"What we want is to create a powerful sense of dread."
Note: this is a Music trope. If you were looking for bees, check out Gosh Hornet, Everything's Worse with Bees and Bee Bee Gun.
"See? The longer the note, the more dread.
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.
open/close all folders
- 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.
- 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 sound, supposedly produced by running a razor across a piano string.
- In The Terminator, a frightful metallic-sounding droning theme plays as the Terminator prepares to shoot Sarah Connor in the night club.
- In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a terror-inducing droning sound plays in the background whenever the T-1000 makes an appearance.
- John's Carpenter's The Thing (1982) makes heavy use of minimalist drones to evoke apocalyptic dread. The political/sociological documentary The Power of Nightmares borrows from The Thing's soundtrack.
- The use of a crescendo-going ominous drone in the very first seconds of There Will Be Blood quickly established the strange nature of the movie.
- The ominous drones denoting the presence of evil spirits in The Evil Dead.
- The theme for the Emperor becomes very creepy due to the droning chorus.
- Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for "The Last Temptation Of Christ" had a lot of this. Peter even Lampshaded it in an interview at the time, saying that his rule of thumb while composing the soundtrack was "When in doubt, Drone."
- Repeated drones were used in the trailer for Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen.
- Used very effectively throughout Inception to solidify the "wrongness" of the dream worlds.
- Used repeatedly in the German film Das Experiment (The Experiment).
- This short film.
- Goblin's soundtrack for Dawn of the Dead is full of this trope.
- Several parts of the soundtrack to Close Encounters of the Third Kind use drones reminiscent of the aforementioned Gyorgy Ligeti; e.g., the piece when the aliens emerge from the mothership at the end is similar to "Requiem", the Monolith music from 2001.
- This is practically a Characteristic Trope for David Lynch, typically used to make something mundane suddenly terrifying.
- Beyond the Black Rainbow has drones often.
- Basically all of the score to Martha Marcy May Marlene.
- 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.
- 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': 
- 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.
- 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.
- Heard in multiple locations in Blood.
- Quake has a soundtrack featuring many creepy drones, composed by Trent Reznor.
- Fallout, epically with the songs composed by Mark Morgan, notably in City of the Dead, Vats of Goo, and Industrial Junk. Likewise for Gold Slouch from Fallout 2.
- This is the entire basis of the award-winning 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.
- Used commonly throughout the Thief series in certain segments of its ambient/atmospheric music. Particularly in scary missions.
- Doom 3's soundtrack and ambient sound design is composed largely of subtle drones.
- Oracle Of Tao has mostly okay music. But a few of the songs are Brown Note material. Especially this one. If you pregnant, nursing, or hell just don't want a stomach ulcer, don't listen to this music.
- Used for macabre effect during the first couple of blocks of Eldritch Location Tartarus in Persona 3, since you're venturing into the unknown in a place crawling with metaphysical manifestations of the human psyche. The effect goes away as you climb more floors and more and more instruments are added to the piece, and by the time you reach block 6 it's a complete composition.
- Pokémon Yellow's version of Missingno causes the battle music to become dead static. Not quite a drone, but close and creepy as hell.
- As for deliberate musical uses, the Distortion World theme in Platinum features a lot of drone.
- The opening menu music for Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the final boss theme features an eerie droning tune in the background.
- Yasunori Mitsuda's soundtrack for Xenogears has two of these: "The One Who Is Torn Apart" and "Omen". There's also "Jaws of Ice" which mainly focuses on two slowly-alternating tritone drone notes for a particularly unsettling effect.
- Several pieces in Halo 2, eg the first and last parts of "Sacred Icon Suite", use choral drones. The first game has "Suite Autumn"(even creepier in the remake), the bass drone in The Gun Pointed at the Head of the Universe, the middle of "Truth & Reconciliation Suite", which also uses Psycho Strings, "Lament for Pvt. Jenkins", and parts of "Library Suite" (remastered as "Dewey Decimate" in Anniversary). Also, the first half of "Nightfall" in Halo: Reach. Other reworked ambient tracks in Halo: CE Anniversary that turn the creepiness factor Up to Eleven include Unfortunate Discovery (originally What Once Was Lost) and Bad Dream (originally Trace Amounts).
- The Resident Evil games like to use this, for example:
- "The Second Floor", "Wandering Alone", and "The Underground Laboratory" in Resident Evil 2.
- "Feel The Tense" and "Never Give Up The Escape" from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.
- "Deathtrap", "Lost in Darkness, "Narrow and Close, "Rush of Fear" and "Rush of Horror" from the Resident Evil remake.
