the return of drone forest

I was pleasantly surprised to find that my old friend and partner in musical crime, ian stewart, has just created and posted onto you tube, some lovely long form drone forest videos (each running about 29 minutes and change) – four of them, to be exact, released on ian’s you tube channel just last month (june 2013).

I first ran into ian stewart via his excellent music mag “autoreverse”, and ian did some features on my mid-90s ambient and crafty output, and over time, we became friends.  he has also done a couple of in depth interview with me over time – one, back in 1995, reprinted here from autoreverse, and the other, quite recently – again, from autoreverse – 2011 version.

ian is an incredibly creative person, plays a number of instruments, and has a wonderful band called “devilcake” – a metal band – whose songs are exclusively about food, and another band called samarkand…he’s a fellow fan of XTC and king crimson, and is one of those people I’m always happy to work with.

one day, quite a number of years ago now, ian asked me if I would record some material for him on guitar, but he posed a really, really curious and difficult challenge:  he wanted pieces of music, but, critically, they were to have no melody and no beat – just texture.

so a few days after receiving this request (and, scratching my head a bit in terms of, how exactly will I do this?), I set up my guitar system, and started recording pieces of guitar “texture”.  I actually found this really quite difficult to do, because of the no melody rule in particular!   but, using stompboxes and my trusty ebows and some just plain strange, strange techniques, I produced quite a large “library” of these textural guitar sounds (probably more than an hour’s worth – I remember it took two cds to capture them all – maybe 25 tracks or more – I will have to locate the original discs to be able to say definitively how many tracks / how much time there was there).  I then mailed them away to ian – and promptly forgot all about it.

ian had never really said why he wanted the sounds, when I asked him about it, he would mumble something about a project of his, so I just put the whole thing out of my mind, and carried on with my life.

a few months later, out of the clear blue sky, a cd arrived in the post from ian, bearing the band name drone forest, entitled “drone forest”, which, apparently, was a new band, featuring ian c. stewart, c. reider, mike bowman, and…myself !!! I couldn’t believe it – here was a cd I was playing on, that I didn’t know existed, that I didn’t know was being made – I put the disc on, and sat there in an astonished state – and there were those textural guitar sounds of mine, recorded perhaps four months previously and then promptly forgotten –  expertly mixed in with sounds produced by the other three musicians (none of whom I had ever met, although I knew of c. reider because he’d reviewed one of my albums for…none other than ian’s “autoreverse” magazine!).

sitting there, hearing this cd, and realising what ian had done – he’d basically asked the same of both chris and mike, solicited material – they duly recorded sounds with no melody and no beat (a difficult task in particular for mike, who is a visual artist first; a drummer second, and a great guitarist/multi-instrumentalist – with his main instrument at the time being drums…the “no beat” rule must have been extremely challenging!) – but, all of the samples were superb, and ian had done an amazing job, creating several unique songs for the album which is known as “drone forest I” or simply “df1” – the first of many, many cds to come.

“drone forest II” followed hot on the heels of the first album, and after that, the albums started flowing so quickly that we couldn’t really believe it – we very quickly worked out a way of working:

1) we formed a yahoo “group”, and we all uploaded our self-created audio samples to our “sample pool”

2) we then would listen to and download the samples that the others had uploaded, picking what we liked, ignoring what we didn’t like

3) these then became the source material for new “drones”, which we each made many of, using whatever music software we favoured at the time

4) sound stretching, speeding up, slowing down, crushing, distorting, flanging, delaying, echoing, cutting, reversing, phasing, reverbing, mixing, contorting, convoluting – anything and everything went, any source files, mixed any way – as long as the end result sounded…like a drone.

a furious year of work, 2003, saw us so exhausted from the speed and quantity of creation, that we just sort of…stopped working.  leaving a massive trail of really, really interesting and innovative drone cds in our wake.  a while into the project, we decided that we would each produce a cd, instead of creating tracks and then picking a few from each member as we did originally, so I set off to produce “my” drone forest project, which is entitled “ZOSO” – the supposed “name” of led zeppelin‘s fourth album (although the music has nothing to do with led zeppelin – I just fancied calling it that, and that was that) – and each of the other members produced their own vision of drone forest – so all of these approaches, all of these amazing ideas were just flowing and it was a really fabulous and truly exciting time.

