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Drone of Dread

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

In music, a drone is a sustained, low, continuous sound, note or tone-cluster. Music based around drones will emphasize minimalism and texture, timbre, and eventually harmony, with less concern over rhythm and melody. The drone note or chord, called a "pedal point", creates tension as the chords change over top of it, leading to dissonance.

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 Scare Chord, and the two often overlap, 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 brass instruments, woodwinds, buzzy synthesizers, organ, 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, such as thrillers and mysteries, ( generally as a way to highlight that, whatever the appearances are, something very wrong/unusual is going on under the fragile surface of reality. The low drone acts as musical foreshadowing.

Not to be confused with the similarly named part of a bagpipe (which however does produce a droning sound), an Attack Drone, the sound made by a heavy bomber aircraft before it bombs its targets to rubble, 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.


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  • 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.
  • The track Blue Summers of the Trigun anime consists mostly of this.

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Whenever the Monolith is involved, drony contemporary classical music composed by György Ligeti (see below) is heard.
  • The ABCs of Death: The closing credits cleverly uses dialogue, sound effects and bits of score from all of the shorts to create a dreadful ambient piece that lasts the duration of the credits. Sounds from each short pop up when the respective short's credits are on screen.
  • Antichrist: With the exception of Händel's "Lascia ch'io pianga", used in the prologue and conclusion, the soundtrack consists entirely of drones.
  • Apollo 11: This 2019 documentary uses a lot of drones, especially in the section leading up to the launch. This may be to give a modern audience some of the tension that would have been felt back in 1969. We know now that the mission was a success, but every step had a non trivial risk of death, and everyone involved would have been very aware of this.
  • Avengers: Infinity War opens with one of these, notably replacing the bombastic music accompanying the Marvel Studios-logo. This immediately clues the audience in to just what kind of movie this is...
  • Sinoia Caves' soundtrack for Beyond the Black Rainbow makes good use of droning notes, especially during the 1966 flashback scene with the song "1966: Let the New Age of Enlightenment Begin".
  • Citizenfour has an eerie, static-y noise that appears whenever the US government is doing something sneaky like surrounding Edward Snowden's house (and his unsuspecting girlfriend) with "maintenance vans" shortly after Snowden's leaks hit the news or detaining one of the reporters' partners for nine hours at an airport under "national security".
  • 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: A Space Odyssey.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy:
    • In The Dark Knight, the Joker's leitmotif is a dissonant droning which sounds like running a razor across a piano string. (It was actually achieved by heavily sawing on the D note on a cello.)
    • Bane's theme "Gotham's Reckoning" begins with a long droning note to start the film off with tension, but then the rest of the song proceeds with long-held low notes and a manic repetition of Bane's "Deshi Deshi Bashara Bashara" motif, communicating that even though the CIA feel like they're in control of the situation, they're playing right into Bane's hands. Once Bane executes his plan, the music ramps up in intensity.
  • This is practically a Characteristic Trope for David Lynch, typically used to make something mundane suddenly terrifying.
    • The film Eraserhead loves using it, and to great effect; an especially unnerving drone is played at the end, matching the equally terryfing imagery.
  • Goblin's soundtrack for Dawn of the Dead (1978) is full of this trope.
  • The ominous drones denoting the presence of evil spirits in The Evil Dead (1981).
  • Used repeatedly in the German film Das Experiment.
  • A Field in England uses this frequently throughout the soundtrack to signify that there is something off about the field the characters find themselves in.
  • The march of the SS battalion in Fury (2014) in accompanied not just by the soldiers singing an (authentic) SS marching song in universe, but also by a drone on the soundtrack to amplify the sense of fear at seeing several hundred SS marching for war while our protagonists are down to five men and an immobilized tank.
