In Hindu music the drone is said to represent the eternal self behind all the changing forms of nature. Drone music does not always have to be pretty or melodic and to many people can seem monotonous and somewhat boring. Recently I have been experimenting with this musical form and trying to create my own drone type sounds out of different source material. Rather than attempting to write pieces of music I played around with different tonal elements. My interest here was in atmosphere, dissonance and how the drone can lure the listener into a somewhat hypnotic state if they are open to just listening without judgement of compositional form or structure.
The Bowed Mandolin
I found an old broken mandolin that is really more of an ornamental piece than instrument at this stage. Using a violin bow I spent a few minutes drawing the bow across the strings in different places, using different pressures. The sound was scratchy metallic and quite unpleasant. I recorded this and to process the audio I resampled it in Ableton using the simpler instrument. Playing this sample back at different speeds produced a harsh, dissonant sound that evolved as each sample speed overlapped randomly. To blur this into a somewhat more cohesive sound i added a multi-tap delay. The result was a disturbing, screeching drone with interesting movement and resonance. It was a keeper for me.
Drone 1 – bowed mandolin
For this example I first recorded a Tibetan prayer bowl. The playing of the bowl is not perfect and you can hear the scraping of the metal edges throughout. However I tend to like this as it adds texture to the sound. My plan was to create what is known as a binaural beat using this sound. The ‘beat’ is created when two tones are played at the same time, one on the hard left of the stereo field, the other on the hard right. I duplicated the recording of the bowl and panned both tracks left and right, detuning the right track by approximately 10Hz. This small difference in frequency creates a kind of auditory illusion that sounds like the tones are wavering or modulating. This is caused by our brains responding to the slight difference between the two tones. As there are a number of pitches in this recording there are a number of binaural beats occurring simultaneously. For me this is quite a pleasant experience.
Drone 2 – binaural bowls
This is a simple sound design trick that I stumbled across. By recording a medium sized marble rolling around the inside of a bodhran, some pitching down and filtering I created what sounds, to me, like the drone of a warplane. This could be useful…. Maybe…
By playing the autoharp with a cheap plastic beater I recorded this rhythmic dissonant piece. I then processed this recording by time stretching it. To create a continuous drone behind the recording I used Abletons granulator instrument on a duplicate of the original recording. The result is crude but presents possibilities for use in atmospheric scoring.
The rainstick is an odd instrument. It doesn’t really sound like rain to me. I recorded one of these for a few minutes, randomly tipping it back and forth. When I pitched this recording down by about 30 semitones the sound took on the character of crackling lumps of ice shuffling down some frozen steam or river. To add some extra ambience I sent this track to a convolution reverb. This particular reverb acts like a shimmer effect but instead of pitching the verb up by 12 semitones it creates a chord. I saturated this reverb to give it more presence and simply allowed the tumbling sounds of the rainstick to trigger this swirling ambience.