I am not exactly certain of the numbers, but I believe that in the first year, 2003, we produced eight cds – and then again, in the second working period, 2006 (which spilled over into the first part of 2007, to be fair), we also produced eight cds and then, chris produced a lovely piece of vinyl entitled “amy’s arms” right near the end – as well as two “posthumous” cds as well – for a total of 19 releases.

we’d invented a sort of  “bastard son of ambient” genre, the “drone” – along with several hundred other artists and bands, probably, but the quantity and quality of the drone forest catalogue cannot be underestimated.  sure, others before and after us, have claimed to invent the drone, but I think ian’s “drone supergroup” idea was a first – and his methods of working are unique and unrepeatable – brilliant thinking.

ian, as the godfather and founder of drone forest, embarked on a number of really, really interesting drone projects, including but not limited to a project where he created 100 one hour long drones (these were amazing, I never even heard them all, I probably have about a third of them), I think only ian has them all.  in any case, he developed a really clever and remarkable way to create these drones, for the 100 drones project (which was called “megadrone” I think – not quite sure) – he would create a short drone in the usual way, using different source files, he would build it to a particular length, five minutes or seven minutes or whatever it was (he had calculated this out) – and then, once happy with the short drone, he would “stretch” the track to one hour – and whatever the outcome – that was the drone.

remarkably, using this very strange and quite random technique – the resulting drones were – surprisingly – very consistent, and, they sounded great, and were perfect to listen to – equal in every way to drones that I had spent hours carefully concocting in cool edit pro multi-track!!  so he could produce a one hour drone, using a seven minute starting track – just by pushing a button.  this allowed him to work very, very quickly – to create a massive body of work – 100 hours – using a formulaic method that is truly inspiring.  I worked far too hard on my drones – ian just did it the easy way – and the results speak for themselves – really beautiful work.  what is perhaps most fascinating about this is, is that it demonstrates that the creation method of a drone can be almost anything – I spent hours meticulously building multi track drones, whereas ian just pushed the button – but both methods, along with whatever methods mike and c were employing – ALL methods produced beautiful, quality drones. it’s uncanny, really.

each of us worked in a different way; each of us favoured different software for the squashing, crushing, stretching and other audio atrocities that were committed in the name of drone creation – yet, when you put together an album with say, two tracks from each of us – there would be no way to tell “whose” track it was, because they came out remarkably consistently!  it really was quite something – mike, as a drummer, would make his drones the way he made them, c.,who is primarily a vocalist, would make his drones the way he made them, I would make my drones as if they were songs, but intentionally working towards a dronelike sound – and ian, well, ian was the master, really, he could make these “push button” drones, sure, but he was also the guy who put together that astounding first album – still one of my very favourite records from that period.

time passed, and for some reason, in 2006/2007, this time driven more by c., who in the meantime had built up the very, very cool drone forest website – we started recording again (quite suddenly, we just…started up again, as if three years hadn’t just passed with almost no band activity), and we created another large batch of records during another intense year-and-a-bit of drone creation.  I should mention that c. is the champion of all things netlabel, and on his netlabel site, you can download lots and lots of not just his music, but music by other netlabel artists, including compilations and collaborations galore – a fabulous netlabel resource.

and then…we stopped again – this time, for good – mike was busy starting a new family, and always busy with his art work – and his music (see velveeta heartbreak – this man is an incredibly talented artist and musician!) – I was busy with guitar craft, bindlestiff and my own solo records, and c. carried on his own solo work, on his label vuzhmusic – as well as being the caretaker of the drone forest website and being it’s main builder and webmaster.

