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So I was wondering how many employ drones and how many use stingers or accents in sound design? When you use a drone, what is your intention with it, when do you use it? I read in a book that drones help people go back to the tonal center and that with a drone, the mind is more free to wander through other steps.
What are your techniques in making drones? What instruments usually do you use/sounds? Reverb? Delays? Reverse?
What about stingers, do you have a preference over using musical instruments/heavily processed sounds or both?

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For me the drones (and the music) are what gives the film its sonic identity. When I work on a film, I try to narrow down the infinite number of possibilities of making sound design to a concept that fits the film.

For instance I did a pilot for a film, which is a horror film in an old summerhouse / abandoned farm somewhere in the woods. While we were doing the pilot, I had access to a similar old abandoned farm where, in one of the barns, there was an old harmonium. A lot of the keys were stuck, and as i pumped air through the thing, the most dense cluster chords emerged. I did a 20 minute recording session with my Zoom H4, afterwards I took the recordings back to my studio and pitched them down an octave or so and added some reverb, and created some dark textured drones for the film. Somehow the feeling of the lonely harmonium in the barn connected to the feeling of an abandoned house inhabited by something evil.

On a feature film, which I finished about a month ago, I had a concept of using single oscillator analog synths for the drones, making simple tones which would be treated with resonant filters and different types of analog distortion. The drones were constantly evolving because I was constantly turning the knobs while creating them. This also gave a pretty precise palette of possibilities and thereby a strong sense of identity for the film.

On earlier films I have used Reaktor synths (especially the travellizer) quite a lot, but right now I am in an analog phase of my life. I might get back to Reactor later on, it is definetely a fantastic piece of software!

I also use stingers to spice things up. I don't spend so much time inventing them, mostly I just go through my library, searching for "lfe" or "stinger" or "flame" or "dragon" or "whoosh" or "explosion" or whatever comes to mind. I then edit, layer, pitch, mix, reverse, add reverb and so on, until I am satisfied with the sting.

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My only thought on drones is this: make them your own

be VERY wary of making your signature sounds straight out of a library. Lets face it, it is very easy to generate drones of your own - whether they are created via granular, synthesis or harmonic freezes or whatever.... You owe it to yourself (and the project) to make/create your own, inspired & emotionally motivated by the project you're working on....

I consider the aesthetics of drones to be very personal & particular.... Sure as hell dont want the equivalent of the (yeech) Hollywood Edge metal hatch door open/whistly wind/etc/etc applied to something so beautiful & subjective as a drone...

just my $0.05

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For software look into the Komplete series from Native Instruments.

Reaktor, Absynth, Evolve, and Tonehammer are some solid virtual instruments that produce great results.

If you want to get crazy, grab a stringed instrument and mic it up - play it with a bow or drumstick, maybe even a piece of metal. Process that jam with some fx and mix in some reverb. See how that comes out. Oooo! Or some resonant piece of metal like a popcorn bucket and press a back massager really hard against the bottom... then put water in it... then blow it up! Muhahahahahahaha.

  • Reaktor is great, love the granular fx – Chris Feb 25 '11 at 6:20
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    Oooh, making sound in the real world, without a computer? No way... – g.a.harry Feb 8 '13 at 10:25
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Not directly related, but some of my favourite 'drone' or 'slow burn' music. Might give you some ideas to steal.

Old School:

  • Elaine Radigue
  • La Monte Young
  • Terry Riley

Middle School:

New School:

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I'm using Ableton Live for Drones and Stingers. If you want to create a drone you can choose any type of sound and length. I made a drone with a glass from my kitchen. I selected a small portion (21ms) of the sound I sampled, looped it, randomized the position of the looping start point, modulated all the frequency with FM Sythesis, played with pitch. I ended up with a dense mass of sound that wasn't the type of soothing drone sound I was searching for. So I recorded a fretless bass playing only harmonics. Processed it with the same FX palette and there was the sound I was hearing in my head a evolving drones with a lush FM type of sound.

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Reaktor fo' sho', but if you're a Mac user, you MUST GET MICHAEL NORRIS SPECTRAL MAGIC. Serious, take a microwave hum, light buzz, refrigerator, and put through spectral DroneMaker or Emergence ho mah GAWD.

Seriously though, this tool pack is free and amazing (audio unit only, sorry if you're vst or anything else), and taking those into samplers and doing whatever else you need with them is beautiful. Site Here

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    oooh, that looks interesting.... – Rene Feb 8 '13 at 15:40
  • Rene, you really have to check those out. I was really obsessed for a while with trying to get reproducible fx, or knowing what it was that I wanted out of them, but I started to realize (and more after talking to my friend who is big on fft and dsp, which I am not) that you don't really get to. Michael has fairly extensive documentation, but the range of fx changes so drastically from sound source to sound source, and even among the different FFT processing sizes. – Dave Feb 10 '13 at 4:22
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And when you do absolutely need to timestretch something, use Paul Stretch

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