Perspectives from the spatial turn on the analysis of space in recorded music


The analysis of space in music, and recorded music in particular, has been of growing interest during the recent decades. For an even longer time there has been an increased attention to space in philosophy, cultural studies, geography, art history, and literary studies leading some authors to speak of a spatial turn. Surprisingly these two fields have had virtually no contact. This article is a modest attempt to begin a crosspollination.

In the following I argue that we can re-imagine the attention to space in musicology and analysis of space in music as part of the spatial turn. I suggest places where the analysis of space in recorded music can incorporate conceptions of space from disciplines outside of music studies—and by doing this, if more indirectly, suggest that the analysis of space in music may have things to offer the spatial turn, more broadly conceived. Thus, the aim of the article is to bind theoretical threads together and tentatively point to places where theoretical interventions or elaborations from the spatial turn, as they pertain to and inform the analysis of music, may be in order.

The analysis of recorded space in popular music studies

Popular music analysis has developed concepts that consider recordings in terms of spatial staging, phonographic staging, the soundbox, and virtual space. These are methods or interpretative strategies that analyse the recording as a kind of space. They are valuable tools in considering technical aspects of recordings and giving hermeneutical interpretations of music (the founding figures of the field are William Moylan and Allan Moore whose concepts are summarised in Moylan: 2015, and Moore: 2012a; other influential contributions are Lacasse: 2000, Zagorski-Thomas: 2014, and Zak: 2001; see also Katz: 2010, Lacasse: 2010, Middleton: 2000, Moore & Dockwray: 2008, Moore, Schmidt, & Dockwray: 2011, Moore: 2010, and Tagg: 2012). The theoretical underpinnings are a more recent addition in the literature, and are usually found in cognitive philosophy’s theories of ecological perception and embodied cognition (the main references are Johnson: 1987 from whom the concept of image schemata is borrowed, and Fauconnier & Turner: 2005; the main appropriations of such theories in musicology are Zbikowski: 2002, and Clarke: 2005; it should also be mentioned that these theories have found use in the analysis of audio in computer games, see Garner & Grimshaw 2014) as well as the concept of proxemics (from Hall: 1966).

Zagorski-Thomas’ and Moore’s reference of cognitive philosophy, as well as Moylan’s and others’ development of a methodology for analysing space in recorded music, points to an ongoing commitment to this project of music analysis in popular music studies. This empirical grounding and methodological rigour can only be commended. The scope of this article does not provide space for critique of the concepts of space in the field as it has evolved during the past decades. However, the methodological strength of the literature needs to be further complemented by an ontological and epistemological grounding of the listening subject and of the social status and production of space. I will follow Zagorski-Thomas, who points out that this is one of the current challenges in music studies:

Despite the fact that the academic study of music has really developed in tandem with the development of recording and recorded music, it hasn’t sufficiently addressed the ontological question of how recording changed music and how that change needs to be incorporated into its study. (Zagorski-Thomas: 2014, p. 1)

To my mind, this is also an epistemological question of listening. The theoretical foundations that writers like Zagorski-Thomas and Moore find in cognitive theory do not exclude questions of the ontology of recording or the epistemology of listening. However, the analytical models this literature provides are not always easily combined with a more cultural and social understanding of space. Furthermore, the preference for visual metaphors, a grounding in bodily experience, and a vocabulary like ‘environment’, ‘imaging’, ‘staging’, and ‘mapping’ suggests that it might also be fruitful to consider some of the issues of visuality, geography, and space that rarely have been discussed in relation to space in recorded music, but are so central to the literature of the spatial turn.

