1. Directions in Drone: Full Transcripts

    For this month’s edition of The Out Door, we explore directions in drone by asking four drone-based musicians three questions about what the word means to them. Here are their full answers.

    JOHN KOLODIJ aka HIGH AURA’D

    What does “drone” mean to you, both in general as a listener, and 
specifically in terms of your own work? What about it appeals to you?

    Drone, to me, is as specific a term as “indie”, just a catch-all descriptor. With my work, I try to get into a place of deep listening; an immersive, glamored state where sound is suggestive, even if overblown and loud. Long tones help lay a foundation, but the details, the layers, are what attract me –  overtones and decay. 

    One of my favorite things to work up is loops (I use pedals, no computers), and to just bathe in the sound. After I’ve played, I let them further crumble and fold into each other then let them run for half an hour and think over them, imagining further treatment. I’ve come to this from EARTH andUstad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, MBV and Spectrum, Fripp & Eno, Work/Death and Eliane Radigue, for a few examples.

    I love the freedom, the space, and the liminal, often ethereal quality of most “drone.” It’s often slow music, and like most noble rot, it takes some attention and patience to  truly enjoy and appreciate it; wine, beer, cheese, cured meats, pickled vegetables —  these take time as well and are infinitely more enjoyable than a Big Mac or Slurpee.

    What challenges and limitations do “drone”put on your music-making, and/or how does it free up your 
creative process?

    I don’t feel any limitations apply, but the challenge is to be honest to myself and to write pieces that are singular, that are there for everyone. There is, of course, like any genre, a glut of work that seems not up–to-par, and derivative rather than original.

    So, again, like all “ART”, the challenge is to represent yourself honestly and truthfully; how many E minor pads can one welcome? Is birdsong really cliché?

    I have huge listening/seasonal swings, and my work is reflective of this always/ Lots of dub, hip-hop and techno in warmer months, country & dark ambient stuff in the cold spells, but with so many staples that fill in these swings year-round. So, if I want to incorporate something in my work, I do it in my style; it may be broken, or overly complicated and redundant, but always in my way.

    What were your specific goals, if any, on your new record (Sanguine Futures)? 

    I set out to document clearly a few pieces I’d been working on since last year. Mooncusser (on Ydlmier/Los Discos Enfantasmes) was a sort of rough sketch for Sanguine Futures — but I wanted Mooncusser to be raw and blackened. I recorded it with my friend Ken Linehan in Providence, and I think it’s held up (at least it has for me).

    John Twells and I went deeper, challenging each other, pushing each otherand having fun. I wanted Sanguine Futures to be more distilled, and clarified, and dense. I also wanted it to be the best, biggest thing I’d ever done; heavy enough to float – I was thinking glacially, and dreaming of tectonic grind. 

    JIMMY BILLINGHAM aka TIDAL

    What does “drone” mean to you, both in general as a listener, and 
specifically in terms of your own work? What about it appeals to you?

    What I take to be the defining feature of drone, with regards to describing a certain type of music, is the merging and blending of individual notes not only vertically in simultaneous combinations but also horizontally in time, so that beginnings and ends merge to produce a mass of gradually shifting tones.  As both a listener and player/producer, I like sounds that emerge and fade slowly, where there is a sense of definite progression but indeterminate stages.  Having the drone as a body of sound means that to an extent specific sounds get lost and take on a kind of collective identity, and trying to listen to these individual elements means that your ear gets drawn in - drone is therefore a very involving type of music, for me.  

    There is a historical link between drone music and altered states, and outside of any brain chemistry/neurological explanations, there is a definite tendency of drone music to stimulate feelings of escapism and transcendence (whatever spiritual significance may be attached to this).  During a period when I was studying a lot, alone in front of my computer, I found that I couldn’t focus properly listening to a lot of music that I like, apart from ambient-drone (I like the airy/environmental connotations of this term), which was not only tolerable whilst working, but seemed to actually focus my mind in the right way.  I really feel there is a unique psychological significance attached to this type of music, and something that I feel has completely absorbed me in many ways.

