An introduction to the History of Spatial Music


Written by Visnja Krzic and Jacqueline Bosnjak

An Introduction to Spatial Practices and Aesthetics

Spatial practice in music originated in the early psalmodic practices of the Office and Mass. Antiphony reached its first peak in the concertato motets of the seventeenth century. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, antiphonal practices were abandoned because the concern for balanced forces and blended sonorities became prominent. In the twentieth century, spatialization resurfaced again as a critical feature of sonic design and regained its compositional applicability and vitality.

1.1 Middle Ages to Baroque

Psalmody, the act of chanting the biblical Psalms in public worship, dates back as far as the late fourth century, although the earliest surviving musical records of psalmodic practice date back only as far as the ninth and tenth centuries.

In its developed and fairly standardized ninth-century state, psalmody takes three primary forms: direct, responsorial, and antiphonal. Direct psalmody is simply the chanting of a Psalm by a single, undivided group (a choir or congregation) without the incorporation of a refrain. Responsorial psalmody features a soloist (or group of soloists) singing the verses of a Psalm in alternation with a large choir (or the congregation), which generally sings a respond (a refrain that is typically melismatic). The consistent interchange of soloist and choir continues throughout the singing of the Psalm, creating a spatial “oscillation” between a small group and a large group of singers. In antiphonal psalmody, the verses of a Psalm are sung in alternation by the two halves of either the choir or the congregation. The choir is typically divided so that the two halves face one another and are seated on opposite sides of the altar1. The verses of the Psalm are often separated by a refrain-like antiphon, which also appears at the beginning and end of the Psalm2. Responsorial psalmody and antiphonal psalmody represent the earliest known and recorded practice of spatialization in Western music. All of the antiphonal chants of the Mass are associated with actions, such as the entrance of the priest, the offertory, and the communion. In such a way the spatial separation of chanting forces is ritualized. Just as initially setting the Psalms and other liturgical texts to music was a way of embellishing and intensifying a sacred text, ritualistically spatializing the performing forces further embellishes the musical rendering of the text by turning it into a dialogue.

The idea of a “conversation” (or “dialogue”) arising from the interactivity between spatially separated performing forces, born in the early psalmodic practice, characterizes numerous musical styles. The convention of “call and response” transcends geography, history, or style: it remains a fixture of Western art music and is common to many popular idioms, including folk, blues, gospel, rock, and jazz. The notion of call and response embraces more than just the spatial differentiation of the “caller(s)” and the “responder(s)”, it is commonly manifest in harmonic, melodic, and formal devices. Call-and-response activity often does not involve spatialized forces at all. For instance, the antecedent-consequent (or “question-and-answer”) construction of a tonal, two-phrase period is a type of call and response involving melodic and harmonic activity: achieving closure in the first phrase is interrupted and subsequently completed in the second phrase (the latter phrase is a definitive response to the open-endedness of the former phrase). In a rock song, the lines of text sung by the lead singer may alternate with “fills” from the electric guitar. Numerous musical instances of call and response are variations on the early practice of physically separating functionally distinct yet coordinated performing forces.

The polychoral style features music composed for two or more choirs and is the direct descendant of responsorial and antiphonal psalmody. The Venetian school of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, primarily centered around St. Mark’s Basilica, was largely responsible for the development and maturation of polychoral music, although the style quickly became prominent and was cultivated throughout Europe. The terms coro battente and coro spezzato (“broken” or “split” choir) are often used in association with music of this type. Although Johannes Martini and Johannes Brebis produced “double- choir” Psalm settings in the 1470s for the court of Ferrara, Adrian Willaert was the first Venetian-based composer with whom polychorality is closely associated3. He published his salmi spezzati, which consists of polychoral settings of Psalms, in 15504. Prior to Willaert’s musical settings, the two choirs rendering a Psalm would simply alternate singing the verses of that Psalm. In the works of Willaert, the interaction between the two choirs is enhanced: the end of one verse is elided with the beginning of the next (each realized by a different choir), and the choirs perform together at the end, a climactic and conclusive reconciliation of their prior spatial separation. Willaert’s polychoral settings of the Psalms are considered to be the starting point of the double-choir tradition at St. Mark’s in Venice5.

The physical separation of sound sources, rather than mere presence of a multitude of singers, most effectively fills a hall with sound, and that color contrast between the choirs is achieved by scoring each choir differently.

