Deep spatial experiences are ours when we listen from the centre of the musicmaking
It's funny how earbuds or earphones place the music inside our head, but we still don't feel like we're inside the music. Usually it still sounds as if it's being projected towards us, as in a traditional concert hall or from stereo speakers.
Vancouver composer Jordan Nobles has spent more than a decade experimenting with spatial effects in music, where the performers are placed around the audience, or in different parts of the space in which the performance is happening. For the most practical reasons, few composers think beyond the traditional performance configurations when writing music.
But hearing music all around is a bewitching experience, and it changes our relationship to it, and to the space. It also changes us.
As Nobles once wrote in Musicworks magazine about spatial music:
The first time I employed this new technique in my own composition, I was fascinated by the behaviour of the audience. When the music began, at first people looked around, turning their heads this way and that and straining their necks to see the musicians surrounding them. After a while, they gave up trying to ‘see’ every musical entrance or event and sat still, many with eyes closed, and just listened. They were experiencing the novelty of being inside the music itself, instead of having it projected toward them. This is the way in which we experience sound in the real world of nature, as opposed to the world of today's media where sound and images are constantly projected uni-directionally at us from stages, screens and speakers. We are in the center of our environment; sound does not come from one direction but surrounds us completely. Unlike the eyes, the ears can hear all 360 degrees around no matter which way they are facing - and hey are always open. We experience spaces not just by seeing them but by listening. With your eyes closed, you can tell what type and size of room you are in. Our ears and brains developed with the capacity to process a depth of information through sound direction and reflection which is simply not possible in the conventional concert hall setting. In a sense, when we create a spatial music event, we are waking up areas of the brain that are too often neglected in our contemporary life.
Nobles is one of those composers who is not afraid to refer to familiar tonal/harmonic patterns in his music, making it particularly accessible to any audience.
CBC Radio Two's Concerts on Demand a couple of days ago added an excellent sampling of his work from a concert given by the Vancouver Cantata Singers, led by artistic director Eric Hannan at the Blusson Centre, a multi-level, oddly-shaped atrium-type space at Vancouver General Hospital (pictured at right).
Of course, the broadcast loses all sense of the spatial -- but the music itself is good, and well performed (except for the final piece, by Mendelssohn, in which the sopranos sound pretty ragged).
Besides three pieces by Nobles, there is one of Arvo Pärt's tintinnabulist wonders, a setting of the Te Deum, and Medusa, a fun little creation by fellow Vancouverite Kristopher Fulton.
Listen to the concert here.
Here is another one of Noble's choral experiments, Coriolis, in which he works on creating compelling dissonant vibrations. Being at the centre of the circle created by the members of Musica Intima in 2009 would likely be a brain-bending experience.