How Drones Redeem Melisma (David Tagg MP3s)

Contemporary r&b has given a bad name to melisma. Once upon a time, that mode of moving a single vowel around the octave and back was an emotive rhetorical tool in popular music. These days it’s just sung and otherwise employed by tools, showy vocalists and instrumentalists whose emphasis on their own virtuosic prowess has the unintended effect of leaving listeners doubting their sensitivity. So, leave it to drones, of all things, to rejuvenate the melisma. Now, much drone music is more akin to static, an investigation of random data and texture. But there’s a growing field of drone-like music that has a melodic soul.

Take for example David Tagg‘s Skin Diagram, a free download from the netlabel. All six of its tracks are built in one way or another on a steadily flowing foundation of thick, tubular drones, like the nearly subaural tone that threads through “Life Drone” (MP3) and the gentle cloud-like patterns that inform “Deep Breathing” (MP3). In all the tracks, a single sound can be followed as it snakes its way — or slowly swells and wanes, or otherwise is transformed without losing its essential quality — around the composition.

Tagg is credited on the album as having played “electric guitar, low pass filter, ring modulator.” Perhaps explaining the high sound quality, Skin Diagram also includes a credit for a mastering, which is not the norm for the often low-budget projects that appear on netlabels (the credit goes to Brian Grainger, who records elsewhere as Milieu). Get the full set at

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