Affective Resonance of the Distant Drone


But aside from this soothing dimension, the call for a balcony drone was also appealing due to its collective dimension, expressed through the aim of connecting “us all in isolation and reverberating love and compassion.”[13] This excerpt from the initial call shows that the collective dimension of the balcony drone was felt to reside within its force of affective resonance. Affective resonance can be understood as the sharing of a vibrant intensity that draws things and beings into a common becoming.[14] Stuart describes how this can be experienced in a collective performance of drone: 


I only learned about it once I began doing it with other people. Like, it’s nice to do a drone on your own, and it can be really meditative, but when there’s other people doing it, it brings another element to the experience. It’s like you’re sharing something that you’re not consciously sharing. […] So you feed off their vibrations, and their overtones or whatever, you know? […] It’s not like improvising a phrase. Like, when you’re improvising that way, you’re focusing in a different way, you’re trying to follow them, you’re thinking in a different way. But when you drone you can sort of … like, “go,” and then you just sort of push with the pulse and push off other people. And some people will rise within the drone, and some people will fall back, and you’re sort of communicating with each other that way. It’s almost psychic.[15]


A collective drone creates an affective density through which sound reverberates and holds the surrounding bodies together.[16] This can lead to a genuine experience of affective community, as affective community can be understood as a singular way of resonating together, through sharing an affective tonality. Furthermore, sound evokes the disruption of bounded bodies and (under certain conditions) the blurring of body boundaries that occurs with the circulation of affects:  


[B]odies, including collective bodies, are defined not as closed, determinate systems, formed, or identifiable merely by their constituent parts or organs and tending toward rhythmic equilibrium or harmony, but rather by their rhythmic consistency and affective potential [...] the sonic (and unsonic) body is always poised precariously in a processual disequilibrium with the acoustic environment. (Goodman 2010: 12, 102) 


But for the resonance to be shared by multiple bodies, it needs to travel a certain distance. Affective resonance involves a delicate balance of proximity and distance, of consistency and spacing.[17]


The balcony drone could be understood as an experimental proposition regarding this ethics of distances, an attempt to share an affective consistency within the imposed physical separateness. Through the intensification of the resonant space, the vibrating bodies are collectively drawn into the event of a resonance that offers access to their incorporeal-abstract dimension,[18] through which bodies, as fields of forces, overflow their physical limitations. For Bartoli and Gosselin, when bodies form such vectors of ambivalent forces, it is because an unknown other absorbs them in a paradoxical presence: this unknown other is the Outside, the infra-world traversed by the abstract bodies composing the infinite multiplicity of imperceptible becomings (Bartoli and Gosselin 2017: 2, 10). This perspective offers a new angle on the earlier affirmation that affect is a force of potential, a force of the Outside:


Affect returns as the force of becoming that incessantly creates collectivities in the making, collectivities tuning toward an outside where the mutations of difference are most forcefully creative. For affect is never exhausted: it modulates across metastable fields of experience in the making, amplifying matter in its in-forming, incorporeal potential. (Manning 2013: 30)


And while the effective sounds of the balcony drones did indeed disturb the boundaries of the home (which, according to the administrative regulations of most cities, should not be the source of a noise that can be heard in its surroundings), the affects generated opened a space of potentiality, outside of every self, outside of any corporeal closure or appropriation.[19]  


On another level, the balcony drone could be seen as a way to develop new modes of inspirational distance at a time when a large part of social life took place within the hyper-connectivity of the Internet or consisted primarily of close and repetitive interactions with the same partners of lockdown. This particular attempt did not reach one of its initial goals: to “produce a drone [...] from our balconies and windows that can be heard across the city” (Stuart 2020). In the discussions taking place on the Facebook events, no participant ever mentioned having heard another one performing the balcony drone. Aside from Montreal’s architectural characteristics, which are hardly conducive to acoustic reverberations, this is most likely due to relatively low resident participation. Stuart mentioned that when he first launched the call, many people contacted him with a proposal involving singing a song. It seems that for many, a collective drone was not the way they wanted to collectively experience music during these times...


