Drones and Airplanes

At first, I actually find doing all this drone research and listening kind of like being on a long flight where you forgot your kindle. All around you is a beautiful atmosphere of clouds, but there’s a psychological wall of repeated forms of the window seats that make it a thick, slothlike mental experience. I exist for experimental music and art, but also sometimes it’s a little hard to take. All this drone wasn’t meant to be listened to at once. Yet, listening to so much of it at one time really makes some drone music special.

Each attempt at making a drone is highly personal, with an almost sonic identification of personal histories of each of the performers. John Cale’s Sun Blindness Music is so much like 60s rock music, just in it’s distorted sound and occasional, sporadic sound clusters, which do not change from the more psychedelic signature of the synthesis tools used to create it. There is very little alteration of tones and little richness to explore in the textures. I found I couldn’t listen to it for very long intently, and then moved more away from deep listening into background music.

I can’t say the same thing happened listening to La Monte Young’s work. His work contains many of the drone “hits”. Drone “hits” won’t make you sing in the shower, but you might just hum. It’s not an impossible effect. Everything I listened to by Young was transfixing. I first listened to The Well Tuned Piano, which I, on recommendation, listened to loudly on headphones, I was never distracted. I held on to each note, each chord as a vital and immediate experience. The performance was nuanced and you could tell the deep listening from moment to moment. It was improvisational, but with a logic to it. It felt like a global crossing of classical forms, finding a commonality in the just intonation system, and a kind of alap in sections before becoming more dense, in a wave of recurrence as the piece unfolded over a five hour period. This is hyperbole, but it may be the most impactful recording I have heard since John Coltrane’s Love Supreme. Coming to a revelation like this was unexpected, especially to someone who has heard so much before it.

The interesting thing about feeling in violation or wrong in listening to music like this all day, was that I almost felt like I was doing something dangerous and unhealthy, like being in an opium den all day. In defense, I allowed the afternoon to deep cleaning the apartment, but this impulse I found important. It really revealed that listening to drone was actually revolutionary.

It challenges the common view of life as being justified by usefulness to the society. Just like my interest in poetry, this is an entrance into a field of view that allows things to just be, not be used for something, but just experiencing something. And that’s where the innovation is. This is music that makes you stop. It makes you listen completely for minute changes as they happen. You start to listen to microtones, to subtle changes in texture.

I’ve often thought that Western Experimental music could be completely summed up as an academic colonialist exercise of appropriation of world culture. Wasn’t Young a capitalist colonizing an Indian Gharana? But at this fundamental level, the forces of world culture combine in part, not in total, as in many forms of “World Music” that reveals their essential qualities, and sublimate simple frequencies in an incredible celebration of the mundane. We can look out the window at the clouds, despite whatever destination we have.


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