Montreal Balcony Drone
The Montreal Balcony Drone was initiated through a call shared on social networks during the first week of the confinement in Montreal (mid-March 2020) by the musician and visual artist John Triangles Stuart. Inspired by various collective music performances from the balconies in Italy, Stuart invited Montrealers to produce a drone (in C) from their balconies and windows. But unlike many collective “balcony music” initiatives in Montreal and around the world, the call emitted by Stuart was not based on a song, i.e. on lyrics and melodies known by most of the participants. This singular aspect was crucial to the project: the absence of lyrics not only helps avoid many cultural and linguistic (and even aesthetic) difficulties but it also specifically affords a focus on the tone and the multiplicity of the collective musical expression. Stuart explains this delicate polytonality:
The interesting thing about drone, if it works well, it’s like if you take a photograph and separate the layers of RGB: so each voice is doing exactly the same thing, but because of their instrument or because of their location or because of their tuning, it just adds a layer of overtone and subtlety that you don’t necessarily always get with a song.
Another aspect of the initial decision to launch a call without the melody being established in advance was the “strong experimental drive” in Montreal: calling for a collective drone was a kind of homage to the singularity of the city, which was sunk at the time beneath a five-month winter with a lockdown piled on top. But more generally, the impetus to call for a collective balcony drone came from the openness of the drone: the availability of various online devices (synths, tanpuras, etc.) that can produce a long sustained note makes it fairly accessible. Many people responded to the call, some posting video or audio recordings of their performance on the event’s Facebook page, others even livestreaming theirs. The popularity of this first iteration prompted Stuart to extend the call for balcony drone sessions to every Friday evening at 9pm until the end of the confinement.
Such enthusiasm for the balcony drone can be understood in several ways. Of course, in a context where almost all musicians abruptly lost not only their concerts and live performances but also access to collective jam and rehearsal spaces, the call for a collective live music performance was very tempting for many. But apart from the fun of making sound again in a new type of public performance, the event was also appealing because of the singularity of the drone. Many authors have pointed out (Coggins 2018; Legard 2017; Oliveros 1984) that the drone has a spiritual dimension that can support states of concentration such as those attained in meditation. The repetition of dense vibrations, the minute variations in texture, the ineffable intensity present in most drones can foster levels of awareness that can open the way to another relationship with the world. For the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan (1996), practicing a drone can transform the current of life, open the intuitive faculties, bring enthusiasm, energize, sooth and heal. In these times where anxiety, fear, and frustration were increasing dramatically, this soothing, quasi-ecstatic experience offered a formidable response to the threatening weight of the actuality.