In my opinion, ‘experimental music’ is a misnomer. It sounds so clinical. That and the fact that so much of it comes from the pop world (mainly those who do not make ‘experimental music’) puts it at a disadvantage to a practitioner. It is a catch-all – it is a catch-all for those who make music that is not easily accessible, the underground arts. In may ways, calling this “Experimental Music” is a form of imperialism coming from a point of view of the outsider. It strips the works down from their base category (Drone / Tape Composition / Field Recording / Noise etc.) and cosily brackets it in “weird – listen at your own peril.”
In the United Kingdom everyone is busy working 9-5 so it is hard to fit these meandering dronescapes and tape works into your schedule.
Some of the most radical stuff I have heard comes from the art-set in London of the 60s and 70s. With the composer Trevor Wishart being an inspiration to me, and he is still working late in to his life – putting out revolutionary material in his seventies.
Experimental Music is not an ugly stepchild of popular music.
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In Defence Of Drone – A Drone Artist’s Point Of View
It’s important to note, though, that not everybody experiences euphoria or ecstasy when exposed to a drone.
When I play a Drone to my brother’s children, as I sometimes accidentally do, his four-year-old really dislikes them. It’s annoying to her, because she’s interested in the drama of change and flux, and the delightfulness of new shapes emerging.
My Niece may well grow up to be one of those people for whom (to paraphrase a well known aphorism) a Lady is someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, but chooses not to.
She will be in good company too: in a modern environment where rhythm, melody and dynamics drive popular perceptions of what music is supposed to be, there’s something a little perverse in apparently stripping these qualities away and leaving the sound of, well, nothing much.
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the static quality of a drone means it lacks interesting musical content. It’s well known that if you listen to a repetitive or sustained sound for long enough the way in which you perceive it changes, even though it may not. That means that even a pure sine tone, devoid of harmonics or overtones, can reward close attention if you’re in the right mood.
More complex drones can be full of information and event. To listen to the drone of a Tambura or Hurdy Gurdy is to hear an intricate pattern of shifting harmonics and microtones, moving between dissonance and consonance, and inviting total absorption into the mesmerising sonic space it creates.
Monotony can be thought of as an unpleasant thing. So the notion of music that doesn’t seem to change seems kind of redundant. But one could defend monotony as being interesting. Think about John Cage; he said that if you do something and it’s boring, then you should do it again until it becomes interesting.
There’s a kind of Zen Buddhist attitude there — and the point he’s making is that if you think it sounds the same, it’s because you’re not really paying attention to it, you’re paying attention only to a superficial aspect.
When you listen more carefully, what seems to be the same actually has a lot of qualities that you didn’t notice. So rather than looking for superficial changes, you should attune yourself to what’s actually happening now, to the complexity of the situation as it is.
There’s nothing particularly obscure or esoteric about this approach to listening. If we consider the growing familiarity of concepts like awareness and attention to being ‘in the moment’, it’s perhaps not surprising that drone has become highly popular—so much so, that it has transformed from a technique or device into a discrete music genre all its own, with all the requisite sub-genres.