ian carried on with his “megadrone” drone projects, and others, and also continued to work with his two bands, samarkand and “devilcake”, as well as going on to run the internet version of autoreverse, and also, his own bizarre depiction label.

but – there is so, so much drone music that has never been released – ian was far, far more prolific than any of us, and while we all gradually returned to our normal lives after the ’06/’07 round, ian continued with the “mega” and other drone projects – which really should have been released – as they were the some of the best – really remarkable stuff.

ian did produce an ultra-rare, 10-cd set of one of his unreleased projects – “metadrone” (which has the cryptic title “df8” on the actual package, and ian sent one to each band member – I am the proud owner of number 10/10 of “metadrone”, and also, a very proud owner of the vinyl record that chris produced, “amy’s arms”).  luckily, you can now download “metadrone” for free from the drone forest web site, while c’s vinyl release is still available for purchase as far as I know.

if we now fast forward to june 2013 – ian has (apparently, as I had no warning or inkling of these new recordings’ existence until today, when they appeared as suggestions on my you tube page!!) taken the original source tapes (I assume, from myself, mike and chris – and himself) and created new random audio mixes, one each for his four 29 minute long videos, using the original “drone forest I” source materials.  this is exactly the kind of thing that ian excels at, and I am so, so pleased to see these “new” videos, along with the first brand new drone forest music since 2007 (that I am aware of, anyway!).

what a pleasure and a privilege to be involved in a project like “drone forest” – an internet band, but an internet band like no other – working with three of the most creative people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know and to work with, and it’s with an incredible fondness that I think back on those two-and-a-bit remarkable years of creation, and, the massive catalogue of music we produced – which, by the way, you can download every single album and track for free at www.droneforest.com (with the one exception of the “amy’s arms” vinyl release, which is a for sale item as it is in vinyl format) – otherwise, all of the other tracks, 16 original cds and 2 posthumous cds, are free to download!!! free.

for me – well, what an absolute joy the entire drone forest experience was – and is, because right now, I am sat listening to four brand new, 29 minute long drone forest tracks – probably recorded in some very unusual way by the most excellent ian c. stewart – all hail the master of drones ! these new pieces are intriguing, dark, and most, most excellent – drones 2013 style.

you can view the entire discography on the drone forest website – we created 16 cds in our main heyday of 2003/then 2006-2007, plus the “amy’s arms” vinyl release makes it a nice round seventeen (my lucky number)  – and two “posthumous” cds.  in looking at the discography just now, I noticed that there are actually two of the drone forest cds that I produced, in 2003, it was the aforementioned “ZOSO”, but in 2006-2007, at the end of the second run of albums, I did a second production job on the final cd released by the group as a whole, “spatial displacement”.  in a way, I’m pleased that I was the one to master and produce our final album as a band – followed by the swan song – c. reider’s most excellent “amy’s arms” making it seventeen releases in total during our active lifetime as a band.

I think it’s more than fitting that exactly ten years after the release of “drone forest I”, that it’s creator has seen fit to create four brand new works from the band, here and now in 2013, but, using the ten year old samples – randomly re-arranging them into these there wonderful new pieces of music – I think that is brilliant !

if you are interested in drones, which, after all, are a sort of bastard son or offspring of ambient music, I would suggest a visit to the drone forest website, download an album or three or five or nineteen, and you might find you have a new love – the drone.  drones can be dark, disturbing, momentarily uplifting, disorienting, wonderful, moving, annoying or just downright cool, but, as an unusual offshoot of the ambient genre, once you start listening…you may find them very compelling indeed – I just listened to two full hours of brand new drone forest music, and it was absolutely captivating, relaxing, exhilarating – a great listening experience.

here are direct links to the four brand new drone forest videos, on the ian stewart you tube page:

drone forest video 1

drone forest video 2

drone forest video 3

drone forest video 4

ian also produced a short form drone forest video in 2009, which is here.

