Physical drone instruments

This is an old video so you may have seen it before

For me it’s a beautiful mix of timbres - scratches and scrapes from the bow, resonance from the strings inside and the spinning gives it a kind of doppler effect. I’d love to be able to do this on a software instrument, or a DIY version of this on a smaller scale… ideas? I guess Elements and the doppler mode on Warps parasite might be a good start

I also love this


That first one is beaut, thanks for sharing.

The title of this thread brought to mind the large-scale aeolian harp I used to have in my backyard.


hurdy gurdy player here! i’m all about physical drone instruments (and metaphysical ways of approaching them). some of my older work is up at

solo show from mar 2015:

must put some new things up…

yann gourdon has done some really interesting work in extending the hurdy gurdy: and of course his band france is wonderful:

i love the uakti piece linked to above! so gorgeous. any other interesting work in this direction? of course there’s ellen fullman!



that’s so beautiful. do you have contact mics hooked up to that or is it just naturally resonating? i was also wondering what sort of wire or fishing line you prefer for making these things - i was thinking of giving one a go myself.

i once made something kind of like an aeolian harp with a cassette tape - it made a lot of interesting buzzing noises but i had to cut it down before long as it got quite unbearable.

Cheers, it’s an instrument called ‘the wires’ that was built by Alan Lamb.

You can use all sorts of materials. I think I remember he’s been using high-tensile steel wire. It’s not fencing wire.

Another consideration is resonance. In the video above I recorded it with a polystyrene box wedged in one end. Lamb introduced me to contact mics and I’ve experimented with smaller spans, like this slippery slide:

You know when you find a useful resonant frequency :slight_smile:

Thinking of resonance, fences are great. Particularly those with palings all the same length, especially if they’re made from a resonant metal like aluminum. Similarly with bars that are all the same length, like playground equipment.


Playing both videos at once is quite a treat.


Nice old thread here - dormant for 2 yrs. Anyone have any more examples to add? Any more Hurdy players/ owners? I have one but its far too loud to practice it - they way i am living right now.

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a piece of mine from april of this year:

might be of interest here?


@cmcavoy was telling me about Shruti boxes. Wow, they’re cool.


There is some really nice stuff here!

That very first video… I have no idea how it is making those beautiful drones.

Is there anywhere that explains how it works?

There’s a guitarist Jack Rose who I turned me on to the idea that most instruments can be used as a drone (I can’t currently think of one that can’t). I guess this could be to say that the lines between an ostinato and a drone are somewhat blurry.


Very cool - what kind of material did you use for the long string that is being resonated?

Any shruti box fanciers? I’ve been jonesing for one for the longest time.


hello! all six strings are simply plain piano wire. 15.5 guage for the most part. not the sort of thing that would work well on a hurdy gurdy of normal string length, but then all sorts of rules are different with strings of this length.


It’s like an Ellen Fullman machine.

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I guess Elements…might be a good start

I realize this is late, but yes elements does really great for never-ending drones. If you set the contour knob at noon and then pass in a positive offset to gate with the bow knob and its timbre up it will start a never ending drone. You can make this drone get harsher by moving the contour knob CCW once it is sustaining, or by passing positive cv to strength. Bring in bow for another harmonic part of the drone. You can also make strike self-sustain if the mallet knob is fully CW when you put in the offset to gate. It’s a sort of speeding up slowing down bouncing ball effect.

And on the resonaor side, modulating position will give some stereo stuff. Not quite the intense rotary doppler effect from the video.

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yeah, in a way! her work has certainly been a big influence on me, as has Gordon Monahan’s. Ellen’s Long String Instrument focuses on longitudinal vibration. i experimented a lot with wheel orientation, string length and tension. since my main inspiration was (is) the hurdy gurdy (my main axe), it made the most sense to have the wheels operate perpendicular to the strings. but the result is a mix of higher harmonics of the standard mode of the strings and some longitudinal sounds as well. the fundamental and lower harmonics are too low to hear, but they did make for some intersting rattling and interference between the strings.


Yeah, I’ve been jonesing for one as well… hard to feed my addiction for both electronic and acoustic instruments at the same time…

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I’ve got one that I’ve used on a few tracks, and dragged out live a handful of times. They’re a fun toy to be sure. They sound lovely in very resonant spaces, or simulated resonant spaces. :slight_smile:

Yep. I bought one from a couple of months ago. Nice full sound. I’ve sampled it a bunch, sometimes I just play it and stare at a wall for a bit. It’s a relaxing instrument for sure. It sounds a lot like a synth drone, but it has a presence and vibration that’s different because of the physical box. It vibrates your hands. It’s cool.

You need to know that you can’t easily change the chord without an audible sort of noise. If you think you want to change chords, check out harmoniums…or maybe even an accordion.

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