  • In Happy Feet Two one accompanies every instance of the moving icebergs advancing the conflict.
  • Used in The Hurt Locker when the main character finds a cord on an IED that reveals a daisy chain of about 8 more
  • Used by Hans Zimmer in the score of Inception to solidify the "wrongness" of the dream worlds.
  • Irréversible has a horrible techno drone repeat over and over in the infamous Fire Extinguisher scene, consisting of one recurring note, bent higher than lower, in a cyclical wave.
  • The long organ notes at the beginning of Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi score have this effect.
  • 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."
  • Other than the slow "Psycho" Strings below the opening credits, and some music performed onscreen by the characters and then under the end credits, this is Martha Marcy May Marlene's only soundtrack.
  • Nope: An ominous synth drone swells beneath the "from Jordan Peele" credit in the trailer. It is the same sound the UFO makes when it is first seen at the ranch during the film proper.
  • Return of the Jedi: The theme for the Emperor becomes very creepy due to the droning chorus.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Season 3 intro of Babylon 5 features low sustained synth chords, combined with an echoing Dramatic Timpani.
  • The soundtrack to Chernobyl is overall very subtle and understated, but uses a low, unsettling droning sound - reminiscent of the workings of the fateful power plant - as a common motif to add to the series' bleak, eerie atmosphere and the dread of nuclear radiations.
  • Hannibal uses one for its uniquely ominous opening sequence.
  • Law & Order makes extensive use of this (at a low pitch) when the (usually disturbing) key revelation comes out, either on the witness stand or (better yet) in chambers or an interview room.
  • The miniseries Manhunt: Unabomber overkills the heck out of this, with many scenes involving the Unabomber not only using a drone but also using a very shrill, almost eardrum-piercing pitch.
  • 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.
  • When they were testing the Brown Note myth on MythBusters, the boys tripped over this trope: the myth involved a victim surrounded by stereo speakers that would play various frequencies. Although they couldn't make anybody cack their pants, both Adam and Jamie noted that when the speakers played an especially low frequency, that they felt very uncomfortable and nervous for reasons they could not explain.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Detroit goth-techno duo ADULT. use this trope to horrific effect in "Teeth Out Pt. II", which consists of heavily reverbed vocal chants over a synth bass drone. Notably, it's the first track of theirs to lack drums.
  • 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.
  • Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II has a lot of songs that incorporate this trope to unnerving effect, e.g. "Tassels", which inspired the forementioned "City of the Dead" in Fallout, but "Stone in Focus" manages to have a drone that sounds nice.
  • Some of Autechre's ambient works, such as "Paralel Suns", which sounds like Silent Hill ambience, "Perlence Suns", and "Perlence Subrange 6-36".
  • blowupnihilist use these in many of his works, as heard here, and on the Objective Nothingness EP.
  • Bull of Heaven.
  • Cabaret Voltaire does this a lot with their earlier work, especially their first 3 albums.
  • Calibretto's "American Psycho" uses a sustained organ drone for an effective Last Note Nightmare.
  • Carbon Based Lifeforms' "VLA" is just one long droning track with some distant chirping/screeching sounds that, depending on your choice of version, lasts 10 minutes (album version), 45 minutes (EP edit for music streaming services), or 1 hour (full version).
  • The Caretaker 's Everywhere at the End of Time starts off as slightly distorted old music, but gradually devolves into this.
  • Cathedrelic, a collaboration between ambient artists R. Lee Dockery and Smokey Emery, is comprised of two 1/2 hour-long drone pieces that sound like they were lifted from one of Aubrey Hodges' video game soundtracks (mentioned below).
  • "Modern Ruin Part 2", the Hidden Track on Covenant's Modern Ruin album (only on the CD, not the digital release), is reminiscent of the forementioned Quake soundtrack, as well as the otherworld hospital ambience in Silent Hill. Likewise for the ambient piece "Cryotank Expansion" from their first album. The opening track of Skyshaper, "Ritual Noise", starts with a siren-like drone.
