Please educate me on ambient & drone music

As someone who tends to stick to more melodic sorts of things, I’ve always been a wee bit curious about less structured sorts of music like ambient and drones.

Not really looking for a bunch of examples, YouTube links, DIY guides here. I can find that sort of thing easily enough.

What I’m interested in is getting a conceptual understanding. The why rather than how. What makes things interesting and what makes things boring, generic and shit. The more academic wank involved, the better.

Ultimately I don’t have any real control over the thread so I’ll simply ask that anyone feeling the urge to post some example or YouTube link at least offer some sort of critique as to why it’s worthy of sharing and what someone might learn from it.

Thanking y’all in advance.


Thanks for starting this thread.
I’d be interested as well as an artist that attempts ambient often, but usually ends up with something more intense or with more rhythm than planned. Some of my better ambient pieces were just playing with a very simple sequence on 1 synth patch (virus it) with parameters played with emotion and feeling.
This led me to the conclusion that the human element was essential in making something likeable rather than just monotonous.
I also find guitar a great tool for ambient / drone, and reference ‘windy and carl’ to strengthen my point.


Two examples spring to mind which I feel are worthy of comment for fine and not so fine examples from the drone-o-sphere.

On the magnificent side is Stars of The Lid’s ‘And their Refinement of the Decline’, which was my first known exposure to drone. There are so many things that could be said of this album as an exemplary form, but what I think makes it so is that it doesn’t come across as music that was made to fit into any genre, and if anything could be considered ‘classical’ music of sorts.

As far as the aesthetics go, and what brought it to mind as a superb example is the way the whole album communicates a sense of slowing everything down, through the use of long strings and/or pads, interspersed with empty space. It’s a less-is-more experience in which the reduction and emptiness creates a sense of wholeness. The minimal use of other instrumentation (horns, piano) throughout the album, as well as occasional spoken word samples, means that when they appear, they shine beautifully against the widescreen backdrop of the drones throughout.
Overall, the experience is one of beauty and tragedy, like a deceleration or a controlled nervous breakdown.

A not so fine example for me would be Moby’s ‘Long Ambients’.
Not to knock Moby or even his decision to create an album of drones for the purpose of relaxation and sleep, but after listening to fine examples from the likes of Stars of The Lid (and others) the use of long, drawn out pads and chords alone, somehow felt derivative and soulless. Almost like he had listened to some good drone and tried to replicate the aesthetic.

Both examples could be searched up as needed for context.
Really though, I think I’m just communicating my props for Stars of The Lid as producing what, for me, is the gold standard of drone music, against which I find myself measuring other stuff I hear (though I know there are other fine examples out there, and one man’s gold standard is another man’s rusty shrapnel).


Exactly the sort of critique I’m interested to hear! Will have a listen in the morning once I’ve sobered up a bit and pay attention to what you’re describing.

No worries, got tired of looking for similar answered questions so figured it was time to bite the bullet and do it myself.

I think I might have a similar experience as you; can noodle on a simple sequence for ages but anything done with intent tends to end up a densely layered piece with all the bells & whistles.


Ambient and drone are quite different yet drone could be considered a sub genre of ambient (itself with sub genres!), although often the terms are used interchangeably.

Ambient tends to have more melodic/emotive content, and drone tends to be more constant with less or no melodic content. Once you add melodic stuff to drone it becomes ambient.

Ambient itself has many sub genres, from “new age” hippy type stuff, to ambient house/techno, to ambient dub, functional, lo-fi, chill, etc.

I think drone takes a while to learn to appreciate, as a listener or a composer, by its very nature it takes patience and understanding, but after a while you will know a good drone just as easily as knowing a good groove.

I think that a lot of good drone music (IMHO) is less about the actual sound and more about the mental state it elicits, although it is of course a bonus if you like (or dislike) the sound, it can also be a distraction depending on what you are doing whilst listening - for example meditation or sleeping.

Brainwave entrainment through binaural and monaural beats, and isochronic tones is often a feature of drone and ambient, and is itself a rabbit hole that you might want to explore - there is a great multi platform program called gnaural which is worth a try if you are interested:

Though obviously you can achieve these kind of effects with synths once you know what you are doing, using LFOs, panning, etc.


I listen to and make a fair bit of drone and noise music (and the odd bit of ambient).

For me, and especially with regard to drone and noise, it’s as much a tool as a piece of art. I tend to use a lot of it for meditation (and other attempts at transcendence), as background noise when I’m working or to achieve a certain mindset.

I agree with @darenager, I think there’s quite a gulf between most ambient and drone. I like ambeint music, but I’m not going to use any of it to kill my ego with.

I think the key to making good drone music is to start with the quality of timbre. If the sound you’re making is of sufficient quality, you won’t feel the need to keep adding bells and whistles to it. Also, to paraphrase John Cage, it’s not the note you’re playing the matters, it’s the notes you’re not playing.


