An American in space: Henry Brant's "Spatial Music."

Citation metadata

Date: Spring 1997
From: American Music(Vol. 15, Issue 1)
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 7,177 words

Document controls

Main content


Henry Brant was an American pioneer in spatial music, or music in which the performers are separated spatially and the composition itself may have dissonant layers. In fact, his work and writing on the subject precedes that of John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, for Brant was inspired by the earlier work of Charles Ives. Four examples of Brant's work are analyzed: Antiphony I (1953), Millennium II (1954), Bran(dt) aan de Amstel (1984) and 500: Hidden Hemisphere (1992).

Full Text: 

In 1933 Henry Cowell praised Henry Brant as "a musician with knowledge, technique, original ideas, feeling, something to say, and courage."(1) An overstatement, perhaps, in reference to a young composer, these words acquire a new significance over sixty years later--years filled with explorations of grant's idea that space is "an essential aspect of musical composition."(2) Yet, the composer's role in the development of "spatial music" in which sound placement and movement have structural and aesthetic function, has been overshadowed by that of the European avant-garde, especially Karlheinz Stockhausen.(3) Here, I will discuss grant's role as the pioneer of spatial music and point out his involvement in the American experimental tradition which was initiated by Charles Ives.(4)

The importance of spatial music in grant's oeuvre becomes obvious when browsing through the catalogs of his works--for example, the 1992 Rental Catalog of the publisher Carl Fisher lists seventy-six spatial pieces and fifty-seven nonspatial compositions. The range of examples cited here will be much more limited: references to four compositions will serve to highlight the basic features of grant's genre of spatial music and help to trace the course of its development since his first spatial work, Antiphony I (1953).(5)

In Antiphony I the symphony orchestra is divided into five groups--woodwinds, horns, muted brass, pitched percussion, and strings. Each group is situated in a different part of the hall. In the introduction to the score the composer warns, "On no account may all five groups be placed together on the stage, or near the stage! This would go directly counter to the specific spatial-polyphonic concept of the music." The spatial separation of instrumental groups highlights the contrasts of timbre, meter, key, texture, and motivic content between the five musical streams. The distant groups enter on cues and proceed at their own speed without a strict relationship to the main, more continuous layer of the music. The entries of these groups usually overlap in time: one group is still playing while another begins at a different point in space. Incidentally, this formal design is a precedent to Witold Lutoslawski's "chain form" introduced in the 1980s.(6)

The dramatic climax of Antiphony I (ex. 1) illustrates the variety of material presented in these simultaneous layers. Here, as often in grant's works, the complexity of the music does not result from elaborate compositional operations, but from a juxtaposition of many distinct elements. The composer believes that "a purposeful lack of relationship between the intervals, phrasing, note-values, tone-quality and sonorities of the various lines will necessarily produce a complex result as soon as the lines are combined."(7)

In Antiphony I each spatially separated group and each section of the strings play in a different key. The choice of tonalities a semitone apart emphasizes dissonant relationships--for example, C, D-flat, E-flat, E in the strings. This connection between polyphony and dissonance is rooted in the American experimental tradition, which includes grant's own musical past. Charles Seeger introduced the idea of "dissonant counterpoint" in 1930;(8) grant's so-called oblique harmony, in which a perpetual dissonance is achieved by contrapuntal means, dates back to the same period.(9) Similarly, in Charles Ives's music the idea of the accumulation of independent strata of sound is often realized by "the contrapuntal superimposition of dissonant, rhythmically unrelated lines."(10) If grant's dissonant polyphony has Ivesian precedents, so does the use of strings as a continuous layer of music, against which other strands of sound are heard from distant locations in space. This is the predominant texture of Antiphony I; it also appears in Ives's The Unanswered Question, composed in 1906. According to Brant, Ives's composition "presents, with extraordinary economy and concentration, the entire twentieth-century spatial spectrum in music, and offers guidelines for solving all the practical problems involved."(11) This may seem an exaggeration, but it does clearly articulate grant's compositional concerns. The elevated opinion of Ives's work indicates its importance for grant's own spatial music, which is--like The Unanswered Question--characterized by a complete musical contrast of widely separated layers of sound (in regard to timbre, tempo, meter, and range, as well as harmonic, melodic, and contrapuntal material) and by the lack of rhythmic coordination between these independent layers. As Brant wrote in 1967, his earliest contacts with the spatial aspects of Ives's music predated 1951: early in his career he had conducted a version of The Unanswered Question with strings backstage, "flutes in a `box' halfway down the hall and the trumpet solo at the very back of a high balcony."(12)