    What challenges and limitations do “drone”put on your music-making, and/or how does it free up your 
creative process?

    I don’t feel challenged by any historical precedents or formal constraints, but do feel that there is a definite lineage that both making and listening to drone music taps into - the functionalism was perhaps overplayed in New Age’s appropriation of drone, but the essence of this continues in tape ambient, beyond/despite any crude irony.  There is a reverence for the form and signifiers that is entirely sincere, yet simultaneously playful, which is brilliant.  

    Drone is an open form, by definition, both in terms of listening and playing - I feel it really opens up the listening experience almost in a spatial sense and I do feel that in making tracks I am creating certain tonal atmospheres in the environmental sense; an open expanse to be explored during listening.  Drone is also a very free and welcoming form because it can be incredibly minimal - one note can be a drone - as well as maximal, with tones washing about all over the place, and it can be lo-fi or hi-fi without diminishing the power (I often find lo-fi to be even more absorbing).  

    Making this type of music definitely frees up the creative process in some ways, because you’re not constrained by as many formal, structural or technical conventions as with other types of music (although working within constraints can also be conducive to creativity).  But for me the concern is not merely with being creatively free - with the drone as a useful ‘carrier’ - but with creating a certain tone and affect that only drone music can provide; where the drone and the melodic content work as one to produce quite a specific emotional content.  This is what I find appealing, and what I look for as both a listener and a creator.

    What were your specific goals, if any, on your new record (split 12” w/Rambutan)?

    Well I don’t really think of my tracks as having particular goals, and it’s actually quite difficult trying to rationalize what I set out to achieve, as it’s more a case of each track being its own particular goal, with every track sharing the goal of being involving and affecting music.  In terms of habits and tendencies I recognize, I find I like working at particular thresholds and pushing things right out to the edge, almost out of reach.  For example, using sounds that are on the fringes of being audible, recognizable or harmonic, or treating them so that they become so. I like things to float in and out of the thresholds of perception. “Sounds of the Future” has lots of samples buried in it that you can barely hear (and more samples than I normally use in Tidal tracks), and I really like obscuring things in this way - like it feels a bit more special if you can only just make something out, as if you’ve uncovered it.  Too much is too easy in this world - I like to have to work a bit, and to feel rewarded.

    DEREK ROGERS

    What does “drone” mean to you, both in general as a listener, and 
specifically in terms of your own work? What about it appeals to you?

    Initially, I discovered drone music had a unique quality to entrance the listener into a lulled relaxation of sorts.  Sometimes phrases or sustained tones that churned in an engrossing repetition offered a completely different experience than other music I’d heard previously. Through artists such as William Basinski, Gavin Bryars, or Brian Eno’s ambient works, I discovered that — though you knew what was coming next in the “loop,” so to speak — this specific attention offered a chance to recontextualize the phrase by hearing subtle overtones and patterns that previously had been hidden.  I don’t think my own work holds a candle to those artists, but it’s definitely something I’m constantly striving for.

    What challenges and limitations do “drone”put on your music-making, and/or how does it free up your 
creative process?

    In my own work I know I’m limited by my inability to really play guitar or piano. I can’t play a scale to save my life but I know what tones or notes fit together to create a specific mood or feeling, and my real strength has always been my ear.  I played the oboe for about seven years or so in middle/high school, so I have a basic understanding of musical form.  I’ve always been drawn to a “less is more” approach, and creating the most with minimal means necessary. I’ve also been somewhat limited financially, and every piece of gear I own was purchased second-hand from either pawn shops or Craigslist. At some point I just got tired of absorbing all of these amazing records and not being able to express my own ideas, so I just started obsessively recording and playing shows.

    What were your specific goals, if any, on the new record (Saturations)?

