Listen: A Drone Rock Opera

By Arthur Holland Michel

Young Drones, a new graphic novel rock opera showing this weekend at Lower Ossington Theatre in Toronto, is the story of two (presumably rather advanced) unmanned aerial vehicles that quit their jobs patrolling the Alberta tar sands in pursuit of a simpler life. “They fall in love, become conscientious objectors, and go AWOL in the Canadian Rockies,” says Maggie MacDonald, who wrote Young Drones.

The musical interrogates the excitement around drones and their potential, which reminds MacDonald ofProject Plowshares (also known as the Atoms for Peace campaign) in the 1950s, which proposed atomic bombs as a potential tool for a variety of (obviously unrealistic) applications. “Articles about drones being used to deliver pizza, or ship books, remind me of old propaganda stories about using A-bombs to build dams, or, as was once proposed, to mine the tar sands,” says MacDonald. “With a technology with so much destructive potential, the line between violent and peaceful use becomes blurry.”

The rock opera is also a meditation on the nature of autonomous machines, but rather than suggest, as others have, that autonomous machines would somehow pose difficult moral questions–would for some reason lack the complexity and benevolence of a human–Young Drones proposes the opposite. “The philosophical proposition,” explains MacDonald, “is that if humans created a superior intelligence, it would also be morally superior to us.”


The opera features music by The Bicycles, a Toronto-based indie band. The soundtrack has been released as a full album, Young Drones, which you can check out below.

Cover image credit: Maggie MacDonald

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