Drone and the Dream House

Dream House 78′ 17″  (1974) is one of the very few recordings on vinyl released by minimalist composer La Monte Young. Side 2, Drift Study is in two parts.  The first, is an  section of “The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys”, which comprises of three  generated sine waves, two voices, trumpet and trombone. The second part, is only performed by the three sine oscillators, the oscillators were a custom design and make   by sound engineer Robert Alder, and are reported to be able to generate specific frequencies and voltages  of great stability in sound generation. 

The Dream House Installation, is a project created as a static sound environment  with a  complex array of sonic frequencies.  The Drone like sound  emanating through the Dream House Installation is performed  by  Sine Wave Generators, which are set to generate varying volume, time and space as you walk through the installation. By moving through the Dream House, listeners hear the sound frequencies as moments in time,  as they “… literally “pass through” them or the spaces in which their constituent frequencies simultaneously and continually sound.” (Grimshaw, no date,  p.38). 

On visiting the Dream House Centrepompidou-metz.fr (2018), inform us that, when“ …visitors step into such a space, they are bathed in light and music, literally immersed in colour and sound, and invited to experience all the subtlety of their nuances”. In addition as you step inside the Dream House Licht (2013) describes it as, “ you’re enveloped by a voluminous, dizzying chord emanating from four speakers – it fills the room with buzzing overtones that seem to appear and disappear with even the slightest movement of your head.”

The music for the Dream House started in the early 60s  at Yoko Ono’s apartment where Young put on the First  concert, where they had, “… tuned their instruments to the underlying drone of the city”, and replicated the  “… 60Hz hum of the city’s electrical system”, which happens to relate to  the note B1.

La Monte recalls in an interview with Alan Licht (2013)  for Red Bull Music Academy that “… it came to me like a vision in the ‘50s  that sustained tones were really necessary to allow music to evolve to a higher level”, but, “ … nobody  knows where the drones really came from, but we know that they are more prevalent in Indian classical music than anywhere else. Furthermore,  La Monte continues “ …once I had sine waves available to me  and frequency counters in my ear and oscilloscopes, I was able to put whole number ratios on an oscilloscope with lissajous patterns”, (lissajous pattern is a two or three  dimensional pattern that can move, at frequencies that are  not  stable. When frequencies are stable the pattern will appear fixed / still). Young finds it interesting that, “ … both sound and light are in the electromagnetic frequency range but sound is measured by the body completely differently than light (ibid).


Centrepompidou-metz.fr (2018)  Exhibitions  La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, Dream House, 1990. From 16th of June to 10th of September 2018 [Online]. Available at: https://www.centrepompidou-metz.fr/en/la-monte-young-marian-zazeela-dream-house-1990 [Accessed: 06 December2019].

Grimshaw, J.  (n.d.) The Tabula (not so) Rasa: La Monte Young’s Serial Works and the Beginnings of Minimalism, 1956-58 . p. 25-61 [Online]. Available at: http://labos.ulg.ac.be/cipa/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2015/07/grimshaw.pdf  [Accessed: 06 December 21019].

Licht, A. (2013)The Hum of the City: La Monte Young and the Birth of NYC Drone[Online]. Https://daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2013/05/the-hum-of-the-city-la-monte-young [Accessed: 06 December 2019].

Historical context: Drone music

Early examples of Drone can be found in pedal organs in many of the medieval churches and cathedrals, which used specific harmonic pitches to  accompany sustained tone signing (also known as drone singing- e.g Gregorian chants). The notion of Drone can be found in many world music traditions  such as in India and Tibet, and in the natural world  through the sounds  generated by the rivers,  sea and wind.  This drone effect occurs, when you listen for a time to the resonance produced in the soundscape until the vibration falls away. 

Drone music’s sonic signature  can be best described as … a  gateway to  transcendental experimental music with a minimum of means which is heavily influenced by   Eastern influences. Kyle Gann (composer), commenting on La Monte Young’s work in an interview with BBC   states … “once your left brain gives up trying to make sense of it then the right brain is given an opportunity to listen in its own time (Charles Hazlewood, Tones, Drones and Arpeggios, 2018a, at 17:35 – 17:53).   Therefore, a drone can be best described as:  the presence of a constant sound where pitch has no noticeable variation in  it’s intensity. 

Drone can also produce a meditative, transcendence, altered state of mind,  feeling in it’s listeners  ..  generates a feeling of in the moment. Drone historically was experienced with psychedelic preparations  which  previous to the 1960s,  had been used for many thousands of years in shamanic religions to enter/ gain a state of altered consciousness to gain visionary like experiences. La Monte Young commenting on the use of drugs says, “… we got high for every concert: the whole group” as “ It allows you to go within yourself and focus on certain frequency relationships and memory relationships in a very, very interesting way”.  He  also suggests   he never performs the Well Tuned Piano without being high on Cannabis (Potter, 2002, p.67)


‘Tones Drones and Arpeggios’ (2018a)  Tones Drones and Arpeggios Episode 1. BBC4 Television, 02 March. [Online]. Available at:  https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6hwgzw [Accessed: 06 December 2019].

Potter , K. (2002) Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass.  Cambridge University Press  p.67. 

[Online]. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=sc61Gy3r8HAC&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=we+got+high+for+every+concert:+the+whole+group”++la+monte+young&source=bl&ots=byVcafTRFP&sig=ACfU3U0jsEqJqWEpK8cN_g2cbPT8wp-6gg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwicv4ObwrfmAhXPPsAKHaaBCbwQ6AEwAXoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=we%20got%20high%20for%20every%20concert%3A%20the%20whole%20group”%20%20la%20monte%20young&f=false[Accessed: 10 December 2019].

Pioneers in Electronic Music: La Monte Young- Drone Music

La Monte Young: The Dream House

La Monte Young (see image below),  is credited as being one of the creators and early pioneers of  Minimalism, of which Drone music became part of before finding it’s own niche and specific genre. Minimalism,  began it’s humble beginnings in  1958 in the lofts, galleries and collective spaces of Downtown New York and San Francisco, and   brought about a  musical  revolution  in the way sound was made and thought of.

La Monte Young IMAGE
La Monte Young

La Mont Young, traces his musical developmental influences  back to the wind whistling across the logs of his parents’ humble cabin; the drone of the machines in the shop where he worked as a youth, and the hum of the electrical transformer next to his Grandfather Grandy’s gas station.

Electronic Music : My Journey into Sound

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