Types of Space


Consider the notion of 'space' in music. 'Outer space' is one of several types of space. Inner space, or the space of the imagination, is one. Personal space is a familiar concept from psychology: the area that is felt to be the property of the individual, which can be 'invaded' by others. A private space suggests something intimate, secret. A piece of music itself could also be said to occupy a 'cultural space', in other words it represents something about the culture from which it has emerged. Finally there is the sense of 'spaciousness' that you might get from contemplating a natural phenomenon such as the Grand Canyon, or a cloud. Given that music is a time-based art form, these ideas of space are difficult to imagine made in sound. And yet they can, and have, been conveyed. To hear examples from history, listen to the following:

Outer space (1): Richard Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra, which carries all kinds of associations, and all the moon-shots, was used in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Outer space (2): Louis and Bebe Barron's music for the film Forbidden Planet. This film was the first motion picture to feature an electronic music score. Here 'outer space' is evoked by 'otherworldly' sounds.

Inner space: Erik Satie Gymnopédie No. 1. This manages to convey an inner world by restricting the amount of musical material and adopting a direct simplicity of style.

Personal space: Alvin Lucier I Am Sitting In A Room. This is a classic meditation on the relationship between an individual and his surroundings.

Private space: Luciano Berio Visage. A disturbing insight into a private imaginary world.

Cultural space: Karlheinz Stockhausen Hymnen. Stockhausen's attempt to explore the music of the world, which ends up revealing a great deal about his particular time and space.

Spaciousness (1): Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 1, specifically the opening of the first movement for an illustration of natural space.

Spaciousness (2): György Ligeti Atmosphères, a good example of a cloud-like space. What is impressive about all these works is the way in which they successfully map the evident musical imagination of the composer. Their intention seems to match the outcome (even in the case of the Stockhausen).

The Project

Choose one of the types of space (or find another of your own) and make an electroacoustic piece that creates that space for the listener.


In 2001, the Cassini-Huygens space probe passed the planet Jupiter. There is no sound in outer space, because it is a vacuum, but nevertheless the NASA scientists produced a sonification of the effect of the solar wind in the interstellar dust that surrounds the planet. A quick search on the internet will locate the relevant sound files. One approach to this project could be to use only this source recording.