Some Thoughts on the Incantatory Power of Drone

by Timothy J Jarvis

Most of the pieces on the eldritch soundtrack to The Wanderer posted yesterday could be described as drone works. Modern drone is a musical tradition developed from the radically minimal compositions of ’60s innovators La Monte Young, Phill Niblock, Eliane Radigue, Terry Riley, Charlemagne Palestine, Tony Conrad, and others. It has taken influence from a range of sources: the clanking and metallic whines of David Lynch’s and Alan Splet’s Eraserhead sound design; later industrial and noise artists, such as Coil and Nurse With Wound; the classical minimalism of New Yorkers Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and of their Eastern European sacred music counterparts, Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki; the darker, less propulsive fringes of dance; the more lumbering styles of metal; and world folk and religious music.

This music has an incantatory power. Drone, repetitive and glacially solemn, yet emotive, with ghost melodic and harmonic progressions, is a kind of alchemy; it mingles, in its crucible, the ritualistic and the affective. The effect of this is transmutative: drones fire the imagination, summon into being that which does not exist.