Following Willaert, Giovanni Gabrieli elevated the stature of polychoral music with his concertato motets. In these works, Gabrieli often integrates instruments and singers within a single choir, or he separates the vocal choir from the instrumental choir6. The individual choirs are seldom identical to one another: each choir often features a different composite of instruments and/or voice types as well as a different number of performers. Often, the choirs are segregated by register, a group of high voices pitted against a group of low voices. This is the inception of the key element of contrast that would figure so prominently into the concertato style of the early Baroque period. In Venetian polychoral works, contrast arises from the dynamic, registral, and timbral distinctions between different choirs as well as from the spatial locations of those choirs.

Sometimes the two or more choirs employed in a polychoral work were physically separated, to enhance the ‘stereo’ effect that results from hearing two or more groups performing in different locations within a church or other large structure. Balconies and organ or choir lofts were particularly favored for this purpose7. Polychoral music invariably features two or more choirs stationed at different locations in space. The point over which there is still a debate is just how physically separated the choirs actually were in sixteenth and seventeenth-century practice: were they dispersed throughout multiple lofts and balconies, creating a surround- sound atmosphere, or were they partitioned in a centralized location and situated adjacent to one another. Regardless, the choirs rendering polychoral works in St. Mark’s Cathedral were spatially segregated to some extent.

Regardless of the actual degree of separation in performance, the spatial differentiation of choirs was a hallmark of late-Renaissance vocal music. The separation of forces was providing for a variety of textural combinations and contrastive sonorities. However, the separateness of sounds in these polychoral musical settings was not intended solely as a sonorous and contrast-providing special effect: choral antiphony served for syntactic and rhetorical purposes, often being used to articulate the form, underscore the meaning, and enhance the drama of the text. For example, the two choirs would often join together to denote the end of a section of text (such as a verse) or to emphasize important words of the text8. Spatial differentiation and contrast served a critical musical function.

Following Gabrieli’s death in 1612, his former pupil Heinrich Schütz extended the development of the polychoral concertato style through the seventeenth century, well into the Baroque period. By this time, the polychoral style became widespread throughout Europe. With his Symphonie sacrae, Schütz popularized the style in Germany, and alongside Michael Praetorius, he published principles governing the instrumentation of polychoral works. Musicologist James Smith Pierce traces the development of the polychoral style in Rome during the seventeenth century, where: “Roman maestri de cappella expanded the Venetian concertato to unprecedented proportions, erecting scaffolds where galleries were lacking for their multiple instrumental and vocal choirs. Overwhelming the congregation on all sides four, six, eight, even twelve choirs performed music written in as many as 48 parts. Architecture and music were physically united as a phrase was echoed back and forth over the heads of the congregation, from gallery to gallery, from one choir to another, voices alternating with instruments and high voices contrasted to low.”9

Pierce references a 48-voice mass composed in 1650 by Orazio Benevoli, the maestro de capella at the Vatican. The work involves 150 singers organized into twelve choirs that surround the audience on all sides10.

1.2 Classical and Romantic Eras

With the emergence of the pre-Classical style in the first half of the eighteenth century, polychoral techniques largely came to be associated with the stile antico. Antiphony remained a device associated with the sacred choral music, which was considered generally less progressive than the secular and instrumental forms coming into fashion in the early Classical period. Carissimi employed this style in his oratorios, as did Bach in his motets and the St. Matthew Passion. In such contexts, polychoral techniques served to preserve the sanctity of liturgical music and to heighten the reverence for older musical idioms. As the more progressive musical trends increasingly turned away from counterpoint and began to embrace homophonic textures, the interest in spatial separation as a musical element decreased dramatically.

During the Classical and Romantic periods (approx. 1750–1900), a concern for the proper blend and dynamic balance of instrumental forces brought an experimentation with the arrangement of instrumental families within larger ensembles such as the symphony orchestra. It became standard, for example, to locate the brass and percussion sections at the back of the orchestra to compensate for their powerful dynamic range (in comparison to that of the strings and woodwinds). Almost exclusively, the strings were located toward the front, the woodwinds in the middle, and percussion and brass at the rear of the orchestra. Such practices remain standard in today’s symphony orchestras. What has not been rigidly systematized is the exact placement of the different instrumental subsections (generally performing distinct musical parts) relative to one another within their larger familial sections. For example, it was equally common in the nineteenth century for the first and second violin subsections to be situated either adjacently (side by side) or antiphonally (separated by the viola and cello subsections) within the string section. In contemporary symphony orchestras, the adjacent-violins arrangement is almost ubiquitous, although some conductors prefer the antiphonal layout11. The composers of the Classical and Romantic periods typically did not indicate the preferred spatial positioning of instruments for performances of their works, the conductor was responsible for assigning them. Composers frequently conducted their own works and under such circumstances would have had direct control over the onstage spatial arrangement of the musical parts. Additionally, the composer may have (intuitively or deliberately) orchestrated the musical parts (assigned them to specific instruments or groups of instruments) based upon the standard and most common seating for that composer’s geographic and historic location.