in listening to the new tracks tonight, I really find the to be most excellent – an updated, remixed, powered up version of the drone, set to ambient videos of – what else – trees, forests, snowstorms…the 2013 version of what we did so well back in 2003 and 2006/2007 – re-imagined for the 10s by none other than the drone master himself, ian c. stewart.

all hail indeed!

the drone forest discography:

title  /  assembled by

drone forest / ian c. stewart

drone forest II / ian c. stewart

our ghost in her wood / c. reider

june 21, 2003 / c. reider (a live simultaneous one hour event from four studios)

ZOSO / dave stafford

airways nova teeth / mike bowman

remixes, volume I / ian c. stewart

metadrone / ian c. stewart (original release, handmade, hand painted limited numbered edition 10 cd set)

drone forest IV / compilation – assembled by the band

remixes, volume II / the band

kirchenkampf vs. drone forest / john gore – guest assembler – drone forest source material

biolegacy / ian c. stewart (original release, handmade, limited numbered edition 3″ cdr 10 copies)

point / c. reider

honey / ian c. stewart

wormwood / c. reider

spatial displacement / dave stafford

amy’s arms (12″ vinyl release) / c. reider

forester / c. reider (posthumous release – the entire DF catalogue to date, put through an audio mulcher)

distinguish / to be determined (posthumous release)

I’ve been in some unusual bands before, from the dozey lumps to bindlestiff to the orchestra of crafty guitarists, but there has never been another band quite like drone forest.  go have a listen!

7 responses to “the return of drone forest

  1. Drone Forest
    Many thanks for these downloads – which have obviously been around for a while from the VUZH website. There is a great range of different forms of ambient here, and has really benefited from the four musical minds coming together and mixing what they have found. I think that Davie Blint gets short shrift in Stafford’s post though – not really mentioned at all.

    In relation to megadrone – the 10 we have got are 128kbs and from what I have listened to they are fine – as my blog will show, I am not an audiophile & listen on a variety of not high end audio equipment – whether you give us the other 90 hours is up to you, and with so much music around it may be few people who (a) download and (b) fewer who listen to the whole thing, but if you want your music to be available, don’t worry about the 128 issue (and you could add the suggested caveat.

    And for more completists – it would be nice to have the soundtrack of the videos as separate downloads? Historical value. But we have a lot of lovely drone/ambient to listen to.

  2. Dave, I just uploaded the Drone Forest DVD to Youtube, who saw fit to break it into 15-minutes pieces rather than the 2 hour beast it is. This video, you may recall, was the initial VHS tape I made and sent to you, Mike and C. The audio track was comprised of everyone’s contributions to my mooted “all star ambient album,” on random play. Several sources playing at the same time, in some cases. It was an exciting way to work and one we all had a lot of fun with. This video is the original, the first Drone Forest release, which I thought I prepared for a DVD release, but maybe not……. I authored this DVD, so I suppose if there was a market for it, I could sell copies. Heh. Right.

    • & not to be pedantic but we first crossed paths in 1991 or 92, when I was assembling the XTC fan tribute cassettes. http://archive.org/details/TheXtcFansTribute-Skylacking

      Also, the periods of Drone Forest activity follow my years of unemployment! As soon as my free time dried up, the time for Drone Forest went away. I just haven’t had the time to do creative stuff for a while.

      The unreleased Drone Forest pieces, the 100-hour “mega drone”, will remain unreleased for a while. I recently became aware that the original master files for many of those albums, which date to a time before standards of audio quality would common knowledge, uhhhhhh, some of the masters were only encoded at 128k or something like that. I’m not sure if there’s an honest workaround for that, I mean in the digital age people’s ears get fatigued really quickly with this stuff. Who knows.

      My last Drone Forest piece was “A Quiet Return,” which I uploaded to Youtube back in the day before I had a chance to think about it. Take that, inner editor!

      So, yeah. The new upload is part of my own archive trawl, any old videos of my old punk bands or whatever are being systematically added to Youtube.

