Drone of Dread

"What we want is to create a powerful sense of dread."
*DUUUUUURRRRRRRRRN*
"See? The longer the note, the more dread."

Note: this is a Music trope. If you were looking for bees, check out Bee Afraid and Bee Bee Gun.

In music, a drone is a sustained, continuous sound, note or tone-cluster. Music based around drones will emphasize minimalism and texture, timbre, eventually harmony, with less concern over rhythm and melody.

Because the atmosphere created by this kind of music tends to be extremely creepy and unsettling, it is a close cousin of the Psycho Strings, and the two often overlaps, but are just as often very distinct: the original psycho strings, for instance, are not drony at all, and many drones do not use strings, rather relying on low played brass instruments, or weird apparatuses and machines to produce their sounds.

Drone based music can delve into Nightmare Fuel particularly efficiently if it uses what is called "infrasound," which simply put, is sound pitched so low that it's just barely above the human threshold of hearing it as an individual tone. Studies have been conducted showing that this ultra low pitched sound, while almost undetectable to people, has a strange ability to cause nervousness, and even physical discomfort, despite the listener not even being aware of hearing it. there's even some speculation that local harmonic resonance in certain areas is responsible for people perceiving those locations as being haunted.

Frequently used in Horror stories (particularly Psychological Horror ones), but can show up in other genres as well (generally as a way to highligh that, whatever the appearances are, something very wrong/unusual is going on under the fragile surface of reality).

Not to be confused with the similarly named part of a bagpipe (which however does produce a droning sound), an Attack Drone, or a male honey bee (even though the musical element, the instrument part and the robot are all named after the animal, which in turn is named after the onomatopoeia for the sound it makes). Note that old-fashioned bagpipes and the like do rely heavily on the more contemplative drone in place of a bass section.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • The Worldwide Reveal Trailer for Modern Warfare 3 overlaid scenes of Monumental Damage with a chilling, rhythmic, atonal blast reminiscent of a siren, only a couple registers lower and slower. As the film progressed, it was combined in chorus with the tone used for the Emergency Alert System in the United States.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Mononoke: When the Kabuki Sounds are replaced by low droning brass instruments, you know something creepy is about to happen.
  • Serial Experiments Lain: The powerlines make an ominous humming sound, made creepier by the implication that Lain is the only one who hears it.

    Film 
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Whenever the Monolith is involved, drony contemporary classical music composed by György Ligeti (see below) is heard.
  • Irreversible has a horrible techno drone repeat over and over in the infamous Fire Extinguisher scene.
  • Antichrist: With the exception of Händel's "Lascia ch'io pianga", used in the prologue and conclusion, the soundtrack consists entirely of drones.
  • In The Dark Knight, the Joker's leitmotif is a dissonant droning which sounds like running a razor across a piano string.

    Live-Action TV 
  • For some reason, TCM (Turner Classic Movies) has seen fit to accompany the rating cards before each movie they show with one. The effect is unintentionally unnerving.
  • The end music of each episode of The Shadow Line is the siren drone of doom, but high pitched instead of low. It's singularly disturbing.