Christoph Willibald von Gluck applies spatial differentiation to drive the narrative and enhance the drama of his tragic reform opera Orfée et Euridice (first performed in Vienna in 1762). In addition to the main orchestra, Gluck incorporates into Act II a second orchestra comprising stings (violin, viola, cello, contrabass) and harp12. In his score, Gluck indicates that this orchestra should be positioned “derrière le théâtre,” which is best translated as “offstage” or “backstage.” The primary, larger, and more “present” orchestra portrays the here and now of the underworld, while the secondary, smaller, and spatially remote orchestra portrays the earth. Thus, the literal call and response (question and answer) between Orfeo and the furies is played out in the spatial realm by the physical separation of the two orchestras, with the distant second orchestra depicting the distance of earth.

A notable example of a purely instrumental spatial composition from the Classical period is Mozart’s Serenade No. 8 (Notturno) in D Major for Four Orchestras, K. 286 (1777). In this highly unconventional work, each of the four individual orchestras consists of a four-part string section plus two horns. Mozart does not specify a preferred seating plan for the four ensembles, but he uses musical devices and processes, such as dynamics and thematic fragmentation, to generate the illusion of echo.

For one such performance of the Serenade reviewed New York City in the 1960s that was written about in detail in Time Magazine, the orchestras were spread out such that “orchestra one was on the stage, two and three were on the floor at either side of the stage, and four ended up nearly out of sight under a canopy.”13 The synchronization of the remote fourth orchestra with the other three was achieved by employing an additional conductor to direct orchestra four. The second conductor monitored the primary conductor (leading orchestras one, two, and three) over a closed-circuit television and headphones. To further assist in achieving the “distant echo effect,” all of the strings in the fourth orchestra were muted, three-quarters were muted in orchestra three, only half in orchestra two, and none in orchestra one. The progressive reduction in volume as well as the darkening of tone provided by the proportion of muted to unmuted strings in each orchestra aided in the effective conveying of distance. While not specified by Mozart, the incorporation of mutes is a matter of interpretation that enhances the spatial illusion of the composition. Obviously, the actual spatial distinction between orchestras one through three and the spatial distance of orchestra four served to depict the echo effect.

It is also not uncommon for composers of these two periods to manipulate the dynamic level of a musical work in an effort to impart a sense of either nearness or farness. Loud is often equated with “large”—and soft with “small”, but loud may also signify “close,” and soft, “distant.”

Hector Berlioz relied on spatial effects in several of his works. The Requiem (1837), written in somber, contrapuntal style leaning on Renaissance and Baroque church music, employs polychoral activity between singers and instrumental groups alike, particularly between the four brass groups meant to be separated from one another within the performance venue. Berlioz’s Te Deum, composed twelve years after the Requiem, likewise incorporates antiphonal spatial textures, this time toward an explicitly programmatic end: Berlioz employs an organ to contrast the orchestral sonorities, and he states that the organ and orchestra should function as “Pope and Emperor, speaking in dialogue from opposite ends of the nave.”14 Berlioz does not restrict his application of spatial contrasts to choral works of a sacred tone. The third movement of the Symphonie Fantastique, entitled scène aus champs (“scene in the country”), calls for the offstage, or “behind the scene” (“derrière la scène”), placement of the oboe and English horn, which engage one another in a pastoral, call- and-response melodic dialogue meant to evoke the distant piping of shepherds. The use of offstage performers to create the illusion of distance, typically for programmatic, narrative purposes, is perhaps the most pronounced spatial effect utilized during the Romantic period.