      This is the start of Drone Forest, this was all of our source files interacting for the first time. I had actually asked everyone for contributions to my all star ambient album, which I still don’t know how I expected that one to work. The working title was “amina” or something like that. You sent several hours worth of incredible solo guitar drones. C. sent a bunch of machine noises & what-not. Mike, to his credit, didn’t understand my vague request for “ambient” stuff & set about doing field recordings in the neighborhood around him which included a bunch of just strange noises. At the time, Mike’s contributions seemed really far off the mark but of course when you put them in the context of hot solo guitar and effected vocal treatments, they are quite spiky and unique.

      I was excited because I had videotaped the blizzard for 2 hours, now I had the audio track. This tape is what I sent to the other 3 people & I suggested that anyone could put the pieces together in their own way & it would turn out interesting & valid.

      • I am glad that you have commented here to set the record straight, at this point, I’d completely lost track of what year we first crossed paths, so I am very glad that your brain is still young enough to remember such details – thanks! 1991 – that’s a long, long time ago, by any measure.

        I remember Skylacking, in fact, I still have my cassette copy, as part of the three – cassette box that you made – a beautiful artefact, by the way. I will try and post a photo of it at some point, it really was lovely.

        It’s a shame about the bit rate of Mega, but I’d still like to see you release it somehow, somewhere. You can re-encode it at a higher bit rate, but it won’t make it sound any better – so you’d have to judge purely on if you think people would be willing to put up with 128 kbps sound in the interests of hearing 100 hours of drone. I for one, would. It’s just one of those things – it’s a shame, but – I don’t think that should stop you from releasing – just put a small disclaimer, “I never dreamed I’d be releasing these 10 years down the road, I just used 128 because that’s how we rolled back then…” you know, like that 🙂

        I did like your short “a quiet return” but I think that the four pieces you’ve uploaded now, represent what we were as a band.

        Mike’s tapes were fantastic, because they were so, so different to the rest of ours, I thought it was great, I kept using the same birdsong one over and over in different guises. As time went on, his contributions fell more into line with the rest of ours as much as could be expected – I think, each one of us created a very unique set of samples that first time, and it was that difference, each one utterly creative and unique in it’s own way, because of the idiosyncratic minds of the four individuals in question…and that produced a whole that was bigger and better than the individual parts themselves (in my humble opinion, of course).

        I think the later “remixes” and even a guest remix from kirchenkampf prove hat you are saying about how anyone could put those samples together, and they would sound good and valid – I believe that now.

        If we had the time and the resource, we could put them up on one of those “remix drone forest YOUR way” sites…maybe when we both retire, we can look at doing that. because I’d like to hear how others might mix together those unique and wonderful sounds that the four of us came up with for drone forest one…without KNOWING it was for drone forest one, of course 🙂

        I liked all of the contributions, my guitar ones were maybe a bit on the obvious side, but I felt challenged by the “no beats no melody” rule and I did try very, very hard to produce “textural” guitar, and, I must have succeeded.

        In any case – glad to hear these again, I was so surprised to see them appear as “suggestions” on my you tube page – what a very pleasant surprise indeed!

        If you ever can figure out how to upload the thing as a whole, that would be cool, but it’s not too shabby in 29 minute sections if you ask me. I mostly, as someone recently said, agree with most of it 🙂

        all the best

        dave

    • Hi Ian, and thanks so much for bringing this piece of musical history back to us – I’m sorry to hear that YouTube gave you such a bad time, it’s one of the most…messed up sites out there, although they are s l o w l y fixing a few things. In theory – you should have been able to upload a pretty big chunk of that DVD. But – YouTube has a mind of it’s own, and it likes to make things difficult for it’s users. What I tend to do when it gives me a load of bollocks is, I wait a couple weeks, then try again – and if I succeed, delete the first try. But it requires an enormous amount of patience, which sometimes, I don’t really have 🙂

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