I finished reading Monolithic Undertow. Here are my thoughts.
The first part of the book, a general intro and discussion of the drone in ancient times, was pretty fascinating. The conclusion/outro was brief, but resonated with me (so to speak).
The bulk of the book was pretty much “the begats.” This artist influenced that band, which influenced that artist, who started this movement, which this other artist combined with other influences, which influenced another artist. From Ravi Shankar’s influence on the Beatles and psychedelic rock, through free jazz, kosmische music, no wave, drone metal, ambient, chillout, drone techno etc. there’s arguably some clear lines of succession, rather than convergent evolution.
And speaking of influence, it seems most of them were under the. The book dwells a lot on drugs, which… I suppose is central to psychedelia. But I started to wonder if there were any 20th century musicians who could break down barriers of thought without chemical assistance, or if the author just really likes his acid and weed. And I guess in an area of music that on a scale of 0=Apollonian to 10=Dionysian, lives somewhere between 9.5 and 11, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
Anyway, through that evolution, it was good to see a not terribly strict and literal definition of “drone” — and yet, a coherent one. The drone does tend to change one’s perception of time in music, but that doesn’t mean it has to completely obliterate time. It doesn’t have to be hours long (or infinite) and purely static. It can shift. It can have texture and even articulation. It can be the harmonic basis of a song, in lieu of chord progressions. There can be melody, harmony and rhythm playing off of it. The drone can be all, or explicitly central, or implicit.
Often when I read books on music history, genres, technology, philosophies etc. I make myself a list of things to listen to. And most of the time, most of it disappoints me. Music and techniques that were groundbreaking at the time might have become commonplace afterward, or evolved into more compelling forms. Sometimes the examples are more academic and experimental than musically engaging. And sometimes I just don’t appreciate particular genre/style elements as much as the author did. For instance, I’m just really not going to get into the Velvet Underground, no matter how important a node they were in the graph, nor Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. But maybe I’ll like something on this list — I am enjoying the Blackmoon1348 album I found after the author mentioned them in an earlier section.
I found the book inspiring overall. The set I was working on was originally, more or less, going to be a short album of individual pieces. Instead, it wound up as a triptych of drone improvisations that fit together seamlessly into one half-hour work. It gets pretty intense at times, and I am generally very pleased with it. This might be the direction my future music goes.
The set, “Stridulation-Yukon-Relay,” is scheduled for May 15 on Sonic Sound Synthesis at The Neon Hospice.