drones recorded separately and then mixed together in the iPad.

                    Last edited by windspace; 07-07-2018, 09:25 AM.


                    • #11
                      Just a thougt : when I zap in different places of a drone track, I feel I always hear the same layout (level, density, sound ...) with just slowly variations. If these parameters sounds different (of course considering always with the sames notes or chords), I think it is a soundscape (>>> ??)


                      • #12
                        windspace yes! Animoog is one of the BEST synthesizers of all time, hardware OR software! It is accessible, powerful, immensely powerful, yet extremely approachable....anyone with an old iPad can create droning synthetic mastery!
                        imagine Moog doing a huge upgrade? Doubt that it needs it...anyhow....DRONE ON!