Space in music

Marc Weidenbaum's email newsletter, This Week in Sound, recently shared this information from Robert Fripp's diary:
The primary factor in choosing a setlist is the performance space. Only part of this is the acoustics. Each performance space / venue / auditorium has its particular spirit of place: churches, burlesque theatres, rock clubs, classical halls small and large; with performance and listening practices, determined mainly by the culture and history of the region.

It prompted me to reconsider another piece of information about a musician, Johann Sebastian Bach. Some while ago I'd read that he composed for Thomaskirche in Leipzig, the church where he became Kapellmeister nearly 300 years ago.

While looking for information about Bach composing with reverb in mind, I found this:
Acoustics has been an important influence on music. Many composers have had in mind, consciously or subconsciously, the acoustics of the space in which their music will be played.

That piece outlines the role of space in shaping music, like:
Greogorian chant was written for medieval cathedrals with long reverberation times; similarly organ music of any period requires a reverberant space. E. Power Biggs said: “An organist will take al the reverberation time he is given, and then ask for a bit more…. Many of Bach’s organ works are designed …. to explore reverberation. Consider the pause that follows the ornamented proclamation that opens the famous Toccata in D minor. Obviously this is for the enjoyment of the notes as they remain suspended in the air”. Church music sounds wrong when performed in a small non-reverberant space with a lot of acoustic absorbent such as curtains and carpets.

And I've spent a couple of days considering the provocative idea "that the most important single fact in the history of music" was "the insertion of galleries in Lutheran churches" as they reduced reverberation in those spaces where music was performed.

For a while I've been pondering the influence of technology on the development of music and reverb is a beaut example, particularly since different types have become associated with genres.

As I was a watching Craig Schuftan's panel conversation from Loop this morning, he mentioned that Bertolt Brecht described "the mirror and the dynamo" as the tension between tradition and innovation in the arts.

So, I'm jumping across topics here, it fascinates me how this plays out in the reverbs I use in my music.

The mirrors are emulations like the EMT140 plate and the models of Ocean Way's studios, while Valhalla Shimmer seems (to my naive ears) as something distinctly new when I use it for a big ambient pad-like effect -- although, now I looks at the website, I see it was based on older models.

I'd guess the dynamos in more recent years are developing in convolution reverbs which, while imitations of existing studios use that to mimic their spaces, can shape sounds in ways that are without precedent.

Thinking on how the acoustics of a space shaped composers like Bach led me to consider how UAD effects users are now able to use modelled spaces like the Ocean Way and Capitol Chambers plug-ins in their own productions.

Given how those reverbs impart a famed character and can be used to connote an atmosphere, it seems like we're getting back to writing music with specific ambiences in mind.

Part of me enjoys the reverb response that put my music in those spaces that mirror expensive studios, while another part hungers to push on and create something distinctly my own.

It seems like that tension underlies so much music, walking a line between helping audiences recognise something and forcing them to try and find their way in a new space.

It also reminds me of the epiphany I had a few years ago while listening to music that could be described as drone. The way those notes hung while I lay with my eyes closed led me to realise that I couldn't gauge the space I was in. It was simultaneously without space and all space, which led to a transcendent quality that I've only previously experience in an altered state.