Following the performances of grant's earliest spatial works, he expressed his views on musical spatiality in a brief article, "The Uses of Antiphonal Distribution and Polyphony of Tempi in Composing" (1955).(13) In 1967 Brant summarized the main observations from that article in four points which may be paraphrased as follows:(14)

1. Spatial separation clarifies the texture--if the music consists of several layers, "each with its own distinctive sonority scheme, over the same octave range," the presence of casually occurring unisons should be avoided by distributing the performers into widely separated positions in the hall;

2. Separated groups are difficult to coordinate--exact rhythmic simultaneities are almost impossible because of the distances between the musicians;

3. Spatial separation is equivalent to the separation of textures in pitch space (if performers are together on stage)--separation allows for the differentiation of musical strands, "with no collision or crossing of textures," and it permits a greater complexity in the music;

4. Spatial arrangements must be planned exactly, but allow adjustments of details--there is no single, optimum position for the listeners or the performers in the hall; each situation is different.

Brant's ideas about the compositional use of space, published in 1955 (though written in 1954), may have been known to John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, since grant's article predates writings on space and spatialized compositions by both composers. Nonetheless, Stockhausen's theory of spatialization, introduced in his "spatial music manifesto" Musik im Raum (published in 1959 following composition of Gesang der Junglinge [1956] and Gruppen fur drei Orchester [1955-57]), is a negation of Brant's. Stockhausen dismisses the use of space by Gabrieli, Berlioz, and Mahler--three composers who stimulated the development of grant's approach to spatial music--as being too theatrical, and argues instead that direction is the only spatial feature of sound worthy of compositional attention because it could be serialized.(15) As the serialist's objective is to apply the same means of structuring to all the different features of sound, these characteristics should be clearly isolated from each other and manipulated separately. Since the perception of distance is a combined impression of changes in the intensity and timbre of the sound in open space, Stockhausen claims that it cannot be a compositional parameter.(16) In contrast, direction may be serialized, especially when the sound sources are placed on a circle surrounding the listeners. By establishing exact proportions, analogous to durational ratios, between various positions on the circle, it is possible to create "the scale of localities corresponding to the scales of pitch, duration, timbre and loudness."(17)

Brant's attitude toward Stockhausen's use of space in music is consistently hostile.(18) He criticizes Stockhausen's Gruppen fur drei Orchester as not really spatial, because "all of the orchestras have brass, woodwinds and percussion, so the direction and the tone quality cannot indicate the source of the material." Furthermore, Brant maintains that "one of the essential realities of space music, as I have come to understand it, is that direction and tone quality should work together to identify certain kinds of music, and if this cannot be done, or if it is not done, then the space does not do anything at all, except create confusion."(19)

In contrast, there exists a marked similarity between certain views expressed by Brant and Cage, especially the notion of the coexistence of independent layers--what Brant calls "a total antiphony" and Cage describes as the "co-existence of dissimilars."(20) Until a decisive biographical proof is discovered, the similarity between the views of these two American composers might be explained by their indebtedness to the same source: Charles Ives's writings on musical space. According to Ives, the musical coexistence of spatially separated layers stimulates a change in perception by giving the audience the option to focus on individually selected musical strata. When two strands of music emanate from two points in space, "the listener may choose which of these two rhythms he wishes to hold in his mind as primal.... As the eye, in looking at a view, may focus on the sky, clouds, or distant outlines, yet sense the color and form of the foreground, and then by observing the foreground, may sense the distant outlines and color, so, in some similar way, the listener can choose to arrange in his mind the relation of the rhythmic, harmonic and other material."(21)

Ives further writes that in music based on more than two different "rhythmic, melodic, harmonic schemes, the hearer has a rather active part to play." Cage's and grant's views on musical spatiality are strongly influenced by these comments. Brant shares Ives's belief in the importance of spatial location for "clarifying the harmonic, rhythmic, thematic material."(22) He states in a 1992 interview that the main function of space in music is "to make complexity intelligible." Much of grant's music continues Ivesian explorations of textural contrasts and spatial dispersion of the instruments. Many pieces, however, also explore spatial effects that can be achieved only when the exact placement of the performers in the concert hall is designated by the composer (Ives's scores usually do not specify details of the performers' locations).

