Common steps and sub-activities

Listening to drones and bagpipes

A drone is the name of a musical instrument that only produces one note – one pitch sound.  The sound is usually a humming – droning sound – hence the name.  The sound is also capable of being sustained.   The resonance of a drone pipe is extremely effective at inducing trance states.

Drones can be found  incorporated into other instruments, for example the Indian instruments -  the sitar, the sarod, the sarangi and the rudra veena. In Indian music the main purpose of the drone is to set the pitch for the composition, but drones do have other uses……

Drones in Indian music -  David Courtney

Indian music displays a curious overlap between the drone accompaniment and rhythmic accompaniment.  It is very normal for instruments, or parts of instruments to be considered to provide either a rhythmic support or a drone.  Ektars and dotars may be considered either drone instruments or rhythmic instruments because they perform both functions.  The same can be said for the chikari strings of the sitar or the thalam strings of the vina.  Even the mridangam and the tabla, which are considered by many to be the ultimate rhythmic instruments, continuously drone the tonic through the performance.  We find that instruments whose only function is to drone (e.g., tanpura, surpeti) are few compared to the large number of instruments with dual functions.

Thus we have pulsed single tone sound from instruments that have complex tonal qualities, instruments that have the capability to produce very low frequency [infrasound] notes.

A hurdy-gurdy has one or more drone strings. The fifth string on a five-string banjo is a drone string. The bass strings of the Slovenian drone zither also freely resonate as a drone.

Scottish bagpipes incorporate a pipe drone, which plays continously when part of a bagpipe, but can be played on its own.  The way the bagpipes are played today is not I suspect how they were once played.  Here I think the original use and capabilites of the drone has been lost, but  bagpipes like the Great Highland Bagpipe and the Zampogna feature a number of drone pipes, which might have once incorporated longer pipes capable of producing lower notes or low frequency notes via interference.

The reason I have come to these conclusions is because the bagpipes have associated with them a rich history of their ability to ‘bewitch’ or ‘enchant’.  There are any number of myths and legends, all from all over Europe and Scandinavia , which associate the bagpipes particularly with ‘magic’.  I have provided two observations, noteworthy because both associate the music with ‘enforced dancing’ – involuntary spiritual experience.

The Devil playing the Bagpipe/ Erhard Schoen (c. 1530).

Pop groups have not been slow to understand the effects of the drone and ‘Drone metal’ is a form of heavy metal music focusing almost entirely on droning, heavily downtuned electric guitar and bass guitar, lacking vocals or drums.

Novelist John Wray, in The New York Times said that "It's hard to imagine any music being heavier or, for that matter, very much slower." For example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Qe04sP5R8I

But all these groups using this kind of music are aiming for a "sustained infra-sound rumble of sub-bass–-so-called brown noise" and they are well aware of the effects;  one artist Banks Violette once explained that drone metal is "as much a physiological phenomenon as an acoustic one".

Brown noise, named after the scientist Robert Brown has a quite distinct set of characteristics.  Scientifically speaking its spectral density is inversely proportional to f², but what this means in simple terms is that it has more energy at lower frequencies. It decreases in power by 6 dB per octave and, when heard, has a "damped" or "soft". The sound is a low roar resembling a waterfall or heavy rainfall.  In effect at the level of infrasound it is at its most powerful and thus most effective.

Whereas a drone pipe can be tuned using the length as a mechanism to produce very specific frequencies and thus very specific effects, Brown noise tends to be a bit random unless the people who tuned the instruments really know what they are doing.  Electronic music has the capability to achieve far more in this respect being entirely controllable.

Observations

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