Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about the drone below on the left. If that’s what hooked you in then you’ll be disappointed. I mean drones of the musical variety, like the Uilleann Pipes on the right below, a mainstay of traditional Irish folk music. A drone in a musical sense is ‘a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece.’
According to Harry Sword, whose book Monolithic Undertow: In Search of Sonic Oblivion was released in 2020, the drone is the most ancient of all musical forms: ‘From the womb – where the rushing of maternal blood is heard loud and clear at 88 decibels – through myriad historical, spiritual and subcultural pathways, our connection to the drone runs deep.‘
In his Guardian article, No Drone Unturned, Harry Sword shares this haunting piece from Éliane Radigue, created on the ARP 2500 modular synthesiser …
I particularly like the Irish band Lankum who I got to see just before the lockdowns began. Here’s an example of how they build tension using an underlying drone …
So what’s this got to do with Instrumentality? Well, I’ve recently started the Harmony project in Labwerks, and I wanted to start by establishing that harmony is not a given – you can do a lot without any harmonic content.
So, while drones can be harmonic and be based on a chord, my example uses just one note, E. Why E? Well, I’m a guitarist, first and foremost, and guitarists love the note E – so much, in fact, that 2 of the 6 strings on a guitar are tuned to that note. Jimi Hendrix reputedly spent hours at a time just picking at an E chord.
This brief example, no more than a quick sketch, contains as many Es as you could wish for across eight octaves. To hear them all, you’ll need a decent set of headphones or speakers.