This is the case with grant's Millennium II (1954).(23) The score contains a diagram that shows the positions of all the performers (fig. 2). The instrumentation of the "spatial assembly" consists of ten trumpets and ten trombones placed along the walls of the hall; eight horns, two tubas, and four percussion players on the stage; and a high voice located anywhere at a distance from the stage and far from the brass (preferably in a high balcony). Millennium II begins with successive entries of the trumpets and the trombones in the order of their placement in the hall (ex. 2), each instrument playing a different melody in a different key. This is a clear case of dissonant polyphony. Yet the total effect is spatial: through the accumulation of the melodies, performed continuously by an increasing number of instruments of the same timbre placed along the walls of the hall, the sound seems to move along these walls and gradually fill up the hall. In "Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition," Brant referred to this phenomenon as travel and `filling-up':

When instruments placed in fixed positions . . . begin playing one

at a time and accumulating (staying in) as indicated . . . there is a

compelling impression of the hall tangibly filling up with sound,

principally along the walls, but also with some feeling of the center

being progressively saturated, especially as the accumulation

proceeds towards its maximum point. The impression of the

sound travelling gradually down the first wall is very strong; this

impression of moving direction becomes less well defined as the

further entrances and accumulations occur.(24)

The perception of the filling-up of the hall with sound may also result from hearing successive entries of pairs of instruments placed at the opposite sides of the hall (trumpet 1 and trombone 1, followed by trumpet 2 and trombone 2, etc.). Each pair of instruments creates a sound axis, defined by Dorothy Drennan as "the aural axis formed when two instruments, each located in opposite areas of the hall, play simultaneously."(25) A series of such sound axes in the conclusion of the work links movement in physical space with motion in pitch space. The entries of instrumental pairs begin with the highest sound of the trumpet, coupled with the lowest sound of the trombone (spanning the distance of two-and-a-half octaves, from F to B-flat), and end with a convergence around middle C (ex. 3). It is interesting to note here that the whole composition begins with the pitch class F, and ends with a dissonant, twelve-note chord based on a pedal point F in the tubas. The fact that the climax of Millennium II (the entry of the solo voice) is "in C" (the dominant of F) suggests the existence of a simple tonal scheme (tonic--dominant at the climax--tonic) underlying the polytonal contrasts and dissonant sonorities of this work.

Millennium II features numerous instances of sound travel along the walls of the hall (see fig. 3),(26) According to Brant, "During the various successions of accumulating entrances, the audience, situated inside the continuous walls of brass, experiences a physical sense of the sound travelling around and across the hall in various ways, and a sense of the hall as a vessel, being filled up and emptied by sound."(27)

In addition to the use of dissonant polyphony, Millennium II shares one other important trait with grant's first spatial work (Antiphony I): the rhythmic uncoordination of spatially separated layers. According to the note in the score of Millennium II, each trumpet and trombone "begins in the same `medium jump tempo' (a quarter note = about 160 M.M.) and plays steadily ahead, but makes no attempt to maintain ensemble or uniform tempo with the other players." Each part includes a number of phrases marked with a termination sign and, after several phrases, with a repeat sign (see ex. 2, trumpet 1). The phrases should be repeated until a percussion cue is heard; the current phrase should then be brought to an end.

This method of creating a continuous layer of sound from definite elements superimposed in an approximate manner finds an analogy in the "controlled aleatoricism" introduced by Witold Lutoslawski in Jeux Venitiens (1961).(28) In contrast to Lutoslawski's work, where coordinated and uncoordinated passages are presented sequentially, Brant's Millennium II makes simultaneous use of both types of rhythmic organization. The parts for instruments on stage are coordinated; in the hall they remain uncoordinated. Brant praises the absence of exact rhythmic correspondence that "permits simultaneous contrasted meters and tempt, easily controlled either by assistant conductors, soloists, or section leaders. Extreme overall rhythmic intricacy and a sense of great rhythmic freedom are attainable by this kind of procedure; at the same time, maximum control within well-defined limits, as well as ease and naturalness in playing, is retained."(29)

During the decade following Millennium II, Brant conducted numerous experiments with the placement and movement of musicians in space, proceeding through methods of trial and error and evaluating the effects aurally. In the article "Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition," he documented his discoveries. He found out, for instance, that the effect of distance depends on the size of the hall, which affects horizontal distances more than vertical ones. He was also convinced that vertical height creates an impression of higher pitch, but that register is more important than absolute pitch. An instance of Brant's usage of this phenomenon is seen in the diagram of the setting for the 1994 performance of Voyage Four (1963), with musicians scattered throughout the hall--from beneath the floor (the instruments of the lowest pitch) to the highest balcony (the highest pitch).(30)

