Clarice Jensen ~ Drone Studies

At first, one may be surprised at the genre of cellist Clarice Jensen‘s latest release.  The artistic director of ACME is known for her work with Jóhann Jóhannsson, among others.  So how did she end up making a drone album?

The answer is simpler than one may think.  Listen again to BC, where layers of cello coalesce into harmony.  Now elongate that opening section, concentrating on loops and accumulation. This is Drone Studies.

“The Organ That Made You Bleed” starts with choral loops, swirling in an eddy without an exit.  As further components are added, the water grows turgid.  The first musical note surfaces nearly three minutes in, like a log that has escaped to the wrack line.  Once again, time is suspended.  But after another three minutes, the timbre brightens, tilting toward ambience.  These are movements; Jensen is using the form of modern composition in the field of drone.  Soon the listener grows to anticipate the shifts: the next more gradual but the last (at the 12-minute mark) a dark turn that increases in volume before yielding to a surprising series of church chords, returning to the religious tone of the beginning.

“One Bee” begins in similar fashion, but eventually ends up more like “BC.”  A drone establishes the baseline, but a cello loop soon enters, and remains until the end of the ten-minute piece.  The tension is set up when other loops enter, creating harmonic convergences.  This is where the study of the drone becomes apparent.  Whether background or foreground, a consistent tone interacts with all other tones just by being there.  Jensen introduces the contrast between drone and melodic sequence, then throws a curve ball with the introduction of extended notes (for which the cello is perfect).

This leads to a series of questions: how long does a note have to last before we call it a drone?  Is the musical term more a factor of perception or of interval?  Is a song just a really fast series of drones, and is a drone just a really long version of notes?  Jensen doesn’t provide the answers, but opens the floor for discussion.  (Richard Allen)

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