Art of Failure:
Listen to performances from the Drone Fest …
Text by John Rosenthal
Sound is like a mirage, a physiological trick, the byproduct of the random set of circumstances that has found you alive, with a pair of ears, on a planet with an atmosphere conducive to breathing.
When we talk about sound, we are really describing a type of energy, a mechanical wave.
It is a wave propagated by a source, be it a guitar string or the snap of a branch. Its speed, referred to as frequency, is measured in increments called hertz (Hz). We can “hear” sound within the audible spectrum, but we are also effected by inaudible frequencies too, allowing for changes in our mood. Perceptions of doom or elation can be attributed to inaudible frequencies.
In space, electromagnetic waves are also measured in hertz and we can translate their frequencies to audible sound. The Crab Nebula radiates at the low frequency of 30 Hz, the equivalent of a very low B, almost inaudible when translated to a mechanical wave. Measurements of plasma waves within the sun’s heliosphere (the area of the solar system effected by the sun’s magnetic field), register at 300 Hz, equivalent to a tone close to E flat.
Pitch is frequency. For example, the most common modern tuning standard for ensembles is the key of A above middle C – 440 Hz. This is sometimes referred to as concert pitch.
If you double the hertz to 880, you raise the pitch, this is called an octave. The result is a higher tone – a faster vibrating wave. If you drop the pitch equally to 220 Hz, lowering the octave, the result is a lower tone – a slower moving wave.
Drones are sustained tones, frequencies that are shaped by the human voice, acoustic or electronic instruments.
The drone is a deeply minimal and ancient form of musical expression, perhaps our earliest form of music, and certainly our most elemental. Droning is extremely malleable. It takes just one voice and one tone to drone, but drones can be layered and performed by large ensembles and given to a aural vastness, though always governed by the minimalist state of submission to sustained tone. Though minimal in concept, drones can involve a great degree of subtlety and dynamics. Shaping the sustained tones creates a unique texture. Droning is essential to indigenous musical traditions worldwide and has had a profound influence on modern music.
Drones have the unique ability to produce a trance-like state in both the musician and the listener, especially as they are sustained over long periods. It is no wonder that droning forms the basis for many sacred music traditions.
As you experience 24 hr drone, you will notice a background tone in the Basilica. Each hour is set to the frequency of a tube-powered oscillator, driving a mechanical wave expressed as a frequency corresponding to the tone parameters of the musicians slated for each hour. These tones will mainly concentrate in the hertz range of concert pitch as described above. If a particular performer’s piece is pitched to drone in the key of E, than the oscillator will be placed at 329.2 Hz, or octaves above or below if they wish. The oscillator is as much a part of the performance as the musicians. They can choose to keep the tone in their performance. They can play in unison with it, harmonically or dissonantly. As each piece ends, the oscillator will return to your listening focus. In a sense, it will act as a clock, changing hertz to mark the hour and the beginning of a new drone.
As a listener, you are integral to the experience of 24 hr drone. You will be just as effected by the deep power of droning tones as the musicians conjuring them, and your presence and commitment is inspirationalt. The layout is in the round, like a clock. You can dance, meditate, sleep, eat and move about. You can interact with the sound and the musicians as you see fit.
So it is that we exist in a sea of invisible waves. With 24 hr drone, we pay homage to the invisible powers.
Information of the event and performers here: