Creating Drones

How to do this, that and the other. Share, learn, teach. How did X do that? How can I sound like Y?
1 posts since 26 Jul, 2005

Post Tue Aug 23, 2005 3:06 pm

Hello everyone!

I have finally jumped into the pool of ambient synthesis (my preferred style) and would like to learn the basics of "drones" and how they are created.

Having been a longtime fan of Steve Roach (Grandmaster of drones in my opinion :P) I am trying to figure out the basic principles of making such lush drawn out tones.

Now of course his talent is what sets him apart from myself, and a slew of analog toys to fiddle with, but what I would like to know is what is he using?? Or is that the mystique? I understand Reaktor 5 has a drone generator, but even it had to be progammed. My question is making them from scratch.

From my rookiness of it all, It sounds like 4 or 5+ sounds bundled together at the same pitch, and the creator would manipulate parameters of each slowly dissolving and swirling sounds in a intelligent way, but maybe there is more to it.

Any ambientheads out there that would like to comment? I appreciate the help.

6127 posts since 1 Apr, 2004 from Et in Arcadia Ego

Post Tue Aug 23, 2005 3:15 pm


John Vulich
4824 posts since 14 Mar, 2002 from Somewhere else, on principle

Post Tue Aug 23, 2005 3:24 pm

I don't think that there is any one technique to achieving interesting drones. I think that part of the charm is finding your own techiques to create your own "signature" sound. Considering that my music is fairly devoid of melody, it all comes down to sound design. Since it's the prediminant feature of this sort of music I find it important to have my own unique sounds.

I kind of have my own formula. There are tons of cool Reaktor ensembles, from the likes of Rachmiel (Rick Scott) and Spirit Canyon Audio, that I like to use as a basis for generating raw material to be crafted into drones. I usually use Reaktor's random patch generation to create some interesting sounds that I normally wouldn't think to program. I'll run samples of these sounds through tons of FX like delay, chorus, flanger, reverb and even pitch them down several octaves sometimes. I also abuse convolution processors a lot for drone fodder. Granular synthesis is another cool technique for generating drones.

I try not to get too stuck with these methods so I'm always experimenting and on the lookout for novel sound generating devices or techniques. I always seem to start with a "what if concept". For instance, one of my tricks is to automate several narrow EQ bands up and down the spectrum all at different rates to create animation in the drone. This is just one example but there seems to be endless ways to play around with the manipulation of sound.

Just experiment with all manner of sample mangling, synthesis styles and processing. You'll eventually find a process that works for you.
Last edited by John Vulich on Tue Aug 23, 2005 3:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

3964 posts since 31 Aug, 2003 from In a foreign town, in a foreign land

Post Tue Aug 23, 2005 3:31 pm

Granular synthesis is a nice way to create drones. Extreme pitch-shifting and/or timestretching. Use granular sapleplayers, like BubbleBlower from AudioMulch to zoom in on particles no longer than a couple of milliseconds. Or use a granular delay like 'Mulch's DLGranulator (or KTGranulator which is based on it) to smear soundsources like detuned looped samples or oscillators.

Analog synths like the Pulse. Heavy detuning of the oscillators, deep cutoff settings with high resonance. Add a little noise. Heavy use of extreme LFO-settings.
Bauke van der Wal from [LAW-RAH] Collective has two of them and makes some of the deepest, densest drone-ambient I've heard. Not lush or shiny, more dark and at times very unpleasant (a well programmed Pulse can go slightly subsonic. You hardly hear the tone, but you'll feel your bones resonate).

Groet, Erik
Pop music delenda est.

3588 posts since 13 May, 2004 from montreal

Post Tue Aug 23, 2005 4:43 pm

Buy cello bow. Use on any resonant object. I prefer piano strings, metal and safety glass. Serrated knives are great to lightly bow any steel-stringed instrument too. For drone music, acoustics will always trump electronics, IMO. For proof of concept refer to any given Organum record.

6127 posts since 1 Apr, 2004 from Et in Arcadia Ego

Post Tue Aug 23, 2005 4:50 pm

dystonia_ek wrote:For drone music, acoustics will always trump electronics, IMO.
I'm working on violating that belief even as we speak..

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addled muppet weed
38483 posts since 26 Jan, 2003 from through the looking glass

Post Tue Aug 23, 2005 4:58 pm

a similar question arose here :)

12245 posts since 18 Aug, 2003

Post Tue Aug 23, 2005 7:40 pm

If you're aiming to sound like Steve Roach or Robert Rich, get a modular synth. These guys have access to super expensive, complicated gear. Modular synths are easy to work with when dealing with sounds that go on for a while, and they allow for lots of rhythmic modulation.

Aside from that, I was going to write a simple answer, but then got an idea. I needed to work on something tonight, so I decided to put a little 'drones for beginners' lesson together.