  • New-wave band Daniel Amos opens "¡Alarma!" (off the album of the same name) with thirty seconds of buzzing synths. On Doppelgänger, a similar synth drone connects "Hollow Man" and "Mall (All Over the World)".
  • Black Metal performer Echtra used this a lot on his first solo album. His later albums used drone, too, but usually with the intention of creating a trance-like meditative state rather than creating an atmosphere of dread. These albums also no longer resemble Black Metal, and arguably can't be characterised as metal at all (ambient is probably a better categorisation of most of their content, though there are still a few intense passages on some of them).
  • ElP:
    • Time Out of Joint (TOJ).
    • Accidents Don't Happen feat Cage & Camu Tao.
  • They Come Out at Night by Eschaton combines drones with Drum N Bass beats.
  • Fever Ray's "If I Had a Heart", used as the main theme for Vikings.
  • Freaky DNA uses drones throughout "Bass Armonium", and in parts of "Fog Stalker" and "Iced Cubed".
  • Fuck Buttons prominently utilize drones in Sweet Love for Planet Earth, OK, Let's Talk about Magic, Race You To My Bedroom / Spirit Rise, Colours Move, and Brainfreeze.
  • Folk/avant-garde project Giles Corey also has used this both to create a sense of unease (on the Self-Titled Album) and to create a state of trance (on Deconstructionist, in whose liner notes doing this was explicitly stated as being a specific goal of the album; the album also uses binaural beats and other techniques with this in mind).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • John Cale tends to carry this with him wherever he goes.
  • "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.
  • 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.
  • L'Étoile du Matin Noir, an EP of dark ambient and noise music featuring many drones, released for free under Creative Commons.
  • A lot on Frances the Mute by The Mars Volta, most prevalent on "Miranda That Ghost Just Isn't Holy Anymore". The title track, not actually included on the album, uses the trope even more prominently.
  • Muslimgauze does this alot; but with the tribal variety of Middle-Eastern chants and beats added in to give texture. His earlier work on the other hand replicated industrial-style drones from the likes of his contemporaries.
  • Several songs by Nine Inch Nails, including "Sanctified," "Something I Can Never Have," "Even Deeper," and the ending to "Hurt."
  • Nordra's "Remembering", from Pylon III, combines sub-bass and synth strings drones with a repeating One-Woman Wail hook.
  • Nurse with Wound, especially the minimalist album Soliloquy for Lilith.
  • OGRE & Dallas Cambpell prominently utilize Drone of Dread to horrific effect on their All Hallows and Beyond the Infinite albums, notably in "Tomorrow's Headline", "Lockstep", "Of Terror", and "Carve" on the former, and "Monolith I", "A Great Big Mystery", "Monolith II", "Open the Doors", "Daisy", and "Jupiter" on the latter.
  • The intro of The Police's "Don't Stand So Close to Me".
  • The intro to Red Rider's still-popular "Lunatic Fringe".
  • Robert Fripp and Jeff Fayman's 2000 collaboration A Temple in the Clouds uses "Frippertronic" guitar drones. link
  • Norwegian duo Röyksopp have this hidden track on their album 'Senior': [1]
  • Confirm Humanity by multi-genre artist Soularflair resembles the Doom PSX soundtracks as well as Mark Morgan's drone ambient pieces from the first two Fallout games.
  • Swans have done this quite frequently. Examples include "Surrogate Drone" and "The Seer".
  • Tears for Fears: A deep, lingering synth drone underscores "The Prisoner".
  • Some Throbbing Gristle material, such as "Slug Bait" and the legendary "Hamburger Lady".
  • Twinker from Shrill (or is it Shrill from Twinker?) starts out with heavy brooding droning synth which it keeps for most of what is otherwise an ear-piercing acid techno banger.
  • The Velvet Underground used this a lot, especially live, which may not come as a surprise since John Cale, mentioned above, was a member. A good example is their live improvisation "Melody Laughter".
    • When Velvet Underground alumnus Nico started writing her own music on harmonium, she used this trope ubiquitously. The Marble Index, Desertshore, and The End... contain particularly notable examples of it.
  • Wilco's "Less Than You Think" contains three minutes of piano and vocals, followed by twelve minutes of drones that were generated by each member on a synthesizer. It was meant to be a musical depiction of frontman Jeff Tweedy's migraines.
Xera's "Inda" starts off with a rather creepy, minute-long drone performed on a rabel.

