While planning a trip to upstate New York to look at wedding venues with my mother recently, I noticed there was an “immersive event” called “24 Hour Drone: Experiments in Sound and Music” happening at Basilica Hudson, a hulking former factory building that is basically a church for people whose religion is weird music. As a fan of pretentious experimental shit, I needed to be there. So I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone by combining a drug-heavy spiritual event and a mother-daughter venue-search into one trip.
Despite being a real mom’s mom in many ways (hates loud noises, often loses her glasses, constantly worries that I’m cold), my mother was a hippie in the 1960s (lived in the east village, loved the Doors, did experimental theater, ate macrobiotic, marched for various progressive causes) and still takes an interest in yoga, meditation, and Eastern religions. She’s also fairly open-minded, so she gamely agreed to “endure” the concert as a way of checking out Basilica as a venue.
Like many baby boomer parents and millennial children, our relationship is close but complicated. Given my profession as a writer, I often feel bad that she has to read about stuff most people hide from their parents, and worry my writing has given her a skewed perception of what my life is like. Like, you can spend 99 nights at home with your fiance and the 100th doing molly with the Flaming Lips for a story, but the one still tends to overshadow the other. Maybe this was my way of bringing her into my world and showing her it’s not scary.
Drone music, I explained to my mom, has the power to bore your mind into a mushy, trance-like state, which can then be used as a tool for relaxing meditation, spiritual transcendence, or even (pick your poison) glow stick dancing. Before we left, she laid down a few ground rules:
1. “No drugs.” (As if I would willingly re-subject myself to the teenage trauma of being high around a parent anyway.)
2. “Your friends are not allowed to take over the wedding.” (My bridesman, Boy Jamie, who came with us, promised he wouldn’t.)
3. “I might decide to stay all night at the ambien [sic.] music concert, or even become a monk or a sufi or something.” (Now, that’s the spirit.)
We arrived Saturday night, and were carded upon entering, which I think she enjoyed, being a 67-year-old. We entered to find a sea of people tranced out on the floor in sleeping bags while post-rock group Oneida carried out the “dedication” part of the program with a subtly rising and falling jam incorporating keyboards, drums, guitars, and the occasional chanting. It was a little weird to be stone cold sober at a thing where many seemed to be seasoning their journeys with plants or chemicals, but it didn’t bother me. I don’t need psychedelics to have fun or understand avant-garde music; I just like them.
My mom laid out her yoga mat, and we sat down. The crowd contained a wide range of people, from young hipsters to aging hippies, so she fit right in. Everyone was too focused on the music to socialize much, but she got a lot of smiles from people.
Only two drone-zoners were moving around at all; one guy seemed to be opening his chakras with his hands while the other was engaged in a low, crouching bounce.
To avoid disturbing the solemn atmosphere, my mom wrote me a note in my notebook:
“1. This is all very new to me—a new experience.
2. To listen to this requires settling down and committing to it.
3. Why isn’t anybody dancing? To me it’s dancing music.”
She also noted that the keyboard player was fluttering his whole body “like a butterfly.” At one point, he fluttered so hard he knocked his mic stand over. After 45 minutes of this, we retreated to the pillowy parachute installation—complete with what my mom identified as “a beautiful Kaleen rug”—to discuss the vibe further.
“It’s so ecstatic,” she remarked. “If this were the 60s, everyone would be up and dancing, people would be naked, but people are just zonked out. It’s more internal and less of a group sharing of the energy.” Get it together, millennials!
Mom with her Kaleen rug.
Next we watched Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as per the press release, “explore the natural acoustic resonance of drums, sustaining their tones to reveal hidden frequencies using just intonation.” Chase looked positively yogic as he knelt and played a single floor tom hooked up to a mic and laptop. He seemed to be having some technical difficulties, but he powered through, playing a long, rolling solo that was effective even without electronic help. After an eternity of excruciatingly slow build-up, he reached a crashing climax, then stopped abruptly. Everyone cheered.
“I was really tired when we got here, but now I’m awake,” my mom chirped. It was around this time that she lost her glasses.
We were getting some fresh air out back when a tall longhair recognized me from a previous event. “You’re the girl from Soundscape!” he exclaimed, in front of my mom. “You were rolling around on those cushions my friend put down.” I started to deny it for fear my mom would find out I love drugs (as if she hasn’t already) and disown me, then realized I’d just been doing the same thing sober.
As we moved into the “purge” portion of the evening with an extended collaboration between electronic artists Alberich, Dual Action, and Lussuria, the sounds got louder and my mom expressed displeasure at being so close to the speakers. She wrote another note:
“I would be much happier if there were less volume. It must be possible to create intensity without causing permanent and irreversible hearing loss???” I told her we’d invest in better earplugs next time.
She was also starting to feel the psychological effects of living in the drone zone. “It’s starting to get so that when you get up and walk around, it’s getting hard to find your way around,” she confided. “The cumulative exposure to the music is very trippy. It also feels like it’s getting darker in here.”
My mom had yet another insight as we tip-toed around the inert forms on the floor: “It’s like the opposite of crowd-surfing.” Instead of flying over us, trusting us not to drop them, the bodies were under us, trusting us not to step on them.
As the purge flowed and ebbed in slow-moving waves, my mom wrote down more observations:
“You can feel it in your whole body, vibrating and pulsating and messing with your stuff. At times, I feel like I am inside Jimi Hendrix’s amp in very super slow motion. Other times, like helicopter images of Vietnam War—then an alien invasion completely taking over my body, brain, heart, lungs. Like Drano for the soul.”
Despite feeling like “the longer we stay, the harder it gets to leave,” my mom got sleepy around 1:30 AM, so I drove her back to our Airbnb, then returned only to fall asleep in an uncomfortable position while getting lost in Patrick Higgins and Ben Greenberg’s swarm of guitar-tapping. Flickering in and out of consciousness, I had visions of alien abductions, Twin Peaks, and human levitation. Also: A flashback to the precise way it felt to stay up late watching Are You Afraid Of The Dark? as a kid, followed by how it felt to read House of Leaves as a teen and feel my room expanding around me. I’d heretofore been skeptical of the drone’s power to do this on its own. I’m not anymore.
We returned to the drone zone the next morning to catch some of Noveller and look for my mom’s glasses, pushing back a full day’s worth of appointments so we could do so. As Sarah Lipstate’s Sunday afternoon sound sermon soared up to the rafters, listeners sat serenely in the sun and parents hushed their children. This was our church. The biggest miracle of all: She found her glasses, as she said, “lovingly picked up and placed in a safe place where I was intuitively guided to look for them.”
In the end, although she was annoyed by certain parts, my mom said she’d like to go again “and stay for the entire thing to experience the full effect, from invocation all the way through prayer… with better earplugs and a few breaks.” “Before we went,” she said, “I thought I would laugh at it and make fun of it, but it was actually pretty amazing.” She got it, maybe better than I did, and I was excited to share it with her, the woman who raised me to love art and music the way other people love Jesus.
And so, what started as a wacky stunt piece turned into a mother-daughter bonding experience I would not trade for all the drugs in the world. Thanks to my mom for being such a good sport, and remember: The family that drones together, stones together.
Jamie Peck is on Twitter. (We're not sure about her mom.) - @jamie_elizabeth