Harry Sword on the anti-capitalist nature of the drone
The drone – via its infinite pliability and accessibility – represents the ultimate folk music: a potent audio tool of personal liberation. In 1977 Sniffin’ Glue verbalised the musical zeitgeist with their infamous ‘this is a chord; this is another; now form a band’ illustration. The drone requires neither chord nor band. Indeed, the subtitle of this book – In Search of Sonic Oblivion – refers not to some destructive audio force but the potent ability of sound – in this case slow-moving sound – to help dissolve the fragile trappings of ego. The drone is a psychedelic talisman; immersion in hypnotic and repetitive sounds allows us to step outside of ourselves, be it chant, a 120-decibel beasting from Sunn O))), standing front of the system as Jah Shaka drops a fresh dub or going full headphone immersion with Hawkwind.
These experiences are akin to an audio portal – a sound Tardis to silence the hum and fizz of the unceasing inner voice.
Crucially, the drone allows you to take control of time. Humanity is tethered to the inevitability of time. The awareness of its passing informs almost every decision we will ever make. The certain knowledge of death is the source of a base- line torment that, to some degree, defines what it means to be human. Modern ideals of ‘living in the moment’ – or the experiential economy – retain such vital currency because they hint at a freedom, albeit fleeting, from fate itself. The drone facilitates a focus on the present by limiting the constant of change. Capitalism demands that you remain tethered with technology and keep stride with the shifting vagaries of the free market.
It demands that you keep moving and strive for material gain, fetishises change for change’s sake – the Darwinian concept of adaptation as the highest natural state. The language of capitalism decries stagnation as sin. The Protestant work ethic presents work – any work – as an end unto itself. After all, the devil makes work for idle hands.
The drone is fundamentally subversive when taken in relation to capitalist doctrine. It subverts every tenet of music as consumer commodity. You’re unlikely to find any commercial radio station playing a full half-hour Sunn O))) piece. Likewise, the very notion of authorship – and therefore ego – is called into serious question. Do you ‘write’ fifty minutes of feedback? Do you ‘own’ an A chord that reverberates for a full half-hour?
It’s no coincidence that many protagonists in this book eschew the preening dynamic of normative rock ’n’ roll stage performance. The stadium rock show is exciting precisely because it emphasises a fundamental disconnect between band and audience. It makes you feel smaller – thrillingly so – by dint of bombastic theatrics, the overwhelming scale of the spec- tacle. The unwritten rule? Never forget you’re a spectator. This isn’t an ‘equal’ transaction. Nor should it be. It’s bread and circuses – and you aren’t the emperor. I’m not claiming that the stadium experience is invalid. A good stadium show – be it Lady Gaga or Iron Maiden – fosters a feeling of togetherness by dint of communal awe and shared wonder presided over by a master. Drone is less transactional. It allows for individual transcendence to the extent that I want to ask the question: do we play the drone or does it play us?
It exists outside of us, an aural expression of a universal hum we can only hope to fleetingly channel.
Extracted from Monolithic Undertow by Harry Sword (White Rabbit).