Like Berlioz before him, Gustav Mahler experimented with offstage musicians. In the final movement of his Symphony No. 2 (1893–1894), an offstage military band, consisting of four trumpets, four horns, triangle, cymbal, and bass drum, appears in the development section (mm. 343–379) as well as in the section directly preceding the entrance of the Resurrection chorus (mm. 448–471). While Mahler does not provide a detailed placement scheme for the offstage band in the score, he does indicate that the four trumpets must sound from different directions. At times the trumpets sound in alternation, and at times they play simultaneously. Therefore, Mahler is concerned not only with creating the illusion of distance but also with manipulating the sound emerging from that distance. During its initial presentation, the offstage band’s military fanfares are superimposed on a layer of music sounding in the string section. The juxtaposition of the two contrasting musical layers is clarified by the spatial separation of the performers. The three distinct entrances of the offstage military band (m. 343, 355, and 376) feature a perpetual increase in dynamic level, as if the marching band is actually approaching the stationary orchestra from a distance. Mahler has effectively varied the perceived distance and directionality of the offstage (and thereby fundamentally remote) instrumental activity. He uses the space to enhance the programmatic element of his symphony: the trumpets serve to herald the apocalypse, which immediately precedes the Resurrection15. Even if the listener fails to connect the sonic activity of the offstage band to the onset of the apocalypse (realizing on a conscious level the programmatic implications of the offstage music), that listener would likely recognize the offstage music as a contrast (in character as well as in space) to the onstage musical events and as signifying something out of this world.

1.3 Modern Era

Like Mahler in his second symphony, Charles Ives often called for the spatial separation of performing forces to facilitate the differentiation of two or more simultaneous, and relatively independent, layers of sound. Ives’s music frequently consists of two (or more) functionally distinct and physically separated instrumental ensembles, each performing music with self-sufficient harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic features. Were the two ensembles not physically segregated in space, the cacophonic character of the total music would be augmented16. In The Unanswered Question (1908), the string section, representing the “silence of the druids,” is to be placed offstage in spatial contrast to the onstage solo trumpet and quartet of flutes17. The offstage strings produce the audible effect of spatial distance, serving as intermittent punctuations of “silence” following the woodwinds’ failed “answers” to the persistent questions of the trumpet. The woodwinds, growing ever more frustrated by their inability to answer satisfactorily the trumpet’s reiterated question, ultimately fall silent after each of six attempts.

Ives sought to free music from being strictly a foreground phenomenon and to give it a background layer of depth by superposition of different musical materials. As musicologist Peter Burkholder notes, the “background” layer of many works by Ives, which is often dynamically and texturally subordinate to the more prominent “foreground” layer, often evokes either “noises of the environment that one may notice or ignore but are nonetheless always there” or “a background hum…it is the cloud of memory, as each remembered event, person, or thing recalls others aroused involuntarily by their association with or resemblance to the first.”18 In The Unanswered Question, the strings provide the humming background of silence upon which the questioning trumpet and the answering winds, as foreground elements, are superposed in a call-and-response (question-answer) dialogue. Ives’s use of spatially separated sound sources and groups to clarify superimposed layers of contrasting musical material had a profound impact on later “spatial composers,” most notably Henry Brant and Pierre Boulez.

Henry Brant was heavily influenced by Charles Ives’s experiments with the spatial dispersal of performers. The spatial separation of sound sources is a distinctive characteristic of nearly all of Brant’s compositions. Brant outlines his spatial aesthetic in an article from 1967 entitled “Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition.”19 In this article, the composer describes many practical observations made during his years of experimenting with spatial effects in music. Brant points out that the using the physical space as a compositional resource is considered “optional” by most composers, and he emphasizes that in his own music, “the spatial distribution of the performers throughout the hall is a planned, required, and essential element of the music.”20 One of Brant’s main arguments is that the spatial separation of sound sources may be used to “disentangle” dense textures21. In short, the unwanted or inharmonious blending of tones may be avoided by the spatial diffusion of performers. In a way, multiple textures are then superimposed in time but separated in space.

Throughout the twentieth century, composers increasingly began to indicate in their scores the precise layout of instruments within a performing ensemble, particularly in works featuring an unusual combination of instruments (i.e. a nonstandard ensemble)22.This practice might still reflect a concern with ensemble balance and blend, but it often shows the composer’s preoccupation with the spatial design of his/her music. In short, the distinct musical parts are more effectively individuated when their instrumental sources are assigned their own spatial sector of the performance venue.

From the polychoral concertato motets of the sixteenth and seventeenth century to the experimental spatial compositions of Charles Ives and Henry Brant, the primary concern has been the differentiation of musical parts achievable through the spatial separation of musical forces. It is only the mid twentieth century that composers began to concern themselves with the actual motion of sound sources or, more commonly, with the composite motions and spatial shapes arising from the consecutive activity of multiple sound sources.