Some people will [not] get the appeal of that. […] It’s like visual arts: if you’re not engaged in it, then you’re gonna have a problem with abstraction. It’s the same with music. If all you listen to is the radio, more abstract music might just confuse you.[20]


Even though the balcony drone proposition was designed to be optimally accessible and inclusive, only a few people effectively answered the call. This relative lack of participation in the balcony drone underscores the minoritarian dimension of affective communities. However, rather than succumbing to disappointment, Stuart noted that this hearing “across the city” was actually taking place “virtually” through the sharing of performances and the discussions on social networks. [21]


But another expression of virtuality can be heard in the echoes of the balcony drone. Through their becoming-minoritarian,[22] affective communities continuously need to generate the conditions that allow them to find new audiences with which their intensities can resonate: in other words, they need to create the ears that will listen to them. For sonic creation, this often implies emitting sounds into the air without knowing who, or even if, someone is listening. Indeed, the affective community may only be found in this virtual dimension, that is, in the potential resonances of its lived traces. Sometimes, this potential (of collectivity) actualizes in effective listening, like when a performance for undetermined audiences is heard by passersby who sometimes stop to listen, applaud, or even initiate brief exchanges. Or when an unknown neighbor suddenly starts jamming with the drone, not knowing what is going on, but responding in some way to the call.[23] But sometimes the potential remains floating in the air, its vibrant actualization dissipating without any known reception (by human bodies).


What does it mean to make music with others who you cannot hear? What kind of reverberations can be felt when our listening is not reflected back? What is it like to make music for an intangible audience? These questions, which have been explored, at least since Fluxus, by many minoritarian experimenters in the art-life continuum, point to one of the crucial connections of the balcony drone with the Outside. As Jean-Luc Nancy (2010: 50) has pointed out in his influential text The Inoperative Community, the experience of the (affective) community is one of spacing, of the out-of-self (hors-soi), knowing that proximity, fusional immanence, and intimacy cannot be (re-)found. Such community consists of the suspension of singular beings (or the suspension that these beings are), and this suspension marks the perpetual incompleteness of community, in other words the impossibility of full realization of the immanent common. The affective community is always at some distance from its effective realization, tended in the in-between, an in-between understood not as the link between predetermined subjects and objects, but as the (no-)place of its to-come, its virtuality. This (no-)place is the spacing of the experience of the Outside.


Thus, through the performance of drone music on balconies, singularities were exposing themselves to the Outside, not merely understood as “outdoor,” but as the radically undetermined, the strange part of life that can never be grasped. It is important to clarify, however, that this strangeness, this radical alterity, must not be understood in terms of social, cultural, or interpersonal diversity: the Outside refers to an otherness that is always more than the human, connecting with the unknown forces that animate the world. This Outside (of the) world is populated by multiplicities forming various subjectivities, multiform bodies that are not defined by their ontological status, their biological or elemental classification, but by their affective potentialities and by their common escape from the seizure of representation and discourse.[24] But this lack of seizure does not imply an absence of relation: ecological socialities can emerge from such an encounter of diverse subjectivities. And the Outside is precisely this contact zone, where forces of different natures can enter into relationship, even if only for a moment. 


Through its affective and vibrational qualities, sound can open access to these more than human socialities: “[the] differential ecology of vibrational effects directs us toward a nonanthropocentric ontology of ubiquitous media, a topology in which every resonant surface is potentially a host for contagious concepts, percepts and affects” (Goodman 2010: 79). But listening in such a way implies operating on another plane of perception, attuned to the ineffable movements of the ecologies, beyond any schematic distinctions or ordered separations.[25] 


we might listen more intently to how the world composes itself in a mode of perception that does not privilege the human in any of its precomposed guises or any other general categories [...] New modes of attention are needed, and persistent efforts to experience the novelty of life-living are essential to enjoying the complexity of worldings that populates us. (Manning 2013: 220)


These new modes of attention must be attuned to sound as a field of potential, whose effects should never be underestimated.[26]


In summary, the collective experience of the balcony drone motivates a broader reflection on the potentialities of listening. Without underestimating the importance of the actual sounds in the vibrational experience, this reflection highlights the virtual dimension of sound, which plays a crucial role in intensifying affective communities through music. This perspective implies an opening to the unknown, an awareness of the out-of-self and the incorporeal dimension of experience, which unsettles the home as the foundation and extension of the individualized subject, who is posed as master of its bounded body and its own self. 

A balcony drone by Hubert Gendron-Blais, featuring an unknown neighbor, from the album Balcony Drone.