Follow TV Tropes


Drone of Dread

Go To

"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 is minimalist and focuses on texture, timbre, and in some cases harmonic sonorities, with less focus on rhythm and melody. The drone note or chord, called a "pedal point", creates tension as the chords and harmonies change over top of it, leading to temporary dissonance.

Because the atmosphere created by this kind of music tends to be 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. Many drones do not use strings, rather relying on low brass instruments, woodwinds, buzzy synthesizers, pipe 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.


    open/close all folders 


    Anime & 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.)
    • In The Dark Knight Rises, 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.
  • For the documentary De Nuremberg à Nuremberg, Vangelis used several menacing/sad synth drones to convey War Is Hell and the horrors that came in the wake of Nazi Germany.
  • Scarface (1983): The score uses this, particularly whenever Tony sees his sister Gina cavorting with another man.
  • In Shredder Orpheus, the EBN programming is accompanied by a sustained droning sound to show the brainwashing, soul-sucking effects of prolonged exposure to Hades' network.
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home has the Probe make this droning WUB WUB WUB sound along with an inhuman electronic sounding screeching, which turns out to be whale calls when played back underwater.
  • Terminator:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Transformers Film Series:
  • Experimental 45-minute short film Wavelength has a buzzing drone on the soundtrack that starts out low (50 Hz) and goes all the way up to 12,000 Hz where it becomes a high-pitched whine. The droning noise establishes a sense of unease and discomfort that is combined with bizarre, surrealistic imagery from beginning to end.

    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.
  • Doctor Who: Throughout Season 11, any time they show the crack in reality, a quiet but deep pulsing rumble plays on the soundtrack. For a show known for gloriously melodramatic Orchestral Bombing, it's impressively creepy in its subtlety.
  • Feel Good: Mae experiences a sharp, staticky drone whenever they get an addiction trigger, like seeing someone do cocaine, but the first time we hear it is when Mae and George hit off at the comedy club, and Mae realizes they're going to end up in another whirlwind romance.
  • 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 "Parallel 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, as well as Richard H. Kirk's final two solo albums under the moniker.
  • 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 resonant drones become increasingly prominent in the tracks as the series goes on, symbolizing the protagonist's memory loss. The sixth and final installment consists almost entirely of empty droning, with any actual music samples being slowed down to the point of being practically inaudible.
  • 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)".
  • David Morales often likes to insert moody synth interludes into his house remixes. His remix of Shawn Christopher's 'Another Sleepless Night' rather jarringly goes from candlelight jazz to a pitch-black brooding drone. The dub omits the jazz altogether and keeps the drone.
  • 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).
  • Gregorian chant music often uses a vocal drone to underpin chants, sung by several choristers careful only to breathe at different times. It's either a single extended note or a slowly shifting sequence, and the effect is gorgeous (and, yes, a little creepy).
  • 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 debut album Irrlicht consists predominantly of drones played on a broken and modified electric organ against a reversed recording of an orchestra rehearsal. Ominous organ and synth drones are also heavily used in "Conphära" and "Neuronengesang" from Cyborg, "Ways of Changes" and "Voices of Syn" from Black Dance, "Wahnfried 1883" and the reissue bonus tracks "Echoes of Time" and "Solar Wind" from Timewind, and the second half of "Mindphaser" from Moondawn.
  • 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 "Frippertronics" 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 

    Web Animation 
  • Rabbit Games: Ominous droning music plays when the player puts butter in the bowl in "Cooking Rabbit".

  • 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.
  • Le Matos's soundtrack to the sci-fi horror web series EXODE utilizes this trope to terrifying effect.

    Western Animation 


Video Example(s):


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.

How well does it match the trope?

4.71 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / MuggingTheMonster

Media sources: