In music, a drone is defined as an harmonic or monophonic accompaniment where a note or a chord is sustained continuously throughout most (or all) of the composition. Drones have been gaining relevance in the latest years as the boundaries of electronic music and its experimentation have become exponentially wider. While there’s always been a current of musicians investigating the deepest corners of sound research, inexorabily stepping into drone territories, the recent arising interest toward conceptual electronics has furthered the evolution of static pads and chords into forever evolving background textures.
Creating such elements is usually done throughout audio resampling and its following dip it into an highly wet reverb-ish chain of effects. By doing so, the result is a morphing mish mash of original signal and tails with pretty much and infinite amount of decay. This processed outcome is usually resampled again and more effect are added. This sequence of operations can last for a while, depending on the kind of textures we’re looking for. Although, most of the methods based on bounced audio usually take kind of a long amount of time (spent between looking for the right sound to start with and then recording its way through the effects over and over) and are likely to lead to interesting but static pads, as variation is guaranteed by a long take of evolving material and then committed forever into a stereo channel.
Let’s start with a simple chord progression. In this demo we’re using Ableton Live’s Operator synthesis engine.
We set simple waveforms for both Carrier and Modulators and we shape the sound so that the main voice’s envelope has a slow and smooth attack and quite a long release. Let’s add a bit of reverb and compression to glue everything together into a dense, constant flowing of sound. We can also EQ it a bit to cut annoying resonances away.
After we have our starting sound set, we add Holder in a SEND/RETURN bus, and set the Send mode in Live to PRE (prefader). By using our device this way, we can balance and process our original and effected signals in a more detailed way and the result is more likely to come out tighter and wider than a single track with a chain of insert DSPs. Since we’re using it as a send effect, we must keep in mind to lower the volume of the dry signal in the plugin all the way down.
Holder is designed to freeze incoming audio and morph them into drones and rich textures. Check out the official manual on the device page for detailed informations. Note that, since we want to create an evolving drone, we’re gonna use our effects in non-quantized mode, so that the interpolations between our audio and our effects chain are most likely to change everytime. It’s time to use our synth’s track Send knob and send it to our Holder track. We can look for the right balance that fits our needs better. Let’s set Holder TRIG section to automatic and let’s randomly choose an amount of milliseconds to trigger the interval slices of the incoming audio. We do the same with the MODE panel and we set can choose between Random [?] or Linear [/] in order to favor further textural shapings. Now, we get to the fun part: let’s move to the DRONIZER and start playing with Swarm and Blur: these two parameters will help our wet signal to be more sustained and ethereal by adding respectively subtle amplitude modulation and interpolating the consecutive slices.
Now we can add more evident amplitude variations with WOV. Let’s put it right after Holder, in the same Send track, and start playing with its settings: leave the Rate unquantized and set it at a fairly slow value, add some Response and Variation and give the Accent sequencer an odd number of steps; shape the waveform so that it’s large and smooth and set Silence around 9 o’clock. Play with the Depth balance so that the balance creates a blend between the static signal and the wet moving one and (why not?) turn on Stereo Mode and R+1 to spread further details around the whole stereo image. Now we can loop our progression and enjoy our drone forever changing and never-the-same evolution.
Using this Holder and WOV combination we can easily achieve complex drones that keep mutating and evolving throughout our tracks by feeding them even with simple sound sources, making the effort way less time consuming but still reaching complex and intriguing results. Having set our effects in a separate track, we can eventually shape their tone further by adding compression, EQ and other devices to blend their outcome with the original synth sound source. We can filter our outcoming signal, add some distortion and easily automate parameters to move around a bit while the track keeps going.