New Musicology / New Music Theory – the Paradigm Shift from the Turn of the 21st Century in Reflection on music (and its Spatiality) – PART II

Marcin Strzelecki

Academy of Music in Kraków, Poland


What’s so spatial about music? Between metaphorical and actual meaning of space in recent music analysis.

Music, as a special kind of intellectual, artistic and social activity, may be analyzed from potentially infinite number of perspectives. Some of researching methods are more general, abstract or even metaphorical, and flexible in terms of possibility to be adapted to different analytical problems. Recently the metaphor of space gained attention among different branches of science.

As an example of such methodological abstraction one may point out the idea of multidimensional scaling (MDS), a statistical method useful whet it comes to measure similarities between qualities, like musical ones. Musical pitch, loudness and tempo may be (with some reservations) regarded as quantities, measured with use of one axis, eg. from low to high, from soft to loud, from slow to fast. This makes no sense when harmony, timbre, articulation, texture, rhythmic patterns (musical time becomes one of dimensions), emotional expression, or musical style are being discussed. When comparing such qualities MDS may appear handy.

From the other hand, sound is a spatial phenomenon (it requires space to propagate) so sounding music is spatial too. This meaning of spatiality is not anymore metaphorical, but actual, and involves physical and physiological processes. Human senses provide vital information about the environment. All senses may contribute towards the spatial perception, however hearing plays a special role here. Thus, hearing is highly accurate device of spatial contextual awareness. Auditory scene is capacious. It may represent multiple objects and processes, distributed in all dimensions.

Based on such biological mechanisms, human cultures developed advanced forms of through-sound communication, language and music, in particular. Today, the art of music is discussed much more as cultural construct than as shaped by natural constrains. However those evolutionary adaptations are still there, affecting the way music is cognized. Since primary function of hearing is to inform about the environment, any sound perceived, beside its semantic content, may carry some knowledge about world around. From this perspective, to represent surrounding space is music’s natural potential.

One may observe a spatial turn in art and music. It is worth of noticing that in cultural discourse the understanding of spatiality is spread between two opposite meanings: metaphorical and actual. Physics of spatial sound and biology behind its perception lay at fundaments of culturally constructed symbolic space. There exists fascinating links between those two levels, important for understanding “what is so spatial about music”.

Keywords: Spatial hearing, Spatial music analysis, Perception and cognition of music


Music theorist and composer, instrumentalists and digital multimedia artist. Works at Academy of Music in Kraków, Poland, teaching musical analysis, and contemporary composition techniques (specifically, computer aided composition). Cooperates with Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, teaching “soundart” and sound installations. As theorist, run empirically oriented researches on music from perspective of perception, timbral and harmonic analysis, with use of advanced information processing techniques, music stylometry, and empirical foundations of musical creativity (cognitive and acoustic constraints), as well as artificial intelligence techniques applied to music composition.