- Resident Evil 4, while more actionized, still has a plethora of scary drone pieces, especially Ruined Village, Noche(heard when first encountering a Plaga), Bitores Mendez(combined with Psycho Strings), Cold Sweat(combined with Heartbeat Soundtrack), Novistadors, and *cough* *cough* Regenerador.
- Most of the ambience in Twisted Metal: Black fits this trope, but Snowy Fields is the epitome of terrifying drone.
- Pressure Road from Ys II, and Sanctuary from Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys.
- The World 4 background music from Super Mario Galaxy 2.
- Also, the meteorites Mario/Luigi uses to fight Bowser.
- The Big Boo's Haunt theme from Super Mario 64.
- Amongst the Dead from Medal of Honor: Underground uses this alongside Psycho Strings, Ethereal Choir, and For Doom the Bell Tolls. Also, Passage to Iraklion, and Rescuing The G3 Officer from the first game.
- The Airbase ambience in Syphon Filter 2.
- Several of the background songs from Yume Nikki, like the appropriately named "Hellish Hum".
- DayZ has its entire soundtrack as this, and its pure, unadulterated, terror. The best part is the music always seem to come up at the worse moment, making nearly every situation incredibly tense and every player paranoid of what's around the corner.
- Mass Effect 3 gives the Reapers a chilling BWWOOOAAARRMM when they arrive. It's part of the soundtrack too. The Reapers actually use this with this trope in mind. The sound is there for the purpose of putting fear into their enemies.
- An unintentional example is the Level 3 music in "Lollipops" from Action 52. Listening to it in a ROM utility is scary enough, but that's nothing compared to how it sounds in-game (skip to 3:17).
- A staple of the FEAR soundtracks: Insertion, Initiation, She's Afraid of You, Bad Water, Armacham Rooftops, Premonition, Distorted Realities, et al.
- The Medusa Bay theme from Ecco the Dolphin uses creepy sitar-like drones, which adds to the desolate feeling. Undercaves also has a droning bassline.
- The Mars Underground and Shield Generator ambient sounds in The Journeyman Project have this effect, and to a lesser extent the background hum in the TSA.
- In P.N.03, the Final Boss's scorpion form uses this.
- The Phazon Mines, especially Level 2(from 0:50 to 2:16), in Metroid Prime.
- The Suspense music in Wolfenstein 3D, although it's only FM synth MIDI, has a drony bass section.
- "Prologue" from Super Castlevania IV, especially the beginning. An SNES game, no less.
- The level "Dark Side Part Two" in Duke Nukem 3D includes The Monolith as an homage to 2001, complete with similar drony music/sound.
- The scary or suspenseful tunes in the When They Cry series use this often, like in Depressive Paranoia or Stupefaction.
- Oblivion's theme in Turok 2: Seeds of Evil(N64 version only).
- The infamously scary Giygas battle music in Earthbound.
- The Mother's Day Graveyard/Rosemary Manor, cave themes and the Giegue battle theme in MOTHER 1 also use this, moreso the second and third examples.
- The soundtrack for the Soul Cairn (plane of the undead) in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim consists of Drone of Dread and more Drone of Dread.
- Some night overland themes for the regular Skyrim world contain this, too.
- The final boss theme (appropriately named "Crocodile Cacophony") from Donkey Kong Country 2 combines this with a techno beat.
- The mission '"Remember... No Russian" from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has a particularly unsettling repeating bass line playing throughout the whole level. The title "Airport Stalk" is rather fitting.
- The music in Hotline Miami switches to rather unsettling droning ambiance after a mission is completed, helping to unnerve the player and keep them on their toes even after everyone's dead which comes in handy in one mission when a van crashes through the entrance on your way out and tries to run you over.
- The gameplay soundtrack of D/Generation is pretty much this exclusively.
- In Project Firestart, one plays occasionally to add tension to the otherwise still ambiance, such as when Jon first arrives on the Prometheus.
- In Chrono Trigger, when you enter Magus's castle there is at first no music, then when you proceed deeper into the castle this song plays. It is entirely a Drone of Dread, with only one violin chord and a half-laugh, half-sob sound effect repeated throughout. The battle music doesn't play when you encounter monsters, and an echo effect is added on to any sounds produced by the fighting.
- Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon's soundtrack has a number of drone tracks, notably "Helo 73", "Moment of Calm", "Dr. Elizabeth Darling", "Sloan", and "Nest".
- In Luna Game 3, the music changes to a Giygas-esque drone after the slowdown and white noise Scare Chord. note
- 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 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.
- 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"