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In the following I will introduce a number of ways of thinking of space from authors associated with the spatial turn. As with other trends of thinking that have been characterised as ‘turns’ the spatial turn is not a coherent school of thought or unified system of concepts. Rather it describes a wide range of perspectives on the importance of space from geography and art history to literary and cultural studies (for an introduction to the spatial turn from literary studies see Tally: 2013; and for an introduction closer to the field of geography see Warf & Arias: 2009). I do so firstly, because it can complement, criticise, and broaden the understanding of space in recorded music; and secondly, because it is important to connect the world of sonic space with the discussions and concepts that dominate the interdisciplinary study of space. As David Harvey has argued:

Beneath the veneer of common-sense and seemingly ‘natural’ ideas about space and time, there lie hidden terrains of ambiguity, contradiction, and struggle. Conflicts arise not merely out of admittedly diverse subjective appreciations, but because different objective material qualities of time and space are deemed relevant to social life in different situations. Important battles likewise occur in the realms of scientific, social, and aesthetic theory, as well as in practice. How we represent space and time in theory matters, because it affects how we and others interpret and act with respect to the world. (Harvey: 1989, p. 205)

After two decades of writings on space in recorded music it is now time to reflect on how this research represents space. Theory from the spatial turn might help us to formulate the ambiguities, contradictions, and struggles of and for space in music more clearly. Moreover, this speaks directly to material, social, political, and aesthetic questions both in terms of the perception and reception, as well as the composition, construction, and production of space in recorded music. Within the scope of this article I do not pretend to be able to reach any grand conclusions on these matters. Rather, I will attempt to introduce concepts and point to theoretical paths that have not yet been addressed in the scholarship on space in recorded music.

Sounds studies and anthropology have connected sound and space in analyses of different sonic environments (classic examples are Schafer: 1977, and Feld: 1982; and a growing ethnomusicological literature on place and identity also emphasises the topic; in connection with this paper Meintjes: 2003 is most interesting). However, apart from a short entry on ‘space’ in a new sound studies handbook (Eisenberg: 2015) no scholarship from the music disciplines have referenced the spatial turn explicitly. Only a recent volume edited by Georgina Born (2013) contains substantial references to the field, albeit without using the term ‘spatial turn’. In her introduction to the book Born summarises three ways in which space has been conceptualised in music: first, the idea of space in terms of pitch and timbre often connected to score-based music; second, the space of multichannel recording, which Born associates mostly with electroacoustic music, but also includes the literature from popular music studies referenced above. She characterises both of these conceptualisations of space as formalisms because they invoke ‘notions of spatial and musical autonomy’ (p. 12) and concludes with specific reference to the ‘strange ontologies’ that might be created in the ‘virtual space’ of music that it has a ‘resiliently Euclidian orientation’ (p. 14). Although she does not use the phrase, the third way of conceptualising space is consistent with the ‘spatial turn’, which she not only associates with some of the theorists discussed below, but also specifically with post-Cageian sound art. Space, she writes, in this sense ‘moves out beyond the musical or sound object to encompass “exterior” spatialities’ (p. 16). Although Born places the ways of analysing recorded space I am concerned with here in the formalist camp, I believe that it can be theorised in a way that in fact brings to light some of the heterogeneous aesthetic and ideological orientations of space implied in the spatial turn. Thus the space of recordings can be re-theorised to include the ideas of performance space (which are already explicitly there), a wider environment (which to some degree can be found in the ecological approach), and the technologically mediated shifting and virtual spaces. In doing so the ambiguities, contradictions, and struggles of space that Harvey ties to objective material qualities of social life become more apparent.

Historicising space

Any further theorising of space must necessarily also include a historicising of space in recorded music. This pertains to styles of constructing space in recordings (i.e. historical or generic preferences in the placement of sources within the mix), but also to how conceptions of space in recordings might be connected to broader historical contexts. Recent scholarship has begun to give us a better picture of the historical development of the construction of space in recorded music (Moore & Dockwray: 2008 and 2010, and Doyle: 2005), but we still need to relate these different spaces to broader cultural conceptions of space. Here I am not only thinking of how space in recorded music might be constructed or interpreted as representing a particular geography, but also of how space in recorded music represents ideological and aesthetic positions in history, e.g. modernist or postmodern space, racial and ethnic spaces, and gendered spaces.