Here's an idea of how I often approach things. Drones are meant to be drawn out sounds. To start, decide what that aesthetic means to you, then build from there. It could be physical, like focusing on harmonics; it could be psychic, like exploring trance induction; it could be telling a story or accenting an ambience, etc.

As a result of being forms that emphasize a degree of stasis and minimal structures, drones also need to develop points of interest, like subtle rhythms, creative approaches to sounds/timbres, complex, long patterns, etc. I actually think the master of the drone is Phill Niblock, and a fundamental in all his work is that they are sonically rich, and while they are elongated forms, they also work on an intuitive sense of change, never boring you. He's not an electronics guy for the most part, mind, as he tends to work with acoustic instruments. I highly recommend tracking his stuff down.

All you really need to make drones is to understand their effect, how to make them is just a matter of piecing together stuff that reflects your interest. So here's what I've got:
  • Start with any sound you have lying about with enough goods to work with. When working with computers for drones, one of the mainstays is the loop. So just think of any audio material you have as an oscillator, and then use some kind of loop player/sampler to turn it into a droning sound. I'll start with a bit I recorded from a dying toy Casio keyboard. Clip 1.
  • Use a preferred processor to develop some interest in the relatively simple material you started with. Here, I'm using a granular loop player (the Bubbleblower contraption in Audiomulch, which often aids in the creation of vaguely string-like timbres). Clip 2.
  • Try to find an optimal starting pitch. It can be anything, mostly this an intuitive stage, deciding where you wish the track to reside physically. Here I've dropped the pitch of the found sound down an octave. Clip 3.
  • Create a variation of the sound to fill another frequency band, I've chosen bass. Develop a further rhythm that will contrast the first voice. Clip 4.
  • Play both sounds together and see what you get. Adjust anything that doesn't sound right. For instance one frequency might get swamped out by another. Clip 5.
  • Create a third voice variation on the original sound, but affect it in a way that it is only partially related but characteristically different. I've processed the sound with a phase vocoder, chorus, distortion, and stereo delay. Try to fill a different frequency band with the sound. I've bounced up an octave, but it doesn't have to be there. Think of it in terms of a standard quartet, the orchestration all fills complementary but separate sonic space. Clip 6.
  • Then mix and compose. I'll keep it fairly simple by mostly only working with fades. I'll later mix the higher register voice into filter/delay multieffect. This will vary the rhythm and timbre of the sound, works by giving the listener a transformational focal point. I've not mastered/EQ'ed anything. I actually like how heavy the bass got, so crank it up when you listen. There's a weird little ping in there, not sure where it came from exactly. Final mix.
The final thing isn't perfect, but it isn't bad for a half-hour's work. I hope that helps and gives you some ideas to work with.

Last edited by shamann on Tue Aug 23, 2005 8:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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addled muppet weed
38483 posts since 26 Jan, 2003 from through the looking glass

Post Tue Aug 23, 2005 7:42 pm

well done that man :)

12245 posts since 18 Aug, 2003

Post Tue Aug 23, 2005 7:44 pm


12245 posts since 18 Aug, 2003

Post Tue Aug 23, 2005 8:04 pm

On second listen, I couldn't stand the stupid ping, so I went hunting and excised the damned thing. Apparently the filter/delay multi-effect goes ping when the resonance is just so and new audio hits out of a gate.

12245 posts since 18 Aug, 2003

Post Wed Aug 24, 2005 4:13 am

And then there was silence.....


Barbed Wire Kiss
1346 posts since 28 Apr, 2003 from The brief past.

Post Wed Aug 24, 2005 7:21 am

Nice tutorial, should be a sticky. 8)
"God...He's my favourite fictional character." Homer.

12245 posts since 18 Aug, 2003

Post Wed Aug 24, 2005 7:37 am

Hey, it came back. Figured I killed this thread, so I started a new one with just the tutorial in the Cafe.

Cheer, BWK.

15 posts since 24 Aug, 2005

Post Wed Aug 24, 2005 7:42 am

another way, of creating nice drones
(I use a bassguitar, but it might also be any another instrument...)

1 record your instrument, a slow melody or chords (or play something faster, but then you'll need to pitch/speed it down because it is to fast for a drone)

2 make a few copies in your host

3 at one, you ad a lot of distortion, and a lot of delay/reverb, at the other one, some od filtering effect
(space delay VST is very good for this)
and just play arround with the other lines
(vocodering some of those layers with each other might also deliver intressting results, Prosonics Morph thing is also something to play with.)

5 mixing the whole thing, just play arround with volumes and ad some extreme panning,

another way, I got from the band Sunn O)));
1 just plug in your guitar, into multiple amps (or ampsimultarors) and at the eq, only leave the low's and exterminate the rest
2 ad a hell of a lot distortion, and idem reverb,
3 hit about two chords in a minute, and you have a evil dooming drone.

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