  • 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 
  • 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.
  • The AMBER headset in AMBER: Journeys Beyond does this by the low hum it emits while you're wearing it, and given that it enables you to not only see and hear where ghosts are, but also project your mind into them, it fits this trope well.
  • One accompanies a victory for the Imposter(s) in Among Us as a sort of hopeless note following the defeat of the innocents.
  • Animal Crossing has the chilling and iconic “K.K. Dirge”. The song begins with a high-pitched, quiet drone that could probably equate to a One-Woman Wail in-universe, and the ‘chorus’ consists of several low-pitched ones as well.
  • In Baba Is You, whenever you lose control over all in-game objects (either by breaking "X is You" rules or creating situations where the rules no longer apply), the music cuts out in favor of a deep, windy howl.
  • The mission "Remember... No Russian" from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has a particularly unsettling droning bass line playing throughout the whole level to emphasize the unsettling nature of the level in which you commit an act of wanton murder and terrorism. One variation of this, appropriately titled "Airport Stalk", also plays during the Terminal Spec-Ops mission.
  • 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.
  • In Dark Fall II: Lights Out, one of the places you visit is an underwater lab, and its machinery emits a steady ambient drone while you're inside it, with ocacsional bits of futuristic music to provide variety.
  • The theme of the eponymous Darkest Dungeon, "The Final Combat", uses this to underscore its status as The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
  • 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 worst moment, making nearly every situation incredibly tense and every player paranoid of what's around the corner.
  • 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.
  • Metroid:
  • Myst, though the Trope Codifier of the Beautiful Void genre, has quite creepy ambient tracks at times; notably the gateway, hallways, and caches of the Mechanical Age, the Stoneship Age's arrangement of Achenar's leitmotif, and the Temple in the Channelwood Age.
  • Not for Broadcast: In the third part of Day 296: The Heatwave (although with no music), during the time Jeremy Donaldson is talking to Andy and Jenny, a low-pitched infrasound drone is faintly heard, but over time, it grows louder and louder, indicating that security is coming for Jeremy. It's pretty kinda bad if the Disrupt ad tape is not played, but it borders on Nightmare Fuel if Alex Winston did play the tape. What's even more unsettling is that in the latter scenario, when Jeremy dismisses Jenny and Andy on realizing that security is coming for him, he makes a final mano-a-mano broadcast with all tapes focused on him as the drone grows louder and louder, eventually reaching its climax as he puts the gun up close toward his head and, barring Jenny's pleas to cut to the ads, caps off his Final Speech with his usual Signing-Off Catchphrase before ending his own life with a Pretty Little Headshot to the temple.
  • Obsidian uses this trope in two of its dream worlds with general MIDI.
    • The cube-shaped Bureau has a giant light bulb on one of its faces, which hums in this manner when you get close.
    • The second dream world uses this as background music, fitting what's meant to be a character's nightmare about an ominous Mechanical Spider. The hub factory it resides in consists largely of dark bass guitar notes, overlaid with high-pitched whining tones, and climbing scaffolding around the spider plays a distorted choir as you go. As you repair the spider, this music can make the situation more and more unsettling each time you return to the hub. And when you finish, the Spider comes alive and eats you, sending you to the next dream world.
  • 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.
  • Ori and the Blind Forest uses drony ambience in the Misty Woods, and when Kuro is stalking Ori after the Forlorn Ruins to put the player on edge, the latter being combined with "Psycho" Strings.
  • Pizza Tower has the track "Meatophobia", which plays whenever you approach a level's Pillar John. Interestingly, it's actually the taunt sound effect, just slowed down to an unrecognizable degree.
  • Shin Megami Tensei:
    • Shin Megami Tensei I when the music plays for the Terminals which acts as save points, starts with a long drone and repeats with a single tune that adds in the eerie soundtrack.
    • Used for macabre effect during the first couple of blocks of Eldritch Location Tartarus in Persona 3, since the party is venturing into the unknown in a place crawling with metaphysical manifestations of the human psyche. The effect goes away as they climb more floors and more and more instruments are added to the piece, and by the time they reach block 6 it's a complete composition.
    • Persona 4 features the glitchy, distorted, hard rock boss theme "A New World Fool", representing the damaged, twisted psyches of the characters who have the song as their theme: Taro Namatame and especially the true Killer and big bad, Adachi.
  • 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. "Black Fairy" from the second game's otherworld hotel, with its Giygas-style distorted drone chords accompanied by a periodic screeching sound, ranks as one of the most horrifying music pieces in video game history. On a similar level of horror is the high-pitched ringing drone that accompanies the lethal red light at the end of the Borley Haunted Mansion.
  • In Spore, when you encounter the Grox, this song plays in their planets. It's an eerie mix of mechanical sounds accompanied by singing that (depending on your perspective) is either goofy or disturbing.
  • Syphon Filter 2 uses this in the ambient score for its Airbase levels, both being tense insta-fail Stealth Based Missions playing as the virus-infected Lian Xing, and the first starting as a No-Gear Level where Lian is clad in only a hospital gown and has a limited time to find an adrenaline booster. The first ambient track is used again when Gabe Logan infiltrates the Agency Biolab, also sans equipment. Ditto Aljir Prison, the last mission where the player controls Lian before her condition worsens.
  • System Shock 2 has dark ambient hums and occasional thumping noises lining almost every bit of the Von Braun and Rickenbacker spaceships. Sometimes it's obviously coming from computers or industrial machinery nearby, but other can't really tell at all what's making those noises. And to top it all off? Even the main menu has a low electronic drone to it.
  • Used commonly throughout the Thief series in certain segments of its ambient/atmospheric music. Particularly in scary missions.

  • 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 
  • Used in this adaptation of a Fuan no Tane segment.
  • The injury list for UrinatingTree's "This Week In Sportsball: NFL Week Two Edition (2020)" eschews the usual Taps in favor of a piece of ambient music that incorporates this. Considering the list consisted of forty-five injuries (eleven of which were season-enders) and two deaths, Taps would've been insufficient in terms of both tone and duration.

    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". ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD.


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Arresting the HMKG Commander

Two Russian spooks overlook the fact that the funnily-dressed man they're to arrest/abduct/coerce has an actual military unit - His Majesty The King's Guard - at his beck and call.

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