One of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s major contributions to contemporary music is giving sounds directed motion within the sound field, whether that field be an acoustic or electronic (or electro-acoustic). The spatial compositions of these earlier composers, as well as those of Charles Ives, were the primary influences upon Henry Brant’s conception and style of spatialization. Stockhausen breaks from the static dissemination of sound sources as he embarks upon purposefully conferring motion to sounds, with and without mobile sound sources. While Stockhausen embraces imparting directed motion to sounds, he shares Brant’s concern with the use of spatial differentiation to establish and maintain textural clarity. Early in his career, Stockhausen was heavily engaged with serial composition, and he viewed spatialization as a means of articulating the easily cluttered surface of serial works. Spatialization was a way of stratifying a complex sonic texture into distinguishable layers, making it “possible to articulate longer pointillistic structures by having them wander in space, by moving them from one place to another.”23

In addition to using space to clarify a serial texture, Stockhausen experimented with serializing the location of sounds. He describes assigning each of the twelve chromatic pitches to a region of musical space, in such way intertwining the serialization of pitch with that of spatial location, creating “a kind of ‘space-melody’ which evolves in pitch [space] and in [actual] space simultaneously.”24 By adding spatial location as a parameter to the technique of integral serialism, Stockhausen is able to “relate proportions of pitch, duration, timbre, and loudness with those of tone-locality.”25 Stockhausen applies this concept to one-dimensional ensembles (i.e., a single “line” of performers) as well as to ensembles that encircle an audience.

Within his spatial structures, Stockhausen explores the serialization of location as well as the directed motion of sounds. He often combines the concepts of spatial differentiation (to clarify components within a dense texture), the serialization of sonic location, and the movement (actual or virtual) of sounds through a space. One such work to achieve this synthesis of spatial techniques is Gruppen für Drei Orchester (1955–1957). The composer describes his approach to this work: “The similarity of the scoring of the three orchestras resulted from the requirement that sound-groups should be made to wander in space from one sounding body to another and at the same time split up similar sound-structures: each orchestra was supposed to call to the others and to give answer or echo.”26 Interestingly, musicologist John Harley observes that Stockhausen’s dismissal of Gabrieli and Mozart’s spatial structures is based on him thinking of “Gabrieli’s polychorality as a mere expansion of the principle of dialogue into space” and his criticism of Mozart’s Serenades derives from “their exclusive use of the baroque echo principle.”27 Stockhausen does use the term “echo” in his description of Gruppen, but the notion of “call” and “answer” (read: “call and response”) also implies an antiphonal musical dialogue. Despite this inconsistency between the composer’s words and his practice, Stockhausen allowing the “sound-groups” to “wander in space from one sounding body to another” is his fresh take on spatialization as a compositional procedure.

Other composers in the twentieth century that have profoundly impacted the developing practice of spatialization are Edgard Varèse, Pierre Boulez, Iannis Xenakis, and Luciano Berio, to name a few.

1.4 Electronic Music

The usage of spatialization as a compositional device was extended by musique concrète (tape music) and elektronische Musik (electronic music) from the mid-century onwards. Although early experimentation with recording technology was restricted to monophonic sound reproduction, two-channel stereophony became widespread in the 1940s28. The mainstream popularization of stereo sound in the early-to-mid twentieth century was preceded by decades of research into multi-channel audio. With major improvements in audio reproduction, composers began to see such technology as the means to a creative and artistic end. Several factors seduced the composers into the electronic medium: one was the love of timbre (tone color) and texture, already embodied in numerous acoustic works and systematically used in Schoenberg’s approach to Klangfarbenmelodie. (i.e. “melody of tonal colors”)29. The serialists were likewise attracted to the electronic medium: it granted them the ability to use highly nuanced, serialized structures that could exist in concrete form and reproduced “correctly”, without the human error and imperfection that accompanies live performance. Electronic music quickly became the place for practitioners of integral serialism, including Milton Babbitt, Stockhausen, and Pierre Boulez30. Musicologist M. J. Grant states: “In exploring the boundaries of each musical dimension, Boulez promotes spatialisation not as a possibility, but as a structural necessity of a music which is not transmitted via a static performer.”31 Boulez felt that the composer was obligated to use the spatial diffusion of sounds afforded by the electronic medium as a compositional element.

Grant also notices that “spatial transmission is one of the great innovations of electronic music.”32 Indeed, spatializing musical events within the sonic field has been a vital aspect of electronic music since its infancy, when its practitioners almost immediately “became interested in the possibility of using sound positioning and movement compositionally.”33 Joel Chadabe states: “At its most sophisticated, the idea of spatialization was to allow a composer to pinpoint the location from which a sound seemed to originate in a listening space and to trace the way it seemed to move.”34 The technical and artistic means by which this idea is implemented vary throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Pierre Henry was among the first to spatialize electronic sounds in the 1950s. He experimented with a device built in 1951 by Jacques Poullin (but suggested by Pierre Schaeffer) called the potentiomètre d’espace, which utilized induction coils to manipulate the spatial distribution of sounds35 Poullin likewise describes two types of “sound projection” made possible with loudspeakers (during the broadcast of musique concrète): “statisches Relief” (static relief) and “kinematisches Relief” (kinematic relief). Static relief entails “the projection of distinct, simultaneous parts of a composition from different points in space, made possible by multi-track recordings and multi-channel sound projection systems.”36 This form of sound projection is similar to Brant’s use of spatial separation to distinguish the parts and clarify the texture of his acoustic works. Kinematic relief involves manipulating the trajectory of sounds between loudspeakers and corresponds to Stockhausen’s practice of mobilizing both acoustic and electronic sounds. Harley says” “The experience of hearing spectacular movements of sound images in space during the concerts of musique concrète in the early 1950s played a formative role in the development of Stockhausen’s and Boulez’s theories of spatialization.”37 Like Poullin, Boulez differentiates between what he terms “fixed distribution” (or, “static relief”) and “mobile distribution” (or, “dynamic relief”)38.

One of the first highly successful multichannel works, Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge (1956) made effective use of the space “surrounding” the audience39. According to Stockhausen, this work was his first attempt to make “the direction and movement of sound in space” evident as a “new dimension for musical experience.” Other important early electronic works include: Poème Electronique (1958) by Edgard Varèse, which was transmitted over approximately 400 loudspeakers in the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958, and Stockhausen’s Spiral (1969), which necessitated the construction of a spherical auditorium at the Osaka World Fair in 1970. During performances of Spiral, the audience sat upon a transparent platform in the middle of the sphere, and Stockhausen controlled the projection of sound over 50 loudspeakers dispersed throughout the sphere40.

Many other composers and sound engineers have developed extensive diffusion systems involving multiple loudspeakers. John Harrison, famous for his work with BEAST (Birmingham Electro-Acoustic Sound Theatre), thinks that eight speakers (the “main eight”) are “the absolute minimum for the playback of stereo tapes.”41 In 1974, François Bayle created a “loudspeaker orchestra” called the Acousmonium. This construction “consisted of eighty loudspeakers of various sizes placed across a stage at different heights and distances from the proscenium.”42 In the late 1980s, Peter Otto and Nicola Bernardini developed a system called TRAILS (Tempo Reale Audio Interactive Location System), a “multi-loudspeaker network [consisting of] a twenty-four-by-eight spatialization matrix.”43 This configuration involves 192 speakers. During the second half of the twentieth century, electronic music had a strong influence on the composition of acoustic music. Not only did many composers use extended techniques and unusual instrumental combinations to create new kinds of sound (often in conscious imitation of the exotic sound worlds forged in the electronic medium), but they also became increasingly sensitive to the spatial relationships among musical events.

Shortly after composing Gesang, Stockhausen conceived of works such as Gruppen (1955-1957) for three orchestras and Carré (1959-1960) for four orchestras and four choruses that surround the audience. Iannis Xenakis’s Persephassa, scored for an ensemble of six percussionists encircling the audience and featuring the circular movement of sound, is extremely influenced by electronic surround-sound. In some acoustical works, the performers are required to move about while producing sound. Although Berio’s Circles (1960) is “often cited as the earliest work that requires the soloist to move from one stage position to another,” Brant’s Hieroglyphics I of 1957, which also calls for performer mobility, is made three years earlier44. Brant’s Windjammer (1969) includes “specific walking plans for the performers of the wind quintet.”45 Several composers have also experimented with the circulation of loudspeakers themselves (as opposed to the circulation of sound using multiple speakers), the most well known example being Annea Lockwood’s “Soundball,” a flying loudspeaker devised in 198446.

As early as 1953, Stockhausen introduced the idea of putting musicians in chairs and swinging them around47. Concerned at that time that performers might object, he got rid of such experimentation. However, Stockhausen would eventually create maybe the most extreme experiment involving the spatial mobility of live performers with his Helikopter-Streichquartett (“Helicopter String Quartet”), which is featured in the opera Mittwoch (“Wednesday”) from the opera cycle Licht. In this work, the four members of the string quartet are each seated in a separate helicopter. The helicopters are instructed to “circle within a radius of 6 km above the performance venue, individually varying their flying altitudes.”48 The sounds of the performers, as well as those of the helicopters (rotor blades are recorded with an external contact microphone), are mixed and broadcast over loudspeakers in the auditorium where the work is being experienced.


  • “A Choice and an Echo,” Time Magazine, 7 August 1964, available at:,9171,871353,00.html
  • Atlas, Allan W. Renaissance Music (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998).
  • Boulez, Pierre. Boulez on Music Today, trans. Susan Bradshaw and Richard Rodney Bennett (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971).
  • Brant, Henry. “Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition,” in Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music, expanded edition, ed. Elliot Schwartz and Barney Childs (New York: Da Capo Press, 1998).
  • Burkholder, Peter J. All Made of Tunes: Charles Ives and the Uses of Musical Borrowing (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).
  • Cairns, David. liner notes to Berloz: Te Deum, The London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Colin Davis, conductor, Philips 839 790 LY, LP.
  • Carver, Anthony F. Cori Spezzatti, vol. 1, The Development of Sacred Polychoral Music to the Time of Schütz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). Chadabe, Joel. Electronic Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Sound (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1997).
  • Grant, M. J. Serial Music, Serial Aesthetics: Compositional Theory in Post-War Europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
  • Harley, Maria Anna. “An American in Space: Henry Brant’s ‘Spatial Music.’” American Music 15.1 (1997).
  • __________________. “Space and Spatialization in Contemporary Music: History and Analysis, Ideas and Implementations” (Ph.D. diss., McGill University, 1994).
  • Harrison, Jonty. “Sound, Space, Sculpture: Some Thoughts on the ‘What,’ ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of Sound Diffusion,” Organised Sound 3.2 (1999).
  • Malham, David G., and Myatt, Anthony. “3-D Sound Spatialization Using Ambisonic Techniques,” Computer Music Journal 19.4 (1995).
  • Mitchell, Donald. Gustav Mahler: The Wunderhorn Years. Chronicles and Commentaries (London: Faber & Faber, 1975).
  • “The Orchestra: A User’s Manual,” available at:
  • “Psalmody, Latin,” in The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Don Michael Randel (Cambridge, MA, and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986),.
  • Schulenberg, David. Music of the Baroque (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). Smith Pierce, James. “Visual and Auditory Space in Baroque Rome,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 18.1 (1959).
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. liner notes to Karlheinz Stockhausen: Helikopter-Streichquartett, trans. Suzee Stephens, The Arditti String Quartet, Montaigne MO 782097, compact disc.
  • ___________________. “Music in Space,” trans. Ruth Koenig, Die Reihe 5, English ed. (1961).
  • “The Symphony: An Interactive Guide,” available at: Watkins, Glenn. Soundings: Music in the Twentieth Century (London: Schirmer Books, 1988).

  1. While responsorial psalmody features an imbalance in the spatial proportions of performing (chanting) forces (a small group “versus” a large group), antiphonal psalmody generally exhibits spatial balance (in the form of an evenly divided choir/congregation). ↩︎

  2. “Psalmody, Latin,” 664–665. ↩︎

  3. The polychoral tradition had begun to emerge in some secular settings prior to Willaert. Multiple choirs were often employed at festive occasions and ceremonies, such as weddings. Polychorality was incorporated to enhance the pomp and splendor surrounding such events. See Anthony F. Carver, Cori Spezzatti, vol. 1, The Development of Sacred Polychoral Music to the Time of Schütz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 1– 5. ↩︎

  4. Allan W. Atlas, Renaissance Music (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998), 413– 416. ↩︎

  5. Ibid., 414. ↩︎

  6. One of Gabrieli’s most celebrated works, In ecclesiis (published posthumously in 1615), is scored for three choirs—two vocal choirs and one instrumental choir—plus organ continuo. It was not uncommon practice in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for instruments to perform parts originally written for voice (obviously without delivering the text). Aside from the organ, which generally served as the continuo instrument, the cornetto and the sackbut were the favored instruments for inclusion in polychoral music. See David Schulenberg, Music of the Baroque (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 135–136. ↩︎

  7. Ibid, 134. ↩︎

  8. Schulenberg, 133. ↩︎

  9. James Smith Pierce, “Visual and Auditory Space in Baroque Rome,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 18.1 (1959): 56–57. ↩︎

  10. Ibid. ↩︎

  11. “The Symphony: An Interactive Guide,” available at:; “The Orchestra: A User’s Manual,” available at: ↩︎