The spatial turn is not only a critical approach to the analysis of space, but also describes a turn away from the discourses of time and history that dominated both the nineteenth century and twentieth century modernism. The spatial turn moves towards a greater concern for spatiality in the latter part of the twentieth century and onwards. In 1967 Foucault was one of the first critics to diagnose this hegemony of time over space:

The great obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know, history: with its themes of development and of suspension, of crisis, and cycle, themes of the ever-accumulating past, with its great preponderance of dead men and the menacing glaciation of the world. The nineteenth century found its essential mythological resources in the second principle of thermodynamics. The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space… One could perhaps say that certain ideological conflicts animating present-day polemics oppose the pious descendents of time and the determined inhabitants of space. (Foucault: 1986, p. 22)

It is important to note that Foucault was not looking to usher in a new era of spatial hegemony. The question is more one of reasserting the importance of space as a critical concept to work dialectically with time, or even, in Edward Soja’s words, to form a trialectics of historicality, spatiality, and sociality (Soja: 1996, pp. 53-82). This can be found in e.g. the effects of globalisation and postcolonialism that have transformed our conceptions of time and space, the aesthetic sensibilities of late capitalism and the postmodern as well as the critical apparatus of poststructuralism (including feminism and critical race theory) have also helped to destabilise time and emphasise space. As Denis Cosgrove writes:

The ‘spatial turn’ across arts and sciences corresponds to post-structuralist agnosticism about both naturalistic and universal explanations and about single-voiced historical narratives, and to the concomitant recognition that position and context are centrally and inescapably implicated in all constructions of knowledge. (Cosgrove: 1999, p. 7)

Such scepticism and forms of critique have of course also found their way into music studies. Thus, I suggest that we consider modern techniques of listening (Sterne: 2003) in general and developments in (stereo) mixing in particular as a part of a spatial turn. From this point of view the music of the nineteenth century and of twentieth century modernism was primarily concerned with issues of time, be it the construction of a teleological history or the focus on harmonic progression as a driving force in the evolution of music, to name two examples. In such delineations of history spaces often appear as static places or containers where the dynamics and dialectics of historical development take place. As a contrast, recording technology affords composers, musicians, and producers possibilities to play with space in new ways: record production is a splicing of time and a manipulation of space.

The different modes of space are closely connected to modernity and capitalism, especially when considering the commodification and thingification of space we hear in recorded music. Thus we need to investigate how the space in recorded music is connected to recent history. Just like the development of linear perspective in the Renaissance can be linked to a representation of space that is specific to early modern capitalism (Cosgrove: 1998) we must ask if and how the production of space in recorded music is indicative of a ‘new spatiality implicit in the postmodern’ (Jameson: 1991, p. 418).

According to Harvey modernity is characterised by a perennial time-space compression, which has been especially intense during the last four to five decades (Harvey: 1989, especially pp. 201-323). While Harvey is mostly concerned with the spaces and places of social life, we can extend his line of thinking and link broader conceptions of space with spatial practices and forms of constructions of space in art. Such reflections might lead us to ask how this time-space compression has influenced and been influenced by the constructions of space in recorded music. As Philip Auslander (2008) has argued, recorded music has seriously influenced our practices and experience of liveness; and like him, Allan Moore places considerable weight on the construction of the persona in the interpretation of popular music. Accordingly, we can combine the models for analysing space in recorded music with Harvey’s (and other theorists’) thinking on space. For example, Harvey observes that one trait of the time-space compression of late capitalism is ‘the commodification of images of the most ephemeral sort’ and that these images serve ‘to establish an identity in the market place’ (1989, p. 288). We can think of the construction of the persona by manipulating sonic space in recordings as such a commodification of images. This is not to say that music scholars have not included considerations of historical and social contexts in interpretations of songs, but what I am calling for here is a more general historicising and theoretisation of the connections between the experiences of space and time inside and outside the soundbox/sound stage. However, in much analysis of recorded music space has only been regarded as an element in artistic practice. Analysts do acknowledge that space is produced and transformed, but by incorporating thinking from the spatial turn we can highlight the social and historical nature of these processes. In other words, I am suggesting that the field of music analysis continues to produce interpretations that illuminate the ways in which space in recorded music is constructed in reflection of a historical context; and further, that the production of space in recorded music is to be theorised as a part of the social production of space in general. In this way the research on musical space may also be brought into view of disciplines outside musicology.


