Sound of Space 

Friday, January 5, 2024 at 9:07:31 AM Eastern Standard Time

Good morning; today, I want to talk about the sound of space. Now, I’m not talking about outer space or something cosmic or Galactic; I’m talking about the sound of the space that you’re in. If you are a musician, you’re very attuned to soft and loud and higher and lower pitches. But how much time do you spend thinking about space? Everyone knows that cathedrals sound magnificent. The swirling mix of reflections, combined with the direct sound radiated into the space, make for an incredibly rich mix of Sound.  This is also why people sing in the shower, because the tiles are excellent reflectors of sound, and it creates some echo or delay, or reverb, or a combination of all of them. Most instruments do not sound very compelling in an open field because there are no walls to reflect sound. It would sound even worse in space; in fact, you wouldn’t be able to hear anything at all in the vacuum because there is no medium to disturb, and that is what Sound is.

For those of you who have heard acoustical instruments, live with sound reinforcement and microphones, and not in a terrible acoustic space with low ceilings and close-by rectangular walls, but in a sonically decent place, say a small auditorium or a church, you know what a real instrument sounds like. It may be that most music that is listened to by most people is not what real instrument sounds like. I am not going all purist on you and saying that only live natural sound is great for that. Not true. We have a tremendous ability to process sound spatially, dynamically, and spectrally. This is what all recording engineers and producers do, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

I am not here to criticize the processing or the people who do the processing. I am here to say that has a musician who creates sounds in the world. It’s really worth knowing something about the space that you are playing in and that most don’t. Moving over a few feet in a room can make your instruments sound very different. There are sweet spots, and there are terrible spots, and to some degree, they may be predictable, but to a larger degree, they need to be empirically discovered.  in other words, you have to play around to find out how to make things sound best, and if you are sensitive to this, it adds another layer of responsibility to your job as a musician.

Ironically, electric guitarists care more about this than acoustical instrumentalists. Have you ever noticed that most guitarists don’t play without a board full of pedals on the floor in front of them, and then many of them are convinced that they can’t sound good at all without all of this processing?

I am simply saying that all musicians should consider the effect that space has on the way an instrument sounds to such a large degree. The different forms of music sound better in different spaces, and different instruments sound better in different locations and rooms, and people perform differently depending on a whole host of spatial factors.