  12. Gluck employs the second orchestra (minus harp and with added oboe) in the aria “chiamo il mio ben cosi” (Act I, scene 2). Here, the second orchestra is employed sparingly to “echo” musical material presented by the principal orchestra. The intermittent echoing of the second orchestra occurs almost exclusively between lines of the text. ↩︎

  13. “A Choice and an Echo,” 1. ↩︎

  14. David Cairns, liner notes to Berloz: Te Deum, The London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Colin Davis, conductor, Philips 839 790 LY, LP. ↩︎

  15. Donald Mitchell, Gustav Mahler: The Wunderhorn Years. Chronicles and Commentaries (London: Faber & Faber, 1975), 183–184. ↩︎

  16. In the music of Ives, the divided ensembles are often not separated within the performance space but instead are demarcated by registration, which amounts to separation in pitch space. The second movement of his Fourth Symphony is such a case (Harley, “Space and Spatialization,” 127–128). Ives likewise supplied only general instructions as to the physical separation of instrumental groups. He viewed the spatial distribution of musical forces in performance as an “aspect of interpretation” and therefore leaves it somewhat open (Erickson, 150). ↩︎

  17. Glenn Watkins, Soundings: Music in the Twentieth Century (London: Schirmer Books, 1988), 438. ↩︎

  18. Peter J. Burkholder, All Made of Tunes: Charles Ives and the Uses of Musical Borrowing (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 380. ↩︎

  19. Henry Brant, “Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition,” in Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music, expanded edition, ed. Elliot Schwartz and Barney Childs (New York: Da Capo Press, 1998), 223–242. Henry Brant’s concern with the spatial separation of musical forces was first expressed in: Henry Brant, “The Uses of Antiphonal Distribution and Polyphony of Tempi in Composing,” American Composer’s Alliance Bulletin 4.3 (1955): 13–15. Harley notes that the 1955 article predates writings about spatialization by both Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage (Harley, “Space and Spatialization,” 124). ↩︎

  20. Brant, “Space as an Essential Aspect,” 223. ↩︎

  21. Ibid, 224. ↩︎

  22. The act of explicitly indicating the exact distribution of instruments for a performance of his musical works sets Brant apart from Ives. As noted, Ives’s instructions for spatial separation are very general and open to interpretation. Brant leaves little room for “spatial interpretation” of his music—at least on the part of the director and/or ensemble members. How listeners and theorists might interpret his (or any other composer’s) spatial designs is the underlying subject of this dissertation. ↩︎

  23. Karlheinz Stockhausen, “Music in Space,” trans. Ruth Koenig, Die Reihe 5, English ed. (1961): 70. ↩︎

  24. Harley, “Space and Spatialization,” 154. ↩︎

  25. Stockhausen, “Music in Space,” 79. ↩︎

  26. Stockhausen, “Music in Space,” 70. ↩︎

  27. Harley, “Space and Spatialization,” 152. ↩︎

  28. Joel Chadabe, Electronic Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Sound (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1997), 15. ↩︎

  29. Chadabe, 21–62. ↩︎

  30. Ibid., 36–39. ↩︎

  31. M. J. Grant, Serial Music, Serial Aesthetics: Compositional Theory in Post-War Europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 99. ↩︎

  32. Ibid. ↩︎

  33. Malham and Myatt, 59. ↩︎

  34. Chadabe, 133. ↩︎

  35. Ibid., 31-32. ↩︎

  36. Harley, “Space and Spatialization,” 145. ↩︎

  37. Harley, “Space and Spatialization,” 145. ↩︎

  38. Pierre Boulez, Boulez on Music Today, trans. Susan Bradshaw and Richard Rodney Bennett (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), 68. ↩︎

  39. Stockhausen, “Music in Space,” 68. ↩︎

  40. Watkins, 591–594. ↩︎

  41. Jonty Harrison, “Sound, Space, Sculpture: Some Thoughts on the ‘What,’ ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of Sound Diffusion,” Organised Sound 3.2 (1999): 121. ↩︎

  42. Chadabe, 68. ↩︎

  43. Ibid., 132. ↩︎

  44. Harley, “An American in Space,” 81. ↩︎

  45. Ibid. ↩︎

  46. Chadabe, 131. ↩︎

  47. Stockhausen, Stockhausen on Music, 101–102. ↩︎

  48. Karlheinz Stockhausen, liner notes to Karlheinz Stockhausen: Helikopter-Streichquartett, trans. Suzee Stephens, The Arditti String Quartet, Montaigne MO 782097, compact disc. ↩︎