Night of the Long Drone

I recently created a slowly evolving drone track that is 8 hrs long

I was inspired by a performance called ‘Otoacoustic Emissions‘ which was hosted by Jacob Adler at St Augustine’s Episcopal Parish on Halloween night.  In preparation for the event, the following instructions were given “Memorize the harmonic series: C-G-E-Bb-D-F#-G#-B.

The performance consisted of an continuous drone that was almost imperceptibly quiet to begin with but increased in volume as the performers layered more and more notes on top of each other until at one point it felt like the walls of the church were shaking.

Then it slowly faded out…except for the original drone.

The whole thing lasted for almost 90 minutes.

Rewinding to a couple of days prior to the Otoacoustic Emissions performance, I attempted to construct my own piece using the information about the harmonic sequence. However, I misinterpreted the instructions and actually created a piece which was just under 5 minutes long where the notes played in sequential order. After seeing the performance I revisited this piece and decided to time stretch it.

I ended up with a piece of music that was 8 hours long – an eerie sounding, continually evolving drone

I had the idea of taking the first 2.5 hours of the track, chopping it up into 20 minute segments and offering each piece to a musician to improvise over with the intention of recompiling the the whole thing back together along with the new additions

I outlined some basic parameters and instructions for potential participants

1) There are 8 x20 minute drone pieces – pick a number from 1 to 8 and I will send you a drone track to improvise over and record to

2) Each musician will work in isolation from each other…we will only know what the ‘whole’ sounds like when I recompile all of the pieces.

3) Work quickly – do whatever you like, vocals/spoken word, percussion, guitar, any combination of any instruments or sounds, create your own additional drones over the top of my drone – but don’t spend too long on it and get it back to me as quickly as you can

4) I will need 2 tracks back from you – a ‘mix’ with your playing along to the drone, and a stereo mix of your accompaniment without the drone

Eventually I had 8 volunteers who were willing to play with this idea

This is what they came up with


Drone 1: Victor Eijkhout:

I played Kueng bass and (briefly) tenor recorders.  After listening to the drone I saw that it had shifting tonal centers, so I decided to just improvise against it, using the drone note as both something to consonate with and to dissonate against.  The first 2/3 of my track are fairly melodic; in the end I went on a more microtonal bend, using slides and variations in breath pressure to explore the inside of intervals. The only effect is a little reverb.


Drone 2: Ed Hannifin

Note from me:  Ed’s track is rather brilliant and deserves to be a piece in its own right but in the context of this piece I felt we needed a bit more space to let the drone breath.

So, I asked Ed to send me the Logic file to allow me to tinker, and tinker I did.  I extracted the DNA of Ed’s original piece and kept many of the elements but used them in a radically altered way, processing with logic audio’s flex time.

All of the playing is Ed Hannifin.

All of the ‘jiggery-pokery’ is me.


Drone 3: Michael Marquesen

I used samples from the NASA sound cloud page that were chopped up and run through a bit crusher and Logics tape delay.
Kontakt piano with Valhalla Shimmer reverb on a send
Synth Magic 8 OBLIQUE S synth


Drone 4: Andy Wigze

I used a Cannonball Tenor Sax on this.

A few years ago Harold Luper had invited me to a friend’s ranch near Glen Rose, Texas. The next morning he was leaning against a fence near his truck plunking out a song on a really beat up parlor guitar. His is the voice you hear.

Harold never knew that I recorded him that day.

The eerie varying pitch sound is wind blowing through a glass atrium door. At work, I am around a lot of large crowds and open mics, so I record a bit of that whenever it sounds interesting. Also, there are grandson sounds and the singing at the end is a gentleman that has been playing music for 60 years, Pastor Groff.


Drone 5: Kevin Bud Jones

I played “The Rig” in a straight through one take recording after listening to the drone once.
It consists of an Arturia Microbrute synth that I run through a series of guitar pedals – Mooer pitch shifter, T.C. Electronics Flashback delay, Behringer Super Fuzz, Boss CE2 chorus, Moogerfooger ring mod and Electroharmonics Holy Grail Nano reverb.

Then I also used an Akai MPX8 Sample Trigger through an Alesis AirFX then a Boss D6 delay to a Ditto Looper. My iPad Mini was running iDensity granular app through a Boss DM2 delay into a Digitech Jam Man looper. The three “instruments” are run through a Mackie 4 channel mixer with the output into a Boomerang Phrase Sampler – then out to record.


Drone 6: Brent Miles

Fender Stratocaster with an E-Bow on the A string, which was capoed on the first fret because I wanted the drone in Bb. The guitar was hooked to a chain of pedals: Behringer Reverb Machine -> Boss OC-3 -> Boss RC-20 Loop Station -> Line 6 Echo Park -> Line 6 Pocket POD Express. Then it went into a Zoom H2N digital recorder, which I used to record the whole 20-minute drone live, in its entirety, to a stereo wav file.


Drone 7: Matthew Mosher

I used an Akai LPD8 for knobs and Max/MSP. It’s a double sine wave one octave apart run through a dual harmonic frequency modulation patch. I think I started in D and shifted to G 1/3 of the way in. It’s very low frequency. I’d just gotten back from otoacoustic emissions so I did a similar slow fade in to overwhelming roar with a quick fade out over the 20min.


Drone 8: Bill Grundmann

I used all Garage Band synths,

In the order they first appear…

Voice Generator: Classical Ensemble. long attack and release, no effects. pencil tooled.
Radio Sounds. Spectral Blurring 88.8%. and compressor on one of them. pencil tooled.
Tuned Percussion: African Kalimba. 3 tracks, tape echo. pencil tooled.
Analog Mono. AUMatrixReverb. 2 tracks with slightly different Glide rates. improvised on keyboard.
Woodwind: Indian Shehnai Oboe. AUMatrixReverb. 2 copies, one slightly delayed. improvised on keyboard. manual pitch bend.
Church Organ. AUMatrixReverb plus Master Reverb. very low gain. as a subliminal drone. pencil tooled.


This evening, I reassembled all the components

I realize that this is a piece of music that no one will ever listen to from start to finish, but here in all of its glory is the 3:15 version of our experiment with a long drone.

Don’t Drone Alone

Feel free to tune in and tune out of the piece at any point but if you can at least make an attempt to listen to it all in one go when you have 3.5 hours to spare

I am considering trying to organize a one off ‘listening event’ somewhere locally, a small venue or the top of South Mountain or a remote desert location where the piece will begin to play in the daylight hours and finish just over 3hrs later when it is dark

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3 thoughts on “Night of the Long Drone

  1. I’m just getting started listening and already I love what I hear. Hats off to all for their contributions. I’ve come to expect unusual generosity of spirit and unique creativity from Bryn over the years. Taken to this length and scale, it is, in his words – “simply brilliant”.

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