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As a musical term

Spatialization is the use of the localization of sounds in physical space as a compositional element in music, in sound art, and in sound editing for audio recordings, film, and video. The term is connected especially with electroacoustic music and spatial music to denote the projection and localization of sound sources in physical or virtual space or sound's spatial movement in space. Spatial music, a term introduced by the composer Henry Brant,[citation needed] indicates music in which the location and movement of sound sources is a primary compositional parameter and a central feature for the listener.

Use in the social sciences

Spatialization can also refer to the spatial forms that social activities and material things, phenomena or processes take on. This term is related to geography, sociology and cultural studies. Cognitive maps are one part of spatialization, which also includes everyday practice, institutionalized representations (i.e. maps, see cartography) and the creative imagination of possible spatial worlds (such as the work of the Surrealist painter, René Magritte). See also geographical space, Henri Lefebvre.

Social spatializations are formations manifest at many scales, from gestures and bodily comportment to geopolitical relationships between states. However they are contested and the focus of struggles over the meaning of places, or manners, or over the reputation of neighbourhoods.

Spatializations are therefore both ways of fixing in place cultural values and important social meanings, but also change over time. Globalization is an example of the changing spatialization of the world.

Examples might include cases where a region becomes stereotyped and idolized as part of the identity of a nation state or culture: the Canadian North (Arctic) and Canadian identity; Karelia and Finnish identity.

These are often taken up in the media, for example the British North and late 20th-century British working class identity portrayed in the long-running television series Coronation Street. These place-images and regional- and place-myths take on meanings through their similarity or difference from other places we know. Spatialization is argued to be a regime of "spacings" and "placings" of people and activities. Given activities or behaviours are related to "places-for-this" and "places-for-that." Several typical spatializations can be detected: centre-margin; mosaics of different identities; binary divisions (black-white; civilized-barbarian etc.); near-far continua (local-foreign).

Spatialization offers a way of talking about how place-images and regional- and place-myths, cognitive mappings and so on are part of wider "formations" and come to have an economic impact by being put into practice, such as through the marketing of tourism destinations, and the way that the reputations of places and regions becomes a conceptual shorthand which lends credibility to claims and beliefs, such as the truthfulness of a scientific finding ("Cambridge" - whether USA or UK), the believability of a religious claim or an event ("Mecca"), or the trustworthness of a product ("Swiss" watches).

See also

  • Holophones
  • Planephones


  • Brant, Henry, and Frank J. Oteri. 2003. "Spaced Out with Henry Brant: 4. Spatial Music". New Music Box (January).
  • Harley, Maria Anna. 1997. "An American in Space: Henry Brant's 'Spatial Music'". American Music 15, no. 1 (Spring): 70–92
  • Ives, Charles. 1933. “Music and Its Future”. In American Composers on American Music: A Symposium, edited by Henry Cowell. Reprinted, New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, by arrangement with Stanford University Press, 1962.

Further reading

  • Shields, Rob. 1991. Places on the Margin: Alternate Geographies of Modernity London: Routledge.
  • Lefebvre, Henri. 1991. The Production of Space. New York: Blackwell. Originally published as La Production de l'espace (Paris: Antrhopos)