A good drone knows you, as you know a good drone. Swelling with tides of undulating sound over a persistent tonal hum, it brings you in closer time, maybe even chromatic lockstep, with your breath cycles, your heartbeat, the world around you. A good drone offers its own narratives by tying its rhythms and clusters to the experience of the listener, bringing the recording, no matter the fidelity, into the space of the person consuming it. Minneapolis-based quartet IE (pronounced “eeee”) has been making good drones for a few years now and the band’s newest two-track LP, Aune, is no exception.
The foundation of Aune—which, by the way, is a dated French unit of measuring cloth, equal to a drone-length-appropriate 47 inches—is pretty fantastical stuff: two field recordings of bees entering and exiting a hive at a farm/apiary in Minnesota. While this suggests biblically breathed litanies of static buzzing and inherent texture, what IE does with the recordings is conceptually engaging and tonally impressive, even sonically rather enthralling. On the epic second track, the 31-minute “Out / —–ooooo——======” the recording is slowed down three times over, to the point where the fluttering of individual bee wings can be heard—clear as a turbine engine to the person standing on the tarmac. As amazing a conceit as that is, the band accompanies the reverberating flutters and the low-bottom growl with gentle tone-pulses and colors that suggest flight and emancipation without being overly burdensome or obvious about it. Michael Gallope does such an even- and sure-handed job with the organ that it’s almost subconscious how Mariel Oliveira builds heat with synthesizers. The two work without seams and the colors they produce are riveting, even numbing the listener to the incantations of the drone. Listening to this thing on headphones in the dark is an absolute joy.
The first drone, “Arbor / –==> x,” can be a little bit of a mixed bag. While Meredith Gill (percussion, water vessels) offers uber-sparse interjections, guitarist Travis Workman flickers interesting trebly measures across the soundscape. But the tone is more Structuralist—with the narrative only coming to a real head about 15 minutes in, when Oliveira enters, rather disruptively, with a faux-sci-fi serenade of synths. It’s not necessarily gimmicky—the static of the senses yielding to a dramatic oeuvre—but it also feels more constructed, less instinctive, than the second piece. And isn’t what we want from a drone, to feel as if it’s a world of real-time sound as heard from a space within the womb, soaked in amniotic fluid?
The band, which touts its dedication to “hypnotic minimalism,” has some pretty high standards for the construction of the piece, which is available as an online download and as a Shinkoyo Records cassette. “The music IE created to accompany the sound of the bee hives is not intended to be an illustration of any physical infrastructures of hives,” IE members wrote, unattributed, on their Bandcamp page. “If pressed for an answer, IE readily concedes that the substance of its music is largely metaphysical, in that its melodic directionality, temporal structure, and harmonic content is aimed at acts of communication that are likely forbidden or inaccessible to normative capacities of human cognition, traditionally conceived.” The band goes on to talk about the noise they heard near their studio from nearby construction—drills, vacuums, saws: all of which have their own tonal qualities, mind you—and how they improvised sounds to mimic and respond to those noises and the memories of those sounds. This is a million miles removed from three power chords and a cloud of dust.
Yes, yes—drones aren’t for everyone. It takes a particular patience and a willingness to give one’s time and expectations over to a large chunk of prepared content to get the most of them. But Aune, especially its riveting second track, makes the inhalation of said vapors not only intoxicating but essential. Tony Conrad, blessed be his memory, would be proud. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Aug. 17, 2020