Created By: ShnakepupJanuary 2, 2012 Last Edited By: ShnakepupMarch 23, 2013

Drone of Distraction

Rising atonal sound effect used to convey a character's isolation or emotional state

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
(Needs More Examples. I know I've Seen It A Million Times! Needs A Better Name)

This trope occurs when the audio in a scene fades out (or is completely muted) while another non-diegetic sound element begins rising and drowns out all other sound in the scene. This sound element is only heard by the audience, and is primarily intended to convey an onscreen character's isolation or extreme emotional state.

For example, let's say you have Bob, who's just received some shocking information. Maybe he just received news that he has an inoperabable cancer. Or maybe someone close to him just died. Regardless, he's trying to get along with life but he just can't seem to focus on anything. The trope occurs when the camera focuses on Bob's Thousand Yard Stare. A droning or atonal noise will begin rising, drowning out all background noise until there's nothing except the noise [[hottip:note:this is a sound effect that only the audience hears. Nobody in the actual scene is aware of the noise, not even Bob]]. The drone is meant to convey Bob getting lost in his thoughts; maybe he feels empty, distraught, or just plain not himself.

A common secondary part to the trope is another character suddenly cutting through the noise, abruptly ending it (representing Bob's attention snapping back to focus). Bonus points if they're actually repeating themselves because Bob didn't hear them the first time.

A type of audio cue, similar to Psycho Strings or Scare Chord in that it's not actually a soundtrack-type element but rather a auditory way of enhancing the story. When it's actually a persistent part of the soundtrack, this is Drone Of Dread. Compare Shell Shock Silence. For a longer, more psychological version of this, see Angst Coma. Can be related to a Heroic BSOD. Can also overlap with Alone In A Crowd.

Note: This doesn't necessarily have to be a literal droning noise, but can also be plain white noise, some Source Music in the background, or even random background noise that gets amplified louder and louder.

Examples

Film
  • This happens in the Scott Pilgrim movie. During the battle of the bands with the Katayanagi twins, Scott spies Ramona with Gideon in the crowd. Meanwhile, the Katayanagis start playing, their music beginning with a shrill note as Scott zones out. Kim snaps him out of it by yelling his name.
  • In The Dark Knight, after Harvey Dent wakes up in the hospital. He puts his hand up to his halfway bandaged face and remembers what happened - i.e. Rachel dying because Batman (accidently) saved him instead. He starts to scream in anguish, but onscreen the sound is silent and replaced with a rising atonal howling noise.

Live-Action Television
  • Happens in Breaking Bad to Walter. In the first episode, when he receives his cancer diagnosis. As the doctor is talking to him, you can hear a drone rising. Eventually you can't even hear the doctor at all, you just see his lips moving. Then, abruptly, the drone cuts out and the doctor says "Mr. White, are you listening?"
    • Also in the Season 2 episode "Down", this happens to Walt as he's receiving a chemo treatment; prior to that scene, he had gotten in a huge fight with his wife.
  • The Walking Dead fills the air with the sound of cicadas to emphasize he lack of machinery, traffic, or other human noise in a zombie apocalypse.
  • Something similar happened to Olivia Dunham in Fringe when she was recovering from her first trip to the Alternate Universe, only that the noise in question was due to her hyperactive senses working on overdrive. The fly/bathtub scene early in Season 2 comes to mind.
  • This was used in the pilot miniseries of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica when Roslin learns of her cancer. In the doctor's office, Roslin sits and listens to her doctor as he tells her the diagnosis, only for the dull roar/drone sound of the engines to effectively mute his words. Then the scene shifts to Colonial One taking off. The droning sound was that ship's engines.

Music
  • Sufjan Stevens has a track called "A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze".

Real Life


Community Feedback Replies: 33
  • January 3, 2012
    abk0100
    I can't think of any examples right now, but I just that I'd let you know that I've seen it a million times too.
  • January 6, 2012
    ScanVisor
    • This is the entire basis of the sound design in the Silent Hill series. When there isn't all that scraping crashing metal or absolute silence, there's usually low drones of things along the lines of, for example, deepened breathing sounds on the streets of the fog town in the original game.
  • January 6, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Not sure if that counts. This isn't about drones as a kind of eerie ambience (which is pretty much Drone Of Dread), it's a singular occurrence of a drone rising and rising then suddenly cutting out, correlated with the singular occurrence of a character getting disctracted and then "coming to" or being startled out of their reverie.
  • January 9, 2012
    ScanVisor
    Oh, my bad, you're right. Sorry, I know this one too, but . . .

    Hey, this is a good time to bring this up, who wants to YKTTW "Seen It A Million Times Can't Remember Any"?
  • January 25, 2012
    Shnakepup
    bump
  • January 26, 2012
    ZombieAladdin
    Anime and Manga: When someone is alone and silent on the neighborhood streets in Serial Experiments Lain, we hear the buzzing of the power lines.

