Spatial music

Last updated

Spatial music is composed music that intentionally exploits sound localization. Though present in Western music from biblical times in the form of the antiphon, as a component specific to new musical techniques the concept of spatial music (Raummusik, usually translated as "space music") was introduced as early as 1928 in Germany. [1]


The term spatialisation is connected especially with electroacoustic music to denote the projection and localization of sound sources in physical or virtual space or sound's spatial movement in space.


The term "spatial music" indicates music in which the location and movement of sound sources is a primary compositional parameter and a central feature for the listener. It may involve a single, mobile sound source, or multiple, simultaneous, stationary or mobile sound events in different locations.

There are at least three distinct categories when plural events are treated spatially: [2]

  1. essentially independent events separated in space, like simultaneous concerts, each with a strong signaling character
  2. one or several such signaling events, separated from more "passive" reverberating background complexes
  3. separated but coordinated performing groups.


Examples of spatiality include more than seventy works by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (canticles, litanies, masses, Marian antiphons, psalm- and sequence-motets), [3] the five-choir, forty- and sixty-voice Missa sopra Ecco sì beato giorno by Alessandro Striggio and the possibly related eight-choir, forty-voice motet Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis, as well as a number of other Italian—mainly Florentine—works dating between 1557 and 1601. [4]

Notable 20th-century spatial compositions include Charles Ives's Fourth Symphony (1912–18), [5] Rued Langgaard's Music of the Spheres (1916–18), [6] Edgard Varèse's Poème électronique (Expo '58), Henryk Górecki's Scontri, op. 17 (1960), which unleashes a volume of sound with a "tremendous orchestra" for which the composer precisely dictates the placement of each player onstage, including fifty-two percussion instruments, [7] Karlheinz Stockhausen's Helicopter String Quartet (1992–93/95), which is "arguably the most extreme experiment involving the spatial motility of live performers", [8] and Henry Brant's Ice Field , a "'spatial narrative,'" [9] or "spatial organ concerto," [10] awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Music, as well as most of the output after 1960 of Luigi Nono, whose late works—e.g., ..... sofferte onde serene ... (1976), Al gran sole carico d'amore (1972–77), Prometeo (1984), and A Pierre: Dell’azzurro silenzio, inquietuum (1985)—explicitly reflect the spatial soundscape of his native Venice, and cannot be performed without their spatial component. [11]

Technological developments have led to broader distribution of spatial music via smartphones since at least 2011, [12] to include sounds experienced via Global Positioning System localization (BLUEBRAIN, [13] Matmos, [14] others) and visual inertial odometry through augmented reality (TCW, [15] [16] others).

See also


  1. Beyer, Robert (1928). "Das Problem der ‘kommenden Musik'" [The Problem of Upcoming Music]. Die Musik 20, no. 12: 861–66. (in German)
  2. Maconie, Robin (2005). Other Planets: The Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen (Lanham, Maryland, Toronto, Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.): 296. ISBN   0-8108-5356-6.
  3. Lewis Lockwood, Noel O’Regan, and Jessie Ann Owens, "Palestrina [Prenestino, etc.], Giovanni Pierluigi da [‘Giannetto’]", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001).
  4. Davitt Moroney, "Alessandro Striggio's Mass in Forty and Sixty Parts", Journal of the American Musicological Society 60, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 1–69. Citations on 1, 3, 5 et passim.
  5. Jan Swafford, Charles Ives: A Life with Music (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998): 92, 181–82. ISBN   0-393-31719-6.
  6. Geoffrey Norris, "Proms 2010: Prom 35. A Danish Avant-garde Classic Is Expertly Reappraised." (review), The Telegraph (13 August 2010).
  7. Jakelski, Lisa (2009) "Górecki's Scontri and Avant-Garde Music in Cold War Poland", The Journal of Musicology 26, no. 2 (Spring): 205–39. Citation on p. 219.
  8. Solomon, Jason Wyatt (2007), "Spatialization in Music: The Analysis and Interpretation of Spatial Gestures", Ph.D. diss. (Athens: University of Georgia): p. 60.
  9. Anon. (2002), "Brant's 'Field' Wins Pulitzer", Billboard, 114, no. 16 (April 20): 13. ISSN 0006-2510.
  10. (2008). Musicworks, no. 100 (Spring), 101 (Summer), or 102 (Winter): 41. Music Gallery.[ full citation needed ]
  11. Andrea Santini, "Multiplicity—Fragmentation—Simultaneity: Sound-Space as a Conveyor of Meaning, and Theatrical Roots in Luigi Nono's Early Spatial Practice", Journal of the Royal Musical Association 137, no. 1 (2012): 71–106 doi : 10.1080/02690403.2012.669938, citations on 101, 103, 105.
  12. Dehaan, Daniel (2019). "Compositional Possibilities of New Interactive and Immersive Digital Formats". Northwestern University. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  13. Richards, Chris (28 May 2011). "Bluebrain make magic with the world's first location aware album". Washington Post. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  14. Weigel, Brandon (1 October 2015). "Your hurricane soundtrack is here: download this new interactive app from Matmos". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  15. Palladino, Tommy (17 April 2019). "New iPhone App Fills Your Living Room with a Virtual Orchestra". Next Reality. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  16. Copps, Will (14 April 2019). "Building Augmented Reality Spatial Audio Compositions for iOS" (PDF). TCW A/V. Retrieved 12 September 2020.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Karlheinz Stockhausen German composer

