Monolithic Undertow: In Search of Sonic Oblivion

Harry Sword


Ollie says: 

“Every once in a while a book comes along that feels like it was somehow written specifically with you in mind, and for me that’s the category that Harry Sword’s new opus, MONOLITHIC UNDERTOW, falls squarely into.

Venturing to the very furthest reaches of the drone continuum, Harry uncovers the vibrations uniting a far greater range of sounds and experience than I’d anticipated. The amplifier worship of bands like Earth and Sunn O))); the eternal hum of cosmic background radiation; the fizzing circuits of electronic pioneers like Éliane Radigue and Pauline Oliveros; the queer moon music of Coil; Hawkwind’s cosmic bedsit squalor; the single-minded devotional states achieved by The Theatre of Eternal Music and Tony Conrad; the transcendent ragas of Alice Coltrane; the radical kosmische explorers of post-war Germany; the desolate Midlands techno of Regis… all of them and so many more capture and are captured by the slow note, the drone, the MONOLITHIC UNDERTOW, and embarking on this journey with Harry as my guide was a true pleasure.

The formidable range of interviewees here (Brian Eno, Terry Riley, Rhys Chatham, Lee Dorian, Dylan Carlson, Laura Cannell, Sarah Davachi…) help to frame an incredible depth of research and a lifetime of experience, but crucially this is every bit a book for curious newcomers as much as the ‘heads’… Reading MONOLITHIC UNDERTOW has the feel of chatting at the back of a gig over a few beers, and it’s a welcoming and expansive conversation.

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SKU: 9781474615235 Category: Tag:


‘An inspired and intuitive navigation of the drone continuum . . . with a compass firmly set to new and enlightening psychedelic truths’ BECK

Monolithic Undertow alights a crooked path across musical, religious and subcultural frontiers. It traces the line from ancient traditions to the modern underground, navigating archaeoacoustics, ringing feedback, chest plate sub-bass, avant-garde eccentricity, sound weaponry and fervent spiritualism. From Neolithic beginnings to bawdy medieval troubadours, Sufi mystics to Indian raga masters, cone shattering dubwise bass, Hawkwind’s Ladbroke Grove to the outer reaches of Faust and Ash Ra Temple; the hash-fueled fug of The Theatre of Eternal Music to the cough syrup reverse hardcore of Melvins, seedy VHS hinterland of Electric Wizard, ritual amp worship of Earth and Sunn O))) and the many touch points in between, Monolithic Undertow explores the power of the drone – an audio carrier vessel capable of evoking womb like warmth or cavernous dread alike.

In 1977 Sniffin’ Glue verbalised the musical zeitgeist with their infamous ‘this is a chord; this is another; now form a band’ illustration. The drone requires neither chord nor band, representing – via its infinite pliability and accessibility – the ultimate folk music: a potent audio tool of personal liberation. Immersion in hypnotic and repetitive sounds allows us to step outside of ourselves, be it chant, a 120dB beasting from Sunn O))), standing front of the system as Jah Shaka drops a fresh dub or going full headphone immersion with Hawkwind. These experiences are akin to an audio portal – a sound Tardis to silence the hum and fizz of the unceasing inner voice. The drone exists outside of us, but also – paradoxically – within us all; an aural expression of a universal hum we can only hope to fleetingly channel…

Additional information

Weight 0.72 kg
Dimensions 23.8 × 16.4 × 4.4 cm