Denis Smalley, City University, UK: Spatiality in acousmatic music

This lecture will take place in Tanna Schulich Hall and will be followed by a concert by Denis Smalley at 7:30pm in the MMR.  For more information on the concert and how to purchase tickets: live@CIRMMT Distinguished Artist Concert with Denis Smalley

Please note: The wine and cheese reception will take place in the MMR, at the conclusion of the concert (-2 floor of the New Music Building).


“Spatiality” refers to all those factors that contribute to the experiencing of space. In the acousmatic music “image”, a variety of factors amalgamate over time to create experiences of spatiality. Acousmatic spatiality, as in real life, is a lived space, a felt space, where sounds and listeners cohabit for a period of time in a particular place, whether it be at home, in a studio, or in a concert space. Spatiality is not just a pragmatic matter of how the spatial perspective is designed – where sounds appear to be placed in space, distant or close, in front or behind, or how they move or cover different areas. Since spatiality refers to the world, any sounds which seem to evoke events, actions, phenomena, or types of space in the world carry their messages across into the music, evoking spaces by association. And the impression of spatial expanse, depth and height is evoked by how sound-shapes occupy and move within the continuum of audible frequencies (spectral space). 

So spatiality arises from the inseparable interaction of perspectival space, source-bonded space, and spectral space. In acousmatic music, the creation of images of spatiality has brought about certain conventions of practice – choices of sound-types, techniques, spatial formats. In this talk I shall focus on aspects of my own practice in relation to the works to be performed in the concert.


Denis Smalley was born in New Zealand in 1946. He studied music at the University of Canterbury and the Victoria University of Wellington prior to studying at the Paris Conservatoire with Messiaen, and with the Groupe de Recherches Musicales. He then moved to England, living initially in York where he completed a doctorate in composition at the University of York. From 1976 until 1994 he was Lecturer in Music, and then Senior Lecturer and Director of the Electroacoustic Music Studio at the University of East Anglia. He then moved to City University, London, as Professor of Music and Head of the Department of Music. He retired from City University in 2009, and is now Professor Emeritus. He now divides his time between London and the Corbières region in the south of France.

Denis Smalley’s works have been widely acclaimed, winning a number of international awards including the Prix Ars Electronica in 1988. In 2008 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Huddersfield for his achievements in electroacoustic music. He has made original contributions to thinking about electroacoustic music, in particular his investigations into the listener's perception of electroacoustic music, and his development of the notion of spectromorphology  (the shaping of sound spectra through time). 

A book on his music and ideas was published by GRM/INA in the Polychrome Portraits series - in English in 2010, and in French in 2011 - and there are associated on-line resources, including an annotated catalogue of works, and an interactive analysis of Wind Chimes available at

A list of publications is available at



APA video citation:

Smalley, D. (2014, April 29). Spatiality in acousmatic music -
CIRMMT Distinguished Lectures in the Science and Technology of Music. [Video file].
Retrieved from