In addition to producing the already described effects of `travel and filling-up,' spatial separation may give rise to interesting new effects when employed in conjunction with timbre. A wall of sound may be created, for example, when groups of instruments, arranged from the lowest to the highest and playing simultaneously, are placed one above another near the wall of the hall. According to Brant, "the entire wall space will seem to be sounding at once, an extremely vivid and concentrated directional effect."(31) Spill is another new effect, first noticed by Brant in the Tuba Mirum of Berlioz's Requiem: "The four brass ensembles, placed in the corners of a continuous balcony. .. present a common tone-quality participating in a common harmonic texture. They seem to reach out to each other when all are sounding, to extend the brass-harmonic texture continuously over the entire balcony area, not merely confining it to the corners of the balcony where the sounds originate."(32)

Brant's aural experiments confirm that the identity of timbre and musical material is crucial for this effect's existence; if the spatially separated groups of instruments have contrasting timbres and perform different musical fragments "no spill at all will result (i.e., no influence, or real or imagined extension, of one texture on the others)."(33) Nonetheless, in all these cases, musical sounds tangibly occupy segments of physical space (their temporal character may be either static or dynamic). The apparent extension of the sounds depends on the similarity of the timbre of the instruments and the correspondences in the musical material of the distant groups.

Brant's spatial compositions can be grouped into a number of recurring categories, which differ from conventional solo, chamber, and orchestral genres.(34) All spatial works require separation of groups of performers in the concert hall. Distances between the separated ensembles should be large, and the ensembles frequently placed at several levels (some scores contain schemes for the required settings and forbid performance otherwise).(35) The instrumental forces sometimes form symmetrical pairs, from the simplest antiphonal opposition of two wind ensembles in Verticals Ascending (1967) to the expanded symmetry of two orchestras, two brass ensembles, two steel-drum bands, and two wind bands in Prisons of the Mind (1990). The use of widely separated and contrasting ensembles is far more common--for example, the mezzo-soprano, speaker, mixed chorus, orchestra, band, and percussion group in Atlantis (1960) or the five solo voices, chorus, orchestra, flute choir, and jazz ensemble in Skull and Bones (1990). Brant reveals his preference for homogeneous instrumental choirs in works that require a large number of wind instruments--such as Orbits (1979), for eighty trombones, organ, and voice, or Flight Over a Global Map (1990), for one hundred trumpets, three percussions, and piano.

A separate category of works that call for physical movement by performers includes Hieroglyphics I (1957), scored for viola with instrumental ensemble and voice, and Windjammer (1969), which has specific walking routes for the performers of the wind quintet. Hieroglyphics I, incidentally, predates Berio's Circles (1960), which is often cited as the earliest work that requires the soloist to move from one stage position to another.

Improvisation is frequently introduced in some strands of Brant's music, especially when jazz groups are among the instrumental forces; an example is Western Springs (1984), for two orchestras, two choruses, and two jazz combos. Brant's reliance on jazz is not limited to the use of jazz ensembles in his orchestration. It constitutes an important element of his compositional style, which draws from "jazz idioms, the exploitation of the timbral aspects of the instrumentation, and the extensive use of counterpoint."(36) Some of Brant's large-scale pieces contain much "found" musical material in the spatially separated layers. For instance, Meteor Farm (1982) calls for a Javanese gamelan orchestra, a West African drumming ensemble, and a South Indian trio, in addition to a more conventional assembly of musicians, including two sopranos, orchestra, two choruses, brass choir, two percussion groups, and a jazz band. Instances of such polystylistic juxtaposition are common in Brant's oeuvre.

The idea of a collage of layers of preexisting musical material finds its ultimate realization in the composer's Bran(d)t aan de Amstel ("Fire on the Amstel"), a spatio-musical spectacle that encompassed almost the whole city of Amsterdam during the 1984 Holland Festival.(37) Elliott Schwartz thus described the work's first, and only, performance: "Four boatloads of performers (25 flutists and one percussionist per boat) followed one another along a pre-designated route, traversing many canals and passing by a number of landmark churches and bridges along the way. At each of these intermediate checkpoints, other prearranged musical levels (land based) would be added to the overall texture."(38)

