I have always liked a good drone. The musical type I mean, not a male ant, although I should add that I have nothing against good male ants, I’m sure they do fantastic work in their local community. I mean the kind of drone where where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece music.
There is something very freeing musically about just having one or two notes to underpin the whole of a piece of music. The result of this is that when a melody is laid down on top of a drone it can quite ambiguous about what chords or even what key the tune is working in. I have found this very inspiring when writing a bit of music as I can just sing a melody off the top of my head and see where it takes me. I can then come back in later and add chords around the melody that often turn out to be very different to what I may have come up with if I started with some chords first.
I think The Beatles started my interest, as they did most of the other types of music I like, in particular with the song Tomorrow Never Knows. Listening to that song I always thought it to be ones of the most interesting and intricate pieces of music ever with a simply amazing production that still sounds incredible today, however the whole thing is simply built on top of a simply drone of C.
There are numerous instruments that produce lovely sounding drones as well as the bagpipes, which don’t. I have found the best seem to be the ones that produce interesting harmonics that seem to phase in and and out of the sound as you listen to it and it these that seem to drive the melody to interesting places. I have lots of software synth plug ins that can be used to make lovely sounding drones, my favourites being Native Instruments’ Reaktor 5 and Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere. However my current favourite is a beautiful wooden box that I bought last year called a Shruti Box which I got from the lovely people here.
I can’t leave the thing alone, it’s amazing and has such a lovely tone. Here is a sample of it:
It may sound boring, but I think it is very lovely indeed. I first heard one when Imogen Heap used one on her song Hide & Seek 2 from the Song For Tibet Album. I loved how she built harmonies upon harmonies on top of the drone and I think the end result is very beautiful.
Since I bought my one, it has pretty much been trying to wend itself on to every bit of music I have been recording, some with which I think has been very successful. My favourite use of the Shruti Box so far has been on a song called ‘Candle In The Wine Bottle’ that I have produced for two of my uncles, Joe Dooley & Andrew Mackintosh, who go as a duo by the name of Bloody Good Music.
I really had great fun doing this song with them. We took a solo acoustic guitar and vocal song and turned it into a band performance. I particularly like that it has a nice loose feeling to it which is particularly nice considering that recording with computers can result in everything being a little too perfect with all the heart and soul squeezed out. Or it could be as a result of my dodgy drumming, I haven’t quite worked that out yet.
The Shruti Box be heard throughout, especially in the first verse and chorus. I think it works very well with the bowed double bass to form chords underneath. Have a listen to the track and see what you think:
We’ve recorded many other songs together as well. Something I’m sure I will expand on further when they release their first album this year.