    "Saturations" marked the first and only time I’ve allowed anyone else to have any concrete input on my work.  I met Christopher Hughes about ten years ago at an audio engineering school we both attended in Dallas and we’ve floated in and out of each others’ lives ever since. When he moved back to Denton, TX from Brooklyn a few years ago, we reconnected and I learned that he had acquired a substantial amount of professional recording gear with aspirations to open his own studio. I knew my wife and I were going to be soon leaving Austin for Los Angeles, so I felt it was an appropriate way to mark the occasion and spend a few days with and old friend.

    The record also marks the first and only time anyone else had played on a solo release of mine.  Growing up, I was a ridiculously huge fan of Regina Chellew and her band Captain Audio back in Dallas, so having the opportunity to finally meet with her and have her play trumpet on my debut vinyl LP was a pretty huge deal for me.  I met Petra Kelly through Chris, and had the chance to see her play violin with his project, The Calmative, and was overwhelmed with the beauty of her playing.  To me, she represented the lush musical history of Denton, TX that I wanted to show on this record.  I also have an enormous respect for James Plotkin’s mastering work, specifically his ability to flesh-out the low end and clarify huge distortions.  When I learned he was affordable, I knew he was a perfect fit.

    In a way, I think “Saturations” serves as both a snapshot of a very specific time in my life; the feelings of anxious excitement associated with a huge cross-country move and fear of what the future holds, and the innate desire to represent the present while also giving a nod to the past.

    LEE NOBLE

    What does “drone” mean to you, both in general as a listener, and 
specifically in terms of your own work? What about it appeals to you?

    It is un-regimented, open, non-oppressive music. I’m being simple but… in a phrase, anti-beat. Pop music tells you how to move, it puts actual physical demands on the listener or it tells you a story the lyricist wants you to understand… Telling is an egocentric act in this little… theoretical exercise. A beat commands. So I’m interested in making music that is close-lipped and open to interpretation; a photo, not a sentence. Hinting at things. I could say that you are being enslaved when you listen to EDM, for instance. Whipped, dancing zombies. Or you’re being preached to. But I don’t need to go that far. Right now, I’m just interested in emphasis on the stillness of thought and less on physical movement. Slow instead of fast. I think there’s a need for more boring moments in life. I hate the rush of life and I just want to be slow. All this isn’t to say I don’t like rhythm or lyrics, obviously I do, I often use them in my own music, but thinking about it this way is a nice jumping off point for me. Practically, I usually don’t like going into total abstraction either. Someone, I forget who, maybe Alex Twomey, said drone/noise music isn’t something you play or do, it’s something you tap into. That’s nice too.

    What challenges and limitations do “drone”put on your music-making, and/or how does it free up your 
creative process?

    Sometimes the right feeling is hard to capture. It can fall apart and turn to a mess. But I don’t really perceive the limitations of staying within this genre, that’s why sometimes I just write a song or do something else. There are always tropes you can fall into when recording music. But I don’t know, I try to just do what I like. More often I experience technical limitations / time / recording / ability / equipment. I guess a lot of this sort of music is really about subtle expertise, of say, performing with a modular synthesizer, and I do find it hard to be subtle with things, and I’m certainly not a technical master, so I’m definitely not a part of that aspect of it. I leave a lot of it up to half broken instruments and gear ineptitude. But I always feel like I can work on whatever I want.

    What were your specific goals, if any, on your new record (split 12” w/Ensemble Economique)?

    It’s a split, so I needed to make something that would pair with Brian Pyle’s side in some way. And I’ve never tried to specifically work on a counterpoint to someone else’s music before, so I hope it has worked OK! He finished his tracks first and I thought they were so beautiful. I hoped to have some kind of movement going as you listened to the whole record. I think a review said that my side sounded like it was recorded under the bed or something and Brian’s side hovered into the air, but honestly I think that’s a fine way for the record to move, starting buried under the bed and going out through the window and into the night air, over about 35 minutes.

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