The crisis of representation that modernism highlighted has become even more intense under the current pressure of late capitalism. Everything from the economy of globalisation over identity politics and social media to the ephemrality of recorded music’s materiality calls for new strategies that map space. Recording technologies have been part of this crisis of representation. Different constructions of space in music, made possible by the mediation of recording, have changed our experience of musical space. The development of methods and vocabulary specifically attuned to (stereo) space in music points to the fact that traditional music theory cannot convincingly map the space in recorded music and as such is it part of the spatial turn.

Writing on the spatial turn in literary theory, Robert T. Tally points out that the act of writing itself might be mapping or cartographic activity. This applies both to literature itself and to literary analysis. There is no reason not to extend this observation to the analysis of space in recorded music. Thus both the composer/producer who constructs musical space, and the writer/listener who analyses a sound stage/soundbox, must ‘establish the scale and the shape, no less of the narrative than of the places in it’ (Tally: 2013, p. 45). Even the most metaphorical view of musical space, including image schemata and proxemics, as well as the performance environment of the sound stage, is by virtue of its conceptualisation, related to the question of representation in musical space. However, cartographic conceptions also apply to the relationship between artistic form and social formations that Fredric Jameson refers to with his term cognitive mapping. The concept has multiple meanings and sometimes refers to the way the individual subject gains a sense of space in the increasingly multifaceted worlds of postmodernity and other times describes a more general, objective mapping of the global, late capitalism that goes beyond in single person’s perspective. Even though cognitive mapping may not seem directly applicable to the analysis of music, because it initially deals primarily with actual, ‘real’ spaces (specifically urban geography) Jameson shows that such spatial analysis can also tease out the dialectic of how individuals attempt to map out and represent larger social relations (in particular everyday activities or in art). Although the present article does not allow space for further explorations of these connections it is not unreasonable to think of the production of space in recorded music as an aesthetic form of cognitive mapping. To a degree this is what the music analysis discussed here already does, but this theoretical intervention could uncover the ‘situational representation on the part of the individual subject to that vaster and properly unrepresentable totality which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole’ (Jameson: 1991, p. 51).

Some music analysts do in fact use the word ‘mapping’ when describing various elements of either theoretical or musical conceptualisations of space. Middleton (2000) writes of textural maps and, in fact, cognitive maps, which although not directly referencing Jameson’s concept describes the ways subjects orient themselves. Moore defines the soundbox as a ‘virtual spatial “enclosure” for the mapping of [sound] sources’ (2012a, p. 31, italics mine). And most importantly it appears in the concept of cross-domain mapping used by Moore (2012a, pp. 14 and 239ff) and Zagorski-Thomas (2014, p. 10ff). In this regard, scholars who have been at the vanguard of this field of (popular) music analysis are already speaking the language of the spatial turn.

Other spaces

Foucault characterises the space we live in as heterogeneous, defined by the relations between sites that can be described systematically to some degree (which is how we can view much of the literature on space in recorded music so far). But we can follow Foucault further in an understanding of how such particular sites relate to more general concepts of space.

Foucault divides spaces into utopias, which are fundamentally imagined or unreal spaces, and heterotopias that are ‘other’ spaces. Between these spaces Foucault finds a joint experience, the mirror, which is both utopian and heterotopian. Importantly for the topic of space in recorded music he writes of virtual space:

The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself where I am absent. (Foucault: 1986, p. 24)

Of course, writers like Moylan and Moore do not take the concept of virtual space from Foucault; and after all the listeners are not listening to themselves in the same way viewers are gazing upon their own reflections. Even so we might combine these conceptions of the gaze and mirror with music theory inspired by psychoanalysis (which lies beyond the scope of this paper); and it is perhaps not surprising that, though not referencing Foucault, Martin Knakkergaard (2014) also associates the virtual spaces of recording technology and sound reproduction with the idea of the mirage. More important for the present discussion, though, is the fact that the mirror also can be seen as a heterotopia because it is real. We could then take up the challenge of reframing Foucault to describe a listening subject instead of a gazing one. The listening subject that is ideologically positioned and phenomenologically constituted should not necessarily be conflated with Foucault’s gazing subject, but it is nonetheless worthwhile to consider how the virtual space in recorded music functions as a heterotopia. Doing so makes the place that the listening subject occupies at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it from physical space over the mediating technology to the listener’s perception; but at the same time the musical space is unreal, ‘since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there’ (Foucault 1986, p. 24). Foucault describes a number of principles that characterise heterotopia, one of which is connected to the idea of performance that is also important to the analysis of recorded music:

The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible. Thus it is that the theatre brings onto the rectangle of the stage, one after another, a whole series of places that are foreign to one another; thus it is that the cinema is a very odd rectangular room, at the end of which, on a two-dimensional screen, one sees the projection of a three-dimensional space. (Foucault: 1986, p. 25)

In this respect the space of modern recorded music is a radicalisation of the heterotopia Foucault describes, because music is capable of representing places and spaces that are ‘realistically’ and temporally speaking incompatible (i.e. different environments of individual sound sources or what Moylan calls a host environment for each sound, which can co-exist with other sound sources with their own local environments, Moylan: 2015, p. 209).

This leads us back to another, and perhaps the most striking, use of ‘mapping’, which is found both in Zagorski-Thomas’ (2014) and Moore’s (2012a; see also Moore: 2012b and Moore, Schmidt & Dockwray: 2011) work: cross-domain mapping, which is a conceptual blending that describes the mapping of features from two mental spaces onto a third, blended space. These authors mainly invoke this theoretical model to analyse how we construct and understand blended spaces in terms of metaphor, gesture, or affect that can be both embodied and culturally constructed. They mention Bakhtin’s concept heteroglossia as a useful theoretical term for analysing music incorporating space-within-space or conflicting spaces. (Because of this reference it is all the more odd that none of the authors discussed here make any reference to Bakhtin’s concept chronotrope, which literally suggests time-space.)

Geographer Edward Soja’s concept of thirdspace might help carve out and perhaps subvert the duality that is still implied in the notion of blended spaces in itself or in the distinction between real and virtual spaces, because the term aims at mapping a third kind of space and not just observing that the mind blends two domains together. Instead Soja suggests a strategy of thirding that opens up our spatial imaginaries where ‘the original binary choice is not dismissed entirely but is subjected to a creative process of restructuring that draws selectively and strategically from the two opposing categories to open new alternatives’ (Soja: 1996, p. 5). Such a thirding may help to rethink the dichotomy that the analyses of space in recordings sets up between production and reception, and real and virtual. The spaces of recording and particularly the instances of space-within-space, or coexisting but ‘impossible’ spaces can then be thought of as thirdspace, which Soja describes as a creative recombination and extension in a multiplicity of real-and-imagined places, where firstspace would be the ‘real’ material world, and secondspace the ‘imagined’ representations of space (Soja: 1996, p. 6). In the case of analysis of thirdspaces in music I suggest that this trialectic could reformulate the somewhat simplified dialectic of cross-domain mapping and instead come closer to the experience of these musical spaces as at once real-and-imagined. That is not to say that analysts have been totally unaware of the gaps between real and virtual spaces. Eric Clarke, for instance, might come from a different theoretical angle than Soja, but writes of ‘unusual’ transformations of the voice (although he does not exclude other sounds):

They seem to specify peculiar and unfamiliar spatial relationships that are not easily accommodated in a simple physical space—real or virtual. They seem to demand interpretation in a different type of domain—a metaphorically related psychic space. (Clarke: 2013, p. 108)

Read like this, such composition and mixing techniques are strategies of thirding. (It should be noted that for all Soja’s theoretical openness he still uses his new concepts to write about the traditionally spatial discipline of urban geography. However, from music studies we might take our cue from the fact that the idea of writing as mapping, or the spatialization of the text, is something Soja imagines as a process analogous to music. Furthermore, remembering to historicise space, we might consider if the increasing emergence of thirdspaces in stereo mixing from the mid-twentieth century onwards is connected to the new and other spaces that are discovered in theory and practice from the same years up till the present. See Soja: 1996, Thirdspace, p. 9ff.)

The poetics and production of space

Finally I turn, briefly, to two of the most influential philosophers of space in the second half of the twentieth century: Gaston Bachelard and Henri Lefebvre.

Bachelard engages in a phenomenological investigation of everyday life and is concerned with our understanding of the poetic image. Because of the visual connotations of much of the analytical models of space in recorded music (not least the image-schemata) it is worthwhile to think of the sound stage/soundbox as such a poetic image and consider Bachelard’s statement: ‘the reader is asked to consider an image not as an object and even less as the substitute for an object, but to seize its specific reality’ (Bachelard: 1994, p. xix). In other words these spaces cannot be understood rationally, but indeed only poetically. Exactly because Bachelard focuses on the spaces of imagination analysis of space in music would benefit from framing listening by ways of the phenomenology that Bachelard suggests. Furthermore, Bachelard focuses on the domestic spaces, which he affords primacy in the construction of our understanding of spaces. It is not difficult to imagine that a connection between Bachelard’s thought on domestic space could be combined with an exploration of how the mixing of records is directly linked with music’s function in our houses, e.g. as when Zagorski-Thomas (2010) speaks of rock recordings’ sound aesthetic of ‘the stadium in your bedroom’. This would be what Bachelard calls a topoanalysis, which is ‘the systematic psychological study of the sites of our intimate lives’ (Bachelard: 1994, p. 8). Topoanalysis can help explain the spaces we love, images of felicitous space; thus, our investigations into space in recordings are topophilia. According to Bachelard poetry is capable of not only describing but of poetically conjuring forth such spaces (even from the subconscious). However, while this form of analysis is inspired by (Freudian) psychology the systematic nature of the study is grounded in phenomenology. It is in this sense that Bachelard’s concepts can map the spaces of music that speak of the ontology of recorded sound: recordings are poetic images heard by the topophilic listener; spaces that we can explain in topoanalysis.

Lefebvre is not so much interested in an understanding of space in phenomenological experience, but, as the title of his seminal book on the subject reveals, in the production of space; asking how it has developed historically and how it is connected to ideology. This encompasses considerations of physical, mental, and social spaces in what he terms a spatiology (Lefebvre: 1991, p. 404). Lefebvre turns away from thinking of spaces as something abstract to the central (Marxist) proposition that space is a social product. From this point of view social and political forces engender space and we must then ask how and why spaces embody social and ideological relationships. This leads to a tripartite conception of space as spatial practice, representations of space, and representational spaces. Each of these correspond to the perceived, the conceived, and the lived: ‘The spatial practice of a society secretes that society’s space’ and can be analytically revealed through a deciphering of that society’s space (Lefebvre: 1991, p. 38). This embodied and perceived space seems to be closely linked to the kind of space that much music analysis of recorded space theorises when it uses ecological perception theory as a reference point. Much analysis concerns the way in which we perceive space in music, but taking Lefebvre in to account we can become more aware of how this spatial practice is defined by the modes of production under capitalism. Representations of space refer to conceptualized space, which is the space of scientists (in the broadest sense), but also a ‘certain type of artist with a scientific bent—all of whom identify what is lived and what is perceived with what is conceived’ (Lefebvre: 1991, p. 38). This space is closer to many ‘traditional’ theories of space (maybe because they come from such ‘scientific’ disciplines; here we might also include much of musicology, which maps ‘the music itself’ or is concerned with how music represents certain social structures), but it would also be interesting to identify those certain musicians and composers who are especially concerned with these representations of space. Because much music analysis of space focuses on recorded song (vocals, gestures, embodiment) we will also need to follow Lefebvre’s lead and examine how these representations of the vocal and the body in sound derive from an accumulated knowledge and ideology. E.g. Moore’s (2012a) analyses of vocal space and Zagorski-Thomas’ (2014) categories of the timbral, functional, and media-based staging suggest that these connections can be made, but they need to be fleshed out and theorised more clearly. Representational space is:

directly lived through its associated images and symbols’ and must thus directly relate to the way space is used artistically in recorded music and how it must be understood hermeneutically beyond the theories of perception and metaphor that dominate the field now. (Lefebvre: 1991, p. 39)

Lefebvre’s focus on the social production of space can help escape the problem we often encounter in music analysis when describing spaces that end up seeming like empty containers. Too often does one get the picture that the soundbox/sound stage/performance environment is there a priori as a silent cube that can be filled with sounds. Lefebvre criticises such a conception, because it has problems when defining this container. When e.g. Moylan (2015) describes the perceived performance environment as a space with fairly clear boundaries (especially clear in his visual transcriptions) it is not evident how these borders can be defined spatially. The listener may be immersed in the sound of the perceived performance space, but its horizons are somewhat obscure and if some horizon is there it is temporal (cf. Born: 2013, p. 13-14). Such a conception is true only if one thinks of the musical text without reference to how spaces ‘outside’ the perceived performance environment constitute it. Thus, the way of listening to sound presented in these models of analysis of space in recorded music is often quite a-historical and a-social (if one, like Moore, is explicitly uninterested in this it might not be a problem, but if one seeks a broader understanding of space than such a methodology affords one must consider these issues). Zagorski-Thomas’ (2014) concepts of timbral, functional, and media-based staging comes closer to a consideration of how the staging of the musical space is a construction that is mediated by and mediates the spaces outside the enclosure of the perceived performance environment. These concepts are a welcome addition to the analytic vocabulary of space in recording, but they will need to be related to broader concepts of space (not only ecological perception).

With Lefebvre, we can then ask if the analyses we produce sometimes only describe cross-sections of space that ‘supply inventories of what exists in space, or even generate a discourse on space, [but] cannot ever give rise to a knowledge of space’ (Lefebvre: 1991, p. 7)? In other words, the modes of analysis of space in music developed over the last couple of decades provide an important discourse on space by giving music analysis a vocabulary to describe it, but does not necessarily expose the production of space in a coherent theoretical framework. Our object of interest must then ‘shift from things in space to the actual production of space’ (Lefebvre: 1991, p. 37 ).

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The scope of this paper has been exploratory rather than aiming to reach any definite conclusions. As I hope to have shown there are many places where the analysis of space in recorded music and the theories of the spatial turn can benefit from engaging both theoretically and analytically.

There are a number of theories and scholars that I have not touched upon, but that might lead to yet other questions and connections between music theory and the spatial turn: Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of smooth and striated space; questions of epistemology in philosophy (especially Euclidian space, and space in Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Kant, and Hegel); the material aspects of musical space, especially as it relates to technology and recording, and the theories of the material turn; further, I have not considered the many ways in which spaces are gendered or in which space come to signify race and identity. Likewise there are a number of ways of creating/composing as well as analysing space that I have not considered. Here I am thinking of the similarities and differences between popular music and electronic music and sound art; the increasingly important field of sound studies will also shed light on music and space, and of course the canonical texts on soundscapes have not been discussed at all; finally, the studies of virtuality will possibly expand and challenge how we hear musical space, as e.g. studies suggest that the borders between real and virtual sonic environments are blurred when playing computer games (Garner & Grimshaw 2014; see also the recent volume on the subject Whiteley & Rambarran 2016).

The theories from the spatial turn offer the study of recorded music a way of exploring that central question of ontology that, as mentioned, according to Simon Zagorski-Thomas still has to be explored in depth. We must investigate this ontological problem with an epistemology that re-imagines the listening subject and the social production of space: recording is re-production (which may represent performance), but because of the nature of this reproduction sound has become ephemeral and unreal, but also ubiquitous and commodified like never before. The analysis of space in music is central here, because it has shown that even hermeneutical close readings rely heavily on the fact that even the most unreal, virtual space in recorded music still—if nothing else by virtue of difference—begs questions of representation because it is reproduction. The spatial turn inserts that dialectic directly at the heart of theoretisation.


Research for this article was supported by a fellowship from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. I would also like to thank Aleksander Sedzielarz for comments on a draft of this article.


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