For me, and ambient, you have to go to Eno and Music For Airports. Eno had “purpose” for ambient music. In a lot of ways something like Richter’s Sleep, (or Moby’s mentioned above) might be more akin to original ambient, because they are not items of art and beauty (like STOL’s Decline) but are functional pieces that are meant to add to/fit into an ambience.

WRT exemplars, William Basinski’s disintegration loops stands out for me.

Damn, I was too slow, this is what I waffled above.

EDIT2: I wonder if by extension of this argument of functional music, the evil way the CIA blasted detainees with music might be classed as “ambient”?


Was going to post Disintegration Loops also. I love to work to that.

For those that use Spotify, Jon Hopkins’s curated “Quiet” playlist has a good variety of the genre I think: Spotify

Some really great long form pieces in there.


Also worth bearing in mind that the whole mindfulness/meditation sphere has blown up in the last 10-20 years, there is a lot of bullshit out there and a fuck-ton of marketing wank to go along with it. Especially more recently in the app and subscription side, but prior to that CDs and “programs”. However the principles and theory are sound (no pun intended) and as old as the hills - people have been using drums, drones, voice and natural sounds to change mental state almost as long as there have been people, and with or without exogenous substances.

@Fin25 is spot on, it can be looked at as a tool as much as art, a lot of it isn’t listened to so much as listened through, listening without listening if that makes sense.

I like to listen to different stuff for working, relaxing, meditation, and exploring different states of mind.

A possible barrier to entry worth considering is that you can’t really skip through a lot of stuff to find what you like, often you have to listen for longer. Quite a good way of doing this is to put one of the many internet radio stations on whilst doing something else, and occasionally you will find some great stuff like that. There are some good channels on Soma FM, and Ambient Sleeping Pill is often good too, there are tons more though.


To the people here that feel comfortable speaking of how to drone: What would be things that can help steer towards a piece of drone music that means something or “works”, as opposed to just being random sounds/fluctuations mixing/fading in and out?

As in, where could one try to steer with some more intent in trying to achieve a good droning piece? What elements/ingredients could help to focus on?

PS nice thread OP


Watch some sessions from Martin Stürtzer (aka Phelios), he has finished recently his academical music education at a german university and by watching him doing his live session, you can learn more than a 1000 words can describe.

Regarding the genre explanation…Wikipedia delivers a great overview:


There’s no rules. Usually ambient artists tend to have their own MO. Come up with your own. I agree though that drone and ambient are kinda different, I often find people call drone ambient a lot, but to me ambient is less intense. For me, ambient is all about the rest notes, space, silence, and how that is intermingled with the other sounds. I’ve often thought all music is ambient if listened to from far enough away. The original concept of ambient can probably be attributed to Eno, and he has his own definition, but the term is so encompassing I’d think one persons ambient is usually different to the next persons definition. At the time I think ambient for Eno was a sort of reaction to Musak, as an alternative for public space. Who could have imagined the horror we actually have to live with today


Oh yes.

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I would love to know where to start making this music. Gary Hayes is awesome and uses a lot of elektron gear in his various setups.


Definitely worth exploring this gentlemen’s catalogue. A life dedicated to the purest forms of mind bending drone and noises. I’d suggest listening loud on a high fidelity system with a glass of fine Malbec in a comfy chair for the ultimate experience.

There’s so much though, you may have to explore for a while until something really grabs you, drone music for me is an emotion and atmosphere that is most effective and enjoyable when it aligns with the listeners sub conscious state.


went in on this one i hadn’t heard and even at midday after a strong coffee i was able to get sucked in, it kind of entranced me into that state you have to go into to see those Magic Eye pictures from the 90s.


Fair warning here, I tend to listen to drone music from time to time but always the same artist ( Sunn 0))) ) and do not take the time to explore the genre a lot.

I connect drone music to La Monte Young experiences on sustained notes and how the stretch of time affect our perception of what we perceive as known. Besides the question about music, it is mostly about how a almost-constant sound can acquire movement on its own and how we feel about it.


I’ll try a few of the recommended tracks myself.

Personally if I see hear drone tracks on albums I presume it’s just filler , often accompanied by bullshit arty blurb to excuse it…(which I know if very dismissive) … partly because I’ve done similar tracks which are often loops drenched in reverb and a few tweaks .
Atm I’m also mostly listening through tracks to find suitable ones for a dj set (includes ambient, some long pads, atmospheric build ups )

It can’t all be pretentious bullshit album filler if there’s a a long running genre … can it ?

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Drone is not interesting. It might not even be pleasant. It should be, and the listener should come away with something after having been with the music.

I have a very simple Ableton project where Operator is automated so that it very slowly shifts texture every 5 minutes or so to serve a sort of audio clock that doesn’t disturb a deep meditative state. It is a drone, but it was composed as a functional tool rather than music.

While every possible rule set can define a subgenre, you can’t kick anyone out of the drone tent for playing a sine wave for six hours.

I scratch my head if a drone track is shorter than 30 minutes.

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A lot of important later artists in the genre played with Young, Terry Riley, Jon Hassell, Jon Gibson and John Cale for example.


Where is this drone tent exactly?

Asking for a friend.