    Music 
  • György Ligeti's compositions spanned a large array of different styles, but some of them featured really prominent drones, notably the pieces Requiem and Atmospheres (both heard in 2001: A Space Odyssey). The former combines drones with Ominous Latin Chanting, and the latter features the largest cluster chord ever written, with every note in the chromatic scale over a range of five octaves being played at once — that's 60 different notes.
  • L'Étoile du Matin Noir, an EP of dark ambient and noise music featuring many drones, released for free under Creative Commons.
  • Most of 16 Horsepower's output is ominous to begin with, but when David Eugene Edwards breaks out his Chemnitzer concertina or hurdy-gurdy, the ominousness gets cranked up to 11.
    • Ditto Woven Hand, Edwards' followup music project. He frequently plays drones underneath the main melody, to make these already-menacing songs even more so.
  • Calibretto's "American Psycho" uses a sustained organ drone for an effective Last Note Nightmare.
  • The entirety of drone metal. Especially Sunn O))), the Trope Codifiers, whose music is horror incarnate. link.
  • John Cale tends to carry this with him wherever he goes.
  • Some ambient music is based around sounds like this.
    • In particular the dark ambient artist Lustmord, who uses the aforementioned infrasound in his music to incredibly unsettling degree.
    • Jack Dangers' album Music for Planetarium.
    • Most pieces by Greg Davis (an ambient artist, not to be confused with other musicians of the same name).
    • Both albums by Dilate.
  • "You Can't Cool Off In The Mill Pond You Can Only Die" by John Fahey (not Blind Joe Death) adds throat singing for more drone.
  • Xera's "Inda" starts off with a rather creepy, minute-long drone performed on a rabel.
  • Norwegian duo Röyksopp have this hidden track on their album 'Senior': [1]
  • Klaus Schulze's "Wahnfried 1883", especially the beginning and ending, and the intros of "Echoes of Time" and "Solar Wind" from the Special Edition of Timewind.
  • Bull Of Heaven.
  • Some of Autechre's ambient works, such as "Paralel Suns", which sounds like Silent Hill ambience, "Perlence Suns", and "Perlence Subrange 6-36".
  • Robert Fripp and Jeff Fayman's 2000 collaboration A Temple in the Clouds uses "Frippertronic" guitar drones. link
  • "Modern Ruin Part 2", the Hidden Track on Covenant's Modern Ruin album (only on the CD, not the digital release). Reminiscent of the forementioned Quake soundtrack, as well as the nightmare hospital ambience in Silent Hill. Likewise for "Cryotank Expansion" from their first album. The opening track of Skyshaper, "Ritual Noise", starts with a siren-like drone.
  • Some Throbbing Gristle material, such as "Slug Bait" and the legendary "Hamburger Lady".
  • blowupnihilist use these in many of his works, as heard here, and on the Objective Nothingness EP.
  • Several songs by Nine Inch Nails, including "Sanctified," "Something I Can Never Have," "Even Deeper," and the ending to "Hurt."
  • Fever Ray's If I Had A Heart, used as the main theme for Vikings.
  • They Come Out at Night by Eschaton combines drones with jungle beats.
  • Nurse with Wound, especially the minimalist album Soliloquy for Lilith
  • A lot of Black Metal bands like this a lot. Some examples are Deathspell Omega, Blut aus Nord, and Weakling.
  • Post-Rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor have always used this trope a fair amount (the intro to "The Dead Flag Blues", the mid-section of "Sleep", etc.), and its prominence in their music has increased with time. Two tracks on each of their two latest albums consist almost entirely of drone.

    Theatre 
  • The last of the six Sea Interludes in Britten's opera Peter Grimes (and the only one not available in a concert version), "Fog", sustains one fifthless dominant seventh chord quietly for several minutes under various orchestral laments and outbursts.
  • In Trouble in Tahiti, a low held note on the cello fluctuates in volume as Dinah and Sam, not looking at each other, despair of reconciling.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • The track Crystamanthequins from Homestuck is mostly defined, early on, by a harsh, droning note intermixed with a heavy drumbeat and high-pitched synth wails, although the drone dissolves towards the end. In the comic itself, it's used for [S] Make Her Pay, which depicts the most significant points in the troll Cycle of Revenge.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • This trope is part of the appeal of The Hypnotoad from Futurama. Interestingly, it was originally just a placeholder sound until they found something better, but they decided it was just so wrong sounding that they had to keep it. According to David Cohen, the name for that particular sound effect in the editing machine is "Angry Machine."
  • Used with [adult swim]'s sign-out bumper, "The Dawn is Your Enemy".
  • The Legend of Korra adds it to the soundtrack during season 2 with the Northern Water Tribe's invasion of the South Pole, among other instances. It also has an in-universe example: dark spirit Vaatu's Wave Motion Eye Beams go accompanied with a thrumming bass roar, similar to the Mass Effect example above.
    • In Book Two's finale, the drone also features prominently in the soundtrack during the Dark Avatar's attack.
    • The drone appears again in-universe during book four when Varrick's experiment with a spirit vine produces a similar blast of energy. His tech is weaponized against his will by Kuvira for her conquest and then mounted on a 25-story mech.
  • Appears various times in Thomas the Tank Engine, particularly in the more electronic-sounding early episodes. Combined with Psycho Strings in Season 2's "Ghost Train"