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The increasingly popular and influential genre known as drone metal is characterized by the interaction of amplified drones with permutational rhythms. Scholarship in the field has, so far, concentrated on distinguishing the work of various drone metal artists through ethnographic analysis of the symbols and social bonds that accumulate around the drone; the ways in which drones are conceptualized have been paid more attention than the function of the drone itself. This article follows the drone form from the inception of Minimalist musical practice in the work of La Monte Young, to contemporary developments in works incorporating the drone by major artists operating in the experimental wings of popular music. To clarify the relationship or non-relation between the drone and musical meaning, three drone-related works by Joan La Barbara, Eleh and Keiji Haino are discussed with respect to their relative proximity to, or distance from, language and/or speech. Although only Haino here could be said to have even a tangential relation to metal, each exemplar extols a primary form that drone metal can be said to elaborate upon: a voice pushed to its limits (La Barbara), amplified sound as a physical force (Eleh), monolithic homogeneity at a crawling pace (Haino). Each piece of music is also considered in terms of the subject who listens, leading to some speculative thoughts on the uses made of the drone, an assessment of its potential to resist appropriation by the culture industry and reasons for the drone’s remarkable persistence and diversity.
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Keywords: Eleh; Joan La Barbara; Keiji Haino; La Monte Young; Minimalism; drone; semiotics; subject

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000121673843University of Central Lancashire

Publication date: June 1, 2020

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  • Metal Music Studies is the journal of the International Society for Metal Music Studies.

    The aims of the journal are:
    • To provide an intellectual hub for the International Society of Metal Music Studies and a vehicle to promote the development of metal music studies;
    • To be the focus for research and theory in metal music studies – a multidisciplinary (and interdisciplinary) subject field that engages with a range of parent disciplines, including (but not limited to) sociology, musicology, humanities, cultural studies, geography, philosophy, psychology, history, natural sciences;
    • To publish high-quality, world-class research, theory and shorter articles that cross over from the industry and the scene;
    • To be a world leader in interdisciplinary studies and be a unique resource for metal music studies.
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