Karlheinz Stockhausen was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. He is known for his groundbreaking work in electronic music, for introducing controlled chance into serial composition, and for musical spatialization.

<i>Gesang der J√ľnglinge</i> Electronic music work by Karlheinz Stockhausen

Gesang der Jünglinge is an electronic music work by Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was realized in 1955–56 at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk studio in Cologne and is Work Number 8 in the composer's catalog of works. The vocal parts were supplied by 12-year-old Josef Protschka. It is exactly 13 minutes, 14 seconds long.


Licht (Light), subtitled "Die sieben Tage der Woche", is a cycle of seven operas composed by Karlheinz Stockhausen between 1977 and 2003. The composer described the work as an "eternal spiral" because "there is neither end nor beginning to the week." Licht consists of 29 hours of music.

Gottfried Michael Koenig German-Dutch composer

Gottfried Michael Koenig is a contemporary German-Dutch composer.

Formula composition is a serially derived technique encountered principally in the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, involving the projection, expansion, and Ausmultiplikation of either a single melody-formula, or a two- or three-voice contrapuntal construction.

Gruppen for three orchestras (1955–57) is amongst the best-known compositions of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, and is Work Number 6 in the composer's catalog of works. Gruppen is "a landmark in 20th-century music. .. probably the first work of the post-war generation of composers in which technique and imagination combine on the highest level to produce an undisputable masterpiece".

Konrad Boehmer was a German-Dutch composer, educator, and writer.


Kontakte ("Contacts") is an electronic music work by Karlheinz Stockhausen, realized in 1958–60 at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) electronic-music studio in Cologne with the assistance of Gottfried Michael Koenig. The score is Nr. 12 in the composer's catalogue of works, and is dedicated to Otto Tomek.


Hymnen is an electronic and concrete work, with optional live performers, by Karlheinz Stockhausen, composed in 1966–67, and elaborated in 1969. In the composer's catalog of works, it is Nr. 22.


Telemusik is an electronic composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen, and is number 20 in his catalog of works.

<i>Montag aus Licht</i>

Montag aus Licht is an opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen in a greeting, three acts, and a farewell, and was the third of seven to be composed for the opera cycle Licht: die sieben Tage der Woche. The libretto was written by the composer.

<i>Samstag aus Licht</i>

Samstag aus Licht is an opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen in a greeting and four scenes, and was the second of seven to be composed for the opera cycle Licht: die sieben Tage der Woche. It was written between 1981 and 1983, to a libretto written by the composer and incorporating a text by Saint Francis of Assisi, and was first staged in Milan in 1984.

<i>Donnerstag aus Licht</i>

Donnerstag aus Licht is an opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen in a greeting, three acts, and a farewell, and was the first of seven to be composed for the opera cycle Licht: die sieben Tage der Woche. It was written between 1977 and 1980, with a libretto by the composer.

<i>Dienstag aus Licht</i>

Dienstag aus Licht is an opera by Karlheinz Stockhausen in a greeting and two acts, with a farewell, and was the fourth of seven to be completed for the opera cycle Licht: Die sieben Tage der Woche. It was begun in 1977 and completed from 1988 to 1991, to a libretto by the composer.

Michael Vetter was a German composer, novelist, poet, performer, calligrapher, artist, and teacher.

<i>Spiral</i> (Stockhausen)

Spiral, for a soloist with a shortwave receiver, is a composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen, written in 1968. It is Number 27 in the catalogue of the composer's works.

<i>Pole</i> (Stockhausen)

Pole (Poles), for two performers with shortwave radio receivers and a sound projectionist, is a composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen, written in 1970. It is Number 30 in the catalogue of the composer's works.

Octophonic sound

Octophonic sound is a form of audio reproduction that presents eight discrete audio channels using eight speakers. For playback, the speakers may be positioned in a circle around the listeners or in any other configuration.


Oktophonie (Octophony) is a 1991 octophonic electronic-music composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen. A component layer of act 2 of the opera Dienstag aus Licht, it may also be performed as an independent composition. It has a duration of 69 minutes.

Unsichtbare Chöre is an eight-channel electronic-music composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen. A component part of the opera Donnerstag aus Licht, it may also be performed as an independent composition, in which form it is designated "ex 49" in the composer's catalog of works.