New Musicology/New Theory of Music – the Paradigm Shift at the Turn of the 20th and the 21st Century concerning music (and its spatiality) – part III

Karolina Dąbek

Academy of Music in Kraków, Poland


The paper will concern the problem of analysing spatial music, especially “topophonic music”, in which performers’ arrangement is spatial (e.g. they surround the public) and it is different from the traditional set-up in which the boundaries and distances between the stage and the audience are clear and fixed. Traditional attitudes in musicological research privilege the musical text (understood as an object) over the musical experience (understood as an activity). They do not provide appropriate analytical tools concerning spatial music in which the aspect of the listener’s experience is important. As a point of departure, the author will investigate Bohdan Pociej’s distinction between “inner” and “outer” spatiality (1967) in comparison to Krzysztof Szwajgier’s categorisation that includes three stages: the passivity, the activity and the autonomy of space (1973). This will help to define spatial music and to bring attention to spatial and social context of the performance.

The phenomenon of spatial music requires a new approach that will underline the importance of the listener’s experience and, at the same time, will consider the possible impact and meaning of the physical space as well as of the presence of other human beings during such experience. During performance, the listener may be in various relations with spatially distributed sound sources, which may interfere with his understanding of the music. For example, in The Little Match Girl written by Przemysław Scheller in 2019 for string orchestra, 3 violinists should be placed behind the auditorium, but their exact places differ according to the specific spatial and social context of the time and place of the performance: in NOSPR Concert Hall in Katowice (soloists were placed behind and high above the listeners, on the second balcony), in St Catherine’s Church in Vilnius (soloists were placed behind the listeners, but closer and visible) or in the Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio in Warsaw (concert was transmitted online and soloists were placed at the stage). Each of these spatial arrangements determined different experiences and interpretations of the meaning of the piece – what can be seen in critical reviews that appeared after the concerts.

The paper aim is to present a methodology (and its exemplification) that will make allowance for the listener’s perspective as well as the context of time and place of the performance of the piece. The analysis of Scheller’s piece will contain three aspects: musical (focused on musical material, the influence of music, and the issue of the listener’s expectations), spatial (focused on the relations between the listener and space, where space is understood as a place of the performance of the piece) and social (focused on two types of relationship: listener-listener and listener-performer).

Keywords: Spatial music, Performance, The listener’s experience


Karolina Dąbek – music theorist and reviewer, she obtained her Master degree in 2018 at the Academy of Music in Krakow and began PhD studies at the same place. In her research she has focused mainly on the 20th and 21th-century avant-garde music. Currently, the spatiality in music and the problem of music perception stands in the centre of her interest. She is a laureate of the Editor-in-chief of The Polish Music Publishing House Prize and Award in the category Debutant in the Polish Music Critics Competition “Kropka 2015”, and the Main Award in the Polish Music Critics Competition “Kropka 2017”.