I’ve coined the term ‘incidental drones’ to describe a type of sound with which I have become fascinated over the last few years.
The definition is pretty loose. An incidental drone is just any more or less continuous droney noise, usually with a discernible pitched element, that emanates from some electrical or mechanical source which hasn’t been designed primarily to produce sound. It’s sound which is a by-product of some other function, and hence is incidental.
Incidental drones include the sounds made by:
- Refrigerators and freezers
- Fan ovens
- Cooker hoods
- Extractor fans and air conditioning systems (sound artist Eric La Casa has an album called air.ratio which is based entirely on recordings of air vents in Paris)
- Computer fans (my own one is whirring away right now as I type)
- Heating systems
- Power tools (lawnmowers, drills, circular saws)
- Lighting (e.g. hum from flourescent lights and dimmer switches)
- Power lines in the mist (as described by Bill Drummond in his book 17)
- Telephone exchange boxes
- Wind turbines
In urban areas, once you start listening, you find that these sounds are everywhere. But I’ve also come across lots of incidental drones in rural areas, from grain silos, wind turbines, boat engines, fish farms and so on.
Two of the most remote places I’ve ever been in the UK had incidental drones. One was an electrical installation of some kind by the station in Corrour in the middle of Rannoch Moor in the highlands. If you’ve ever seen the film Trainspotting, this is the station they get off at to go for a walk (leading to the memorable ‘it’s sh*te to be Scottish’ speech). There are no roads anywhere near there, just a landrover track and a single rail line disappearing off across the moor.
The other was a generator in a building next to Barrisdale bothy in Knoydart, which chugged away all day. The latter is one of the most remote places in the UK. Again, no road goes near it (apparently the locals have refused offers to have one built). You can only access Barrisdale by private boat directly, by a ferry then a big walk over the Mam Barrisdale pass, or by a day’s walk over rough terrain from Kinloch Hourn, itself in the middle of nowhere at the end of a 22-mile cul-de-sac.
So I think it’s fair to say that in present-day post-industrial UK at least, these sounds seem to appear in most places where there is human habitation..