The delight of (musical) drones.

This post is about drones. The musical kind, not the…other kind. Or the other other kind.

A while ago, something occurred to me: if I completely adore a song on a deep, what feels like a cellular, level, it almost certainly has a drone. A low note on a synth often does it. Could be a piano, too. Or, slightly more literally, a bagpipe. I don’t discriminate.

(And, I should disclose, I think I’m pretty generous when I say “drone.” If you consult the dictionary, a drone is “an instrument or part of an instrument (such as one of the fixed-pitch pipes of a bagpipe) that sounds a continuous unvarying tone.” I mean something broader: whenever there’s a part of the music that is more or less sitting still below whatever else is going on above it, even if it’s not just one tone. Sue me, musicologists).

It’s not always obvious to me what, exactly, is appealing to me, or that it has anything in common with all the other times that I felt transfixed. Instead, it just feels like my brain saying an emphatic, unconditional YES to whatever is going on.

This phenomenon is so pronounced that my boyfriend (much more observant than I am) picked up on it very early in our relationship. As it happens, he often finds drones unsettling. Somehow, through this adversity, we manage to make it work.

Cat Power said something that made this all make sense to me: a drone is a thick cloth to keep the song warm. Yes, that’s it: it’s something that makes a song feel all that much more physical. Like it’s reaching out and holding me still.

Something like a steady mark against which change is measured. The drudge of daily life. The steady heartbeat. But also discord, warning, a ghost at the feast. A hint of intrigue.

Lest I get totally carried away, let me stop and show you some drones I have collected in the wild:

(Rhodes electric piano)

(Yo-Yo Ma on cello)

(Hurdy Gurdy?)

(Synth. Extra credit for buzzing, which is like a drone’s drone.)

(Bonus synth.)

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