Drone Music as Apocalypse

Drone music excels in creating and maintaining tension. It aestheticizes doom, opening a door onto once and future catastrophes, those that are imminent and those that, once believed to be imminent, are now detours in a past that turned out otherwise. Drone music is apocalypse itself is a phenomenon that flouts interpretation; it is a literal rendition of the ineffable, something that exceeds or evades or defies speech. Apocalypse as cataclysm draws a line between the present and the future, presence and absence. It is an emptiness, a threat or a hope of a revelation (“ apocalypse” literally means “unveiling”), but it is unthinkable insofar as we cannot claim to have already lived it.

Apocalypse in modern parlance is a dreadful thing to contemplate, even though it is not clear what exactly will expire once apocalypse has happened. We may think of apocalypse as the end of the world, or the end of humanity. But apocalypse needn’t necessarily be either, for humanity’s apocalypse could well consist of being reduced to living in pre-industrial conditions. This would be a drastic turn of events, surely, but not so much an apocalypse for our species as for our culture and technology. The meaning of “the end of the world” is even obscurer, for even the most pessimistic anticipations of apocalypse tend not to proclaim that Planet Earth will disappear.

What, then, will end?

A hyperobject as conceived by Tim Morton, apocalypse is something we can theorize or foretell, but not know in its entirety.  We know of it only obliquely through works of art that speak of it (such as Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops) or that speculate about its attributes (such as Basinski’s The River). And while I agree with Morton that the end of the world has already occurred because “world” means a series of ideas about what life should and should not be, we should nonetheless understand that the recent usage of “apocalypse” indicates a belief that the worst is yet to come, that apocalypse is an event from which humanity will not emerge. This sense of “the end of the world” is aesthetically significant, for as this book demonstrates, it drives much of our art and culture and feeds our political malaise and spiritual cynicism. The writer Cynthia Wey takes apocalypse literally to mean the end of human existence on Earth, although she acknowledges the inherent narcissism in apocalyptic theories that harp on humanity’s disappearance to the exclusion of any other object or being. Many of us share Wey’s parochial notion of apocalypse, for we assume that if we ever do experience apocalypse, it will be just as we are about to disappear.

-Joanna Demers,  Drone and Apocalypse: An Exhibit Catalog for the End of the World

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