Spiritual Friendship – Drones

Seven chakra-inspired drones released weekly from February 1 by Calllm, a new ambient label from Calm + Collect

‘Root’ released today – listen here.

Drones appear throughout the early history of music, across many cultures. They reflect nature’s most elemental hum, the chord that threads its way through creation, said to be the sound of the universe as it stretches out into the infinite unknown. Channelled in Indian spiritual music, through the battlefields of Scotland and on through the minimalism of pioneers like La Monte Young and Phil Niblock, the drone is a universal constant in music, one that instils a sense of vibrating in perfect synchronicity with the energy that surrounds us.

For Spiritual Friendship – the pairing of hip-hop beatmaker and producer Nick Hook (Run The Jewels, 50 Backwoods, Gangsta Boo) and fellow producer and noise maker Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, John Foxx) – the idea of creating a suite of drones was not informed by their own shared spiritualities or an awareness of the transcendent properties these sonic devices possess; instead, it was the electrical hum of a hot tub the pair were sharing one balmy night in Asheville, North Carolina that coincided with a eureka moment from Gareth.

The pair were in Asheville in the summer of 2017 for a week-long residency at the Moog Sound Space. Previous collaborations between the pair had taken place either at Nick’s studio in Brooklyn or Gareth’s studio in London, whereas for what became DRONES they were sharing an apartment together in Asheville, and the experience of being away from each other’s normal equipment proved to be inspiring. They decided to build a fort out of vintage synthesisers in the upstairs performance space at Moog Sound Space and create a number of individual drones, each one representing one of four chakras – the root chakra, the sacral chakra, the heart chakra and the crown chakra.

The project referenced their debut album together (SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP, 2016) which comprised base elements of drums, drones, field recordings and sequences. In Asheville they decided they would make a series of albums isolating each of those individual elements. DRONES would be the first to be created, but to date only one of the pieces Nick and Gareth recorded during that week has been officially released (‘Root’, issued on Alternative Medicine as a limited edition cassette in 2018).

Spiritual Friendship (Gareth Jones & Nick Hook) recording Drones, Asheville 2017

“I was pretty scared at first,” admits Nick as he recalls their Asheville sessions. “I’m a wild ADD, hyperactive kid. I didn’t really understand how to do this. Gareth was like, ‘We’ll just set it up and let it breathe,’ and that’s what we did. When I heard all the harmonic interactions that could happen in a single drone, it felt like I was listening to free jazz.” 

“Each of the drones is simple,” adds Gareth. “We chose to honour each of the chakras with a drone note. We didn’t do any deep mystical research into the actual tuning – we just used the conventional scale for the drones. We set up a whole bunch of oscillators from Moog, and we borrowed a rig from Make Noise, who are also based in Asheville. It was important to us that we could fuse equipment from two companies who have been so inspirational to both of us. Just as Nick says, it all interacts with itself, almost as if there’s this gentle swaying between each of the frequencies, and these unexpected rhythms and melodies begin to emerge.” 

The process for each of the new pieces would be the same: they would set up the drone around a particular note, meditate together for fifteen minutes, stand up and then hit record, allowing the ground tone they’d created to evolve and develop. The pieces, typically lasting around 45 minutes, were executed with no conversation between Nick and Gareth. They relied entirely on instinct, and the kind of shared deep listening and non-verbal cues normally the preserve of improvising players as they altered the sound they’d constructed using volume controls and filters. Each piece was created completely live, with no overdubs, each one displaying a commanding resonance and a restless, ever-changing hypnotic energy.

Recording drones, Asheville 2017

“We turned it up as loud as it would go,” recalls Nick. “The guys at Moog were excited to hear their gear being used at very high volumes. They got to hear our drones rumbling and howling for eighty hours that week, while they were downstairs building the modern versions of what we were using upstairs, by hand. It was literally like a farm-to-table ecosystem.” At the end of the week’s residency, after sequestering themselves away in the synthesiser fort they’d built with very little contact with the outside world, the pair invited friends from the Moog and Make Noise workshops into the space for a special final live performance. They would go on to perform further live drone events for friends in Manhattan and a immersive two-and-a-half-hour drone, based around the solar plexus chakra, at 2018’s MoogFest.

To launch the new Calllm ambient label, Nick and Gareth felt it was time to complete the DRONES project with two pieces referencing the remaining chakras – the throat and the third eye. “Pushed by the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, the end of 2020 and a realisation that we hadn’t seen each other physically this year, we decided to create these last two drones remotely,” explains Gareth. Nick created the basis for the third eye chakra and Gareth created the basis for the throat chakra. They then each added to the other’s creation remotely, thus finalising the suite of drone recordings they envisaged in Asheville.

Beginning on February 1 2021, all seven DRONES will be made available as a weekly series of digital releases through Calllm. Each release will be accompanied by a Spiritual Friendship drone performance on YouTube and Twitch accompanied by live watercolour painting by Calm + Collect illustrator Hydriaillustrations and guided meditations from Quazzy.

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2017 drone suite
Root (46:40, C)
Sacral (57:24, D)
Heart (37:00, F#)
Crown (41:49, B)

2018 MoogFest performance
Solar Plexus (2:21:43, E)

2021 drones
Throat (43:39, G)
Third Eye (44:16, A)

DRONES release schedule
All live performances are scheduled for 1100 EST / 1600 GMT

Root – digital release February 1 / live performance February 4
Sacral – digital release February 8 / live performance February 9
Solar Plexus – digital release February 15 / live performance February 16
Heart – digital release February 21 / live performance February 23
Throat – digital release March 1 / live performance March 2
Third Eye – digital release March 8 / live performance March 9
Crown – digital release March 15 / live performance March 16

Spiritual Friendship discography:
Spiritual Friendship (Calm + Collect, 2016)
Drums (Calm + Collect, 2018)

Press release text (c) 2021 Mat Smith for Calm + Collect