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The Punk Drone (MP3)

The word “drone” is not unlike the word “punk” in the way it offers to annihilate itself. But as with punk’s inherent contradictions, drones aren’t necessarily anonymous, aren’t necessarily formless, and certainly aren’t interchangeable. A drone contains sounds, and those sounds can transmit sensation, can suggest the sensibility of the artist who committed them to tape, can reference other cultural artifacts, intentionally and otherwise. The drone that is “Rites of Zen” by Marc Broude at first buries what appears to be ritual chanting in a haze of quavering noise straight out of a late-1960s BBC Radiophonic score for a science-fiction audio drama. Is it ritual, is it sci-fi romanticism, are these things set in opposition to begin with? There is drama to “Rites of Zen,” certainly, but it isn’t explicitly narrative-based. It’s an extended piece, over an hour and a quarter straight through, and to the extent that it changes it does so slowly, which means that the ear is more likely to notice changes in the short term than the long. For example, human cries dissolve into the ether. What seems like it could be ancient plainchant may, in fact, be a momentarily magnified whir of some tiny mechanism. The overarching sound, a kind of blanket hum, could be a harsh wind moving across a bleached desert, or a sine-wave sent through a modest filter. If there is a theme it may be this: Matters of scale evaporate (MP3).

[audio:|titles=”Rites of Zen”|artists=Marc Broude]

Track originally posted, by the netlabel TVK, at More on Broude at

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , , / Comments: 4 ]


  1. Bob L
    [ Posted November 21, 2011, at 4:36 pm ]

    Drones were used in 10th and 11th century French church music to great effect: listen to Perotin, who composed for Notre Dame (the one in Paris) as it was being built and afterwards.

    • Marc Weidenbaum
      [ Posted November 21, 2011, at 4:37 pm ]

      Listen to the man. He’s the reason I checked out Perotin in the first place.

    • Marc Weidenbaum
      [ Posted November 21, 2011, at 5:13 pm ]

      To follow up, I asked Bob L (aka Robert Levine, author of the excellent recent opera book Weep, Shudder, Die), to share with readers an example.

      In reply, he wrote of the video at

      “Under the singing for the first 52 seconds is a non-vocal sound — a drone — probably made by a hurdy-gurdy.”

  2. Jacek L.
    [ Posted April 19, 2012, at 2:07 pm ]


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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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