I don't often write drone music, but I was recently asked by noise=noise to write a drone piece for their event, A Midsummer Night's Drone, a celebration of the summer solstice on the Suffolk coast in which drones would be played from sunset until sunrise the next day. They were asking for work that explored the mathematics of the solar system, so I created a piece using the notion of 'the harmony of the spheres'.
The concept of the harmony of the spheres originated with the Pythagorean philosophers of ancient Greece. Using the ratios of the orbits of the planets, they drew analogies between music, mathematics, geometry and astronomy. Harmonies are also ratios, and so the orbits of the planets could be thought of as one giant harmony encompassing the solar system. But this music was not necessarily one of actual sound, but rather conceptual sound: a mental music using the power of the human brain to abstract reality and make connections between ideas.
The idea re-emerged with the likes of Johannes Kepler, whose ‘musica universalis’ again connected geometry, cosmology, astronomy, harmonics and music in one enormous and powerful concept.
In exploring this concept, my piece, Music of the Spheres, uses the ratios between the average orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris as the basis of its harmonic development. To govern the relative weighting of each harmony I used the mass of the respective body, eg. Jupiter being the most massive, it was the loudest. I wanted to get something across of the extreme scale of the solar system, both in terms of size and timescale, so opted for a very slow and gradual development. This would allow me to keep the feeling of a drone, while having a continuous evolution of the sound.