Nico Muhly - Drones and Piano13:37

Nico Muhly - Drones and Piano


Nico Muhly born in August 26, 1981 is a member of the Icelandic music collective and recording label Bedroom Community. Schools attended included The Wheeler School in Providence, Columbia University where he received an undergraduate degree in English, and the Juilliard School where he completed a Master's degree in Music. He also studied composition with John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse.

His collaborations extend beyond classical musicians to pop and rock names.i.e Bjork, Grizzly Bears, Anthony and the Johnsons.

The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival commissioned "Drones & Piano" for pianist Bruce Brubaker. The piece premiered in May 2010.


"I started writing the Drones pieces as a method of developing harmonic ideas over a static structure. The idea is something not unlike singing along with one's vacuum cleaner, or with the subtle but constant humming found in most dwelling-places. We surround ourselves with constant noise, and the Drones pieces are an attempt to honor these drones and stylize them." - Nico Muhly

This quote summarizes Muhly’s approach in the composition of this piece.

This piece is divided into 5-parts. The drones are prerecorded electronic tracks that Muhly created.

Brubaker-who premiered this work explains that he carries them around with him on his iPod and plugs into a sound system to perform the piece. The sustained notes are present in each track. Other sounds included in the pre-corded electronic tracks are rhythmic punctuations, odd sounds, and, in one case, a lengthy, distorted viola solo.

It is interesting to note that score doesn’t specify how the backing track and the piano should line up to each other specifically. The pianist can even advance the iPod from one track to the next if he finishes playing and the drone is still droning.


In addition to drones created by household items, there is much to discuss about the history of drone, such as in indigenous tribes across the globes. Aboriginal music-making customs on many continents centered round a drone: a sustained, hypnotic pitch that channels something powerful and possibly divine. The Australian didgeridoo, is centered around a supported sine wave.

Here is a piece by Peter Sculthorpe entitled Earth Cry composed in 1986.


There is much to be explored by music that contain drones. I find those produces by ancient instruments such as the didgeridoo very fascinating because of the other-worldly tone voices. 


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