    Real Life: Tinnitus, otherwise known as "ringing in the ears."
  • February 8, 2012
    JobanGrayskull
    This happens in the Scott Pilgrim movie. During the battle of the bands with the Katayanagi twins, Scott spies Ramona with Gideon in the crowd. Meanwhile, the Katayanagis start playing, their music beginning with a shrill note as Scott zones out. Kim snaps him out of it by yelling his name.
  • February 23, 2012
    littlemissmuffet
    In anime and manga, this is illustrated with the sound effect "Shaa..."
  • February 28, 2012
    Shnakepup
    bumpity-bump
  • February 28, 2012
    surgoshan
    • The Walking Dead fills the air with the sound of cicadas to emphasize he lack of machinery, traffic, or other human noise in a zombie apocalypse.
  • March 13, 2012
    MorganWick
    @/Scan Visor We already have Seen It A Million Times, do we really need to duplicate it?
  • March 13, 2012
    Shnakepup
    @ MorganWick: I think he was being sarcastic ;)
  • March 30, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Bump...
  • March 31, 2012
    MetaFour
    • Sufjan Stevens has a track called "A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze".
  • March 31, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Wasn't this used in Fight Club (the movie)?
  • March 31, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Something similar happened to Olivia Dunham in Fringe when she was recovering from her first trip to the Alternate Universe, only that the noise in question was due to her hyperactive senses working on overdrive. The fly/bathtub scene early in Season 2 comes to mind.
  • April 9, 2012
    Shnakepup
    @fulltimeD - I haven't seen the movie in so long, so i'm not sure...
  • April 10, 2012
    fulltimeD
    This was used in the pilot miniseries of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica when Roslin learns of her cancer. In the doctor's office, Roslin sits and listens to her doctor as he tells her the diagnosis, only for the dull roar/drone sound of the engines to effectively mute his words. Then the scene shifts to Colonial One taking off. The droning sound was that ship's engines.
  • June 20, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Bump...
  • July 16, 2012
    Shnakepup
    'nother Bump!
  • August 3, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Re-arranged a bit...hoping I can get more examples.
  • August 14, 2012
    ccoa
    The anime and manga example should really be in the description, instead, with the example section containing specific examples.
  • August 14, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Now that I think of it, that anime/manga thing doesn't really fit anyway. I removed it.
  • August 17, 2012
    TheHandle
    Evangelion and the Cicadas, especially in "Hedgehog's Dilemma", symbolizing Shinki's extreme isolation and Japan's Perpetual Summer state.
  • August 17, 2012
    Shnakepup
    In those cicada scenes, is all the other audio muted out? If not, then that's not this trope...
  • September 20, 2012
    TBeholder
    "distracted"?
  • September 25, 2012
    Shnakepup
    This was originally called "Drone Of Isolation" but I figured it's not always about feeling isolation but could also be instances of feeling distracted.

    I've tagged it as Needs A Better Name, so if you have something better than I'm all ears.
  • September 25, 2012
    aurora369
    "Distracted Drone" sounds like a remote-controlled robot is distracted by something. Distracted Noise, maybe?
  • September 25, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Hmm. That might be better. Then again, "Distracted Noise" might be misinterpreted as "noise someone makes when they're distracted". Maybe Drone Of Distraction then?
  • September 28, 2012
    Mitholas
    Maybe "Desperation Drone"? 'Extreme emotional state' sounds more like desperation than distraction to me.

    I'd have to watch it again, but this made me think of Donnie Darko, as there's some pretty eerie sonic stuff going on whenever he's doing something Living Receivery. Might be an example in there? The first scene with Frank comes to mind.
  • September 28, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Yeah, but not all the examples are that of desperation (like the Breaking Bad examples). Those are more "emotionally shell-shocked".

    That might make a good name, actually. Emotional Shell Shock?
  • March 23, 2013
    Prfnoff
    In Trouble in Tahiti, when Dinah and Sam first stop talking to each other, their plaintive asides are accompanied only by a swelling and diminishing low note on the cello.
  • March 23, 2013
    Tuckerscreator
    • Another Dark Knight example: a minor character is given the choice to blow up a ship of convicts in exchange for his own life and those of civilians. As he picks up the detonator, the music gets shriller and shriller, mirroring his anxiety over committing the act.
    Riff Trax: Could someone please turn down that shrill music? I'm trying to commit mass murder here!

    • A case that may or may not be in-universe: In How To Train Your Dragon, the Vikings' arrival to the dragons' next is greeted with the sounds of strange cicada-like screeching. But as soon they get off their boats and step on the island, the screeching suddenly falls silent.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable