How Space, Time and FORM interact.

This blog will discuss how SPACE influences climaxes and silences while playing and composing music. It’s a difficult metaphor, but it works best for me, explaining to myself how to improve my climaxes and silences by adding SPACE for sound to thrive.

The first time I heard my music, I was surrounded by me, magnified by a whole orchestra. I was sounding in SPACE. The SPACE in the concert hall expanded. This SPACE was not limited to the concert-hall, I was in the middle of my own expanding universe. I was surprised by SPACE, I had not expected SPACE. SPACE blew me away.

I’d never imagined SPACE while composing.

When I listen to Debussy’s ‘La Mer’, I hear a beautiful 4D SPACIAL cascade of sound-color-clouds. This effect has to do with controlling SPACE. The same SPACE that surprised me when my music was played.

When I saw FORM last summer, I thought I saw a 3D frame structuring SOUND. What I did not realize was, that I also saw how FORM defines SPACE. SOUND itself influences SPACE and SOUND needs SPACE to thrive. SOUND needs an atmosphere to breath. At the same time, SOUND influences the quantity and quality of SPACE while the composition is being played.

I did not realize that there needs to be SPACE for SOUND to thrive in.

When I visualize MUSIC is as sound-colored-clouds changing over time, like daytime fireworks, these clouds need SPACE to be in. At the same time, SOUND creates SPACE. SPACE can expand beyond the size needed for the sound-clouds to fit in. It can stand still holding a silence. It can shrink back to fit a single flute. SPACE expands when necessary, but it takes TIME for it to do so. I have to understand the behavior of SPACE, formed by SOUND, following FORM over TIME, while composing.

In order to write better music, I want to find out:

  1. How FORM influences SPACE.
  2. How SOUND influences the a. quantity and b. quality of SPACE
  3. How TIME influences SPACE.
  4. How SPACE influences SILENCES.
  5. How SPACE influences CLIMAXES.

1. How FORM influences SPACE

FORM is not just the design of SOUND over TIME. FORM is the design of SPACE, over (elastic) TIME, made by (colors of) SOUND. FORM is the design of SOUND over TIME, resulting in effects in SPACE. It’s this SPACIAL effect that makes music GREAT, bigger than itself: 4D. FORM is the architecture, providing a structure for SOUND over TIME to achieve that specific SPACE quantity (volume) and quality (density) in that moment, wherein SOUND can thrive.

This leaves the question, what was first? SOUND or SPACE? I think now, that SOUND creates SPACE. SPACE needs a certain amount of TIME to emerge. This means that you could compose the other way around: first decide in the FORM, where in TIME you want SPACE to develop and later on, add where what SOUNDS you need to let that SPACE emerge.

Maybe this is where the conducting before writing comes in handy: you can feel in advance where you need what amount of SPACE. Your movements can show you that.

Maybe you can feel SPACE better, while conducting instead of composing?

Also: when you conduct, you have to know exactly what you want to hear. Or, when I conduct before writing, I will point out to myself exactly what I want to hear. How much SPACE I will need to accomplish that effect.

2. How SOUND influences SPACE

When FORM defines where to put SPACE over TIME; SOUND defines the quantity and quality of that SPACE in that moment. Variations in orchestration influence the size and density of the SPACE created.

2.a. SOUND and the Quantity of SPACE

A bigger SOUND provides a bigger SPACE. When you write increasingly larger instrument groups, SPACE will grow either. The Basses enlarge the volume of SPACE more than the higher lighter instruments. Higher instruments create their own more condensed SPACES of different quality, within or on top of the larger bass-volume. This way clouds of SOUND are formed, all creating their own SPACES. Listening to an orchestration like ‘La Mer’ by Debussy, you can hear all these different SPACES living apart together.

Composing SPACE is like making a perfect Latte

Density, temperature, all works together to make perfect mixes and layers of a Latte. You can layer a foam flute on top of a warm clarinet-choir coffee. When done right, they will sound apart together. You can also decide to make hot chocolate, where all the instruments mix into this one delicious sound-color-cloud.

A perfect Latte

Orchestration influences the form of the clouds and in my experience the form of the SPACE created. Sometimes SPACE lays down like a flat pancake, sometimes it rises and explodes like firework. SPACE can expand, shrink, lay back, be a heavy mist, a dark void….anything…

Sometimes you can feel SPACE falling upon you after a brilliantly written and played climax. Then SPACE shrinks again towards its next designed quantity.

2.b. SOUND and the Quality of SPACE

Different orchestrations makes for different SPACE quality: dense, light, vacuum. Writing for TrioMotion (just mallets and 1 flute) gives smaller, less dense SPACE, than writing for organ and trombone-choir. Trombone-choir gives a more dense, larger SPACE.

SOUNDS create a dense confined space when they sound loud for a short time. Because there was no time for SPACE to expand. When TIME is added to the mix, more SPACE emerges for the SOUND to thrive in. And SOUND will expand SPACE beyond the size of the concert-hall when needed. The quality of SPACE becomes less dense, even when SOUND is still loud.

3. How TIME influences SPACE

SPACE needs TIME to expand, shrink, stand still. A long note gives SOUND the opportunity to expand SPACE. We all slow down during a climax while SPACE expands. We give SOUND enough TIME to let SPACE expand for the bigger SOUND to fit in.

I feel that while SPACE expands, TIME becomes slower. This might mean that SPACE also influences our perception of TIME while listening to music.

When SPACE expands, TIME becomes slower, get’s a slower feel. Reaching a climactic harmonic progression, the expectation that the music will solve into the known. That already makes our perception of TIME slower. The day before Christmas is a longer day, than just a normal day in december, because of our expectations.

How does the SPACE of the music relate to the SPACE used in my imagination to compose?

But the SPACE I imagine in my head while composing is another SPACE. That is the SPACE where all my music is in. SPACE surprised me twice:

1. I was surprised by the SPACE created by my music, the SPACE where I sounded in when my music was played.

2. The SPACE I imagine in my head while composing. The SPACE created by my music is part of that huge SPACE I call my musical universe. This is the SPACE I experience while composing.

In my musical universe I can go everywhere and nowhere. My music can take me from here to there to anywhere. It’s difficult to grasp, but I write music imagining the space that we see as the universe, the space we see outside in dark, where the stars are, in my head. In that universe is enough SPACE for all my music to develop and sound.

That expanding, huge void is the blank canvas I paint music on.

4. HOW SPACE influences SILENCES

SPACE can also stand still keeping it’s quantity (volume) without SOUND. Within this SPACE, SILENCES can speak. There is no REST, because there is still SPACE remaining. SPACE stands still and negative music sounds there: A negative of the music played or the sound of the composer sec. This SPACE holds music of a vacuum quality.

A short loud sound, sounds dense. It’s a lot of sound in a small space, because space did not have time to expand. But in the silence after a dense sound, there is an empty vacuum. You hear the space shrink fast again to normal proportion, but there is hardly any silence sounding.

5. How SPACE influences CLIMAXES

So, if you want to write a climax, you have to write:

  • An expansion of SPACE
  • A slowing down of TIME, so SPACE has plenty time to develop for SOUND to fit in.
  • We need A known goal, we need to remember a pattern we know will lead to the climax. We must feel this inevitable climax coming.
  • The SPACE has to stand still for a while after the climax, where we can hear the negative music in the SILENCE.

6. How to imagine SPACE while composing.

Imagining SPACE while composing a CLIMAX is essential for it’s effect. This is why my music, you have this feeling that too much is happening for the timespan written. The climaxes are not working because I do not give SOUND enough TIME to create SPACE for the CLIMAX to fit into. I have to play with TIME, SOUND and SPACE.

To compose better music, I need to understand that FORM gives structure to SOUND over TIME, resulting in SPACE.

And I must design a FORM in which I have enough TIME to let SPACE develop where needed. This way my climaxes will sound better, because SOUND gets the right quantity and quality of SPACE to thrive in.

By Anneloes Wolters