The added layers of music in Bran(d)t aun de Amstel include "the carillons of the four big churches, the bands in the public squares and the choruses along the boat routes."(39) The massive performing forces of the finale comprise "a youth jazz band, two choruses, two civic brass bands ... and four of the colorfully decorated street organs ... all spread out over a large outdoor space separated by canals."(40) Only the flute parts have been written down and are available for study. Other music was borrowed. Brant explains, "I wanted as many things from the various Dutch repertories as possible.... If you are in a country where there is a certain kind of music or many different kinds of music, one way would be to use what is there, but combined in a way in which they have never heard it before. The other way would be to introduce foreign elements. In Fire on the Amstel I tried to use what was there, but combined and constructed in ways that would be original."(41)

Bran(d)t aan de Amstel consists of a continuous layer of sounds (the "floating music" of the flutes) juxtaposed with fragments of musics scattered through the city. Thus, in principle, it resembles a typical, visual collage that consists of a canvas with a plenitude of objects attached to it. The music for the procession of boats, the analogue to the canvas, is not entirely static. It evolves with the changing acoustic environment. Brant states, "In the narrow, quiet canals we could have had slow and quiet music safely, but going into the big broad canals we could not, we had to have a different kind of music, just for it to be heard at all."(42)

The "slow and quiet" music makes use of nuances of timbre and articulation (e.g., trills, tremolos, dynamic pulsation, glissandi). The contrasting faster and louder music features piccolos, the sounds that carry well at long distances. Example 4 illustrates the two different types of music Brant writes for the flutes. The music for each boat differs from that of others by the particular timbre of the accompanying percussion instruments (e.g., there are four small tom-toms and snare drum on the first boat; on the second boat, the woodblock, maracas, and gongs, and so on). In addition, each boat carries two groups of flutists who perform music written in keys a semitone apart (e.g., the keys of C/B on Boat I; C/D-flat on Boat II; A-flat/A on Boat III; E-flat/E on Boat IV). Despite the ample duration of the whole performance (four hours) the composed "boat music" lasts only three minutes, requiring extensive repetitions of the material during presentation.

Bran(d)t aun de Amstel has no score, only plans of the temporal outline of the whole spectacle. Brant's excursus through the space of Amsterdam leads away from the idea of a musical work in closed form, defined by the notation in the score. The orientation is toward a vision of music as an artistic, spatial, and social event, the temporal contours of which have been designed by the composer and filled in with preexisting musical material. The focus on space, Brant's main preoccupation, allows for a large dose of indeterminacy of detail with the elements dispersed within this space.

One of Brant's recent works, 500: Hidden Hemisphere (1992), reveals the evolution of his approach to spatial music. This piece was commissioned by Lincoln Center Out-Of-Doors in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to America. The commission specified the conditions of performance (out-of-doors at the North Plaza of Lincoln Center) as well as the instrumental forces to be used: three concert bands and an ensemble of Caribbean steel drums.(43) This near-homogeneous array of instrumental groups created a compositional problem, because Brant's spatial music presupposes sonorous contrasts. He would have preferred to "have all the trombones, and all the trumpets and all the clarinets and to make the groups that way," but he followed the conditions set forth in the commission and tried to make the three bands sound as different as possible. Brant also had reservations about performing music out-of-doors: "Performing out of doors is a risk. I do not like to do it, but sometimes it is feasible. Even under ideal conditions, you do not get a hundred percent of the sound, eighty percent is good. And sometimes it is less than that.... If there are people who say that they welcome the addition of low flying planes and fountains and traffic noise to the music I am not one of them."(44)

For this reason he planned 500: Hidden Hemisphere for a large indoor space, such as a church. According to instructions in the score, the bands should be "widely separated in a `points-of-the-compass' arrangement ... using the front, back and sides of the hall or church" (fig. 4a). However, at the first performance of the work at Lincoln Center on August 22-23, 1992, deployment of forces followed a variant of this scheme, limited by the shape of the performance space, which had a pond in the middle (fig. 4b). The bands were placed rather far apart by the walls of the buildings bordering the plaza, partly to strengthen the sonorities of the individual ensembles by sound reflections off the walls and partly to leave some space for the audience.

500: Hidden Hemisphere does not feature subtle spatial effects that depend upon exact placement of performers. Instead, the four bands play in different (and changing) tempt and meters throughout. The composition is divided into sixteen distinct, overlapping units, with titles that reflect their musical character and programmatic content. The music encompasses a variety of styles and textures, contrasting within individual sections as well as from one section to another. One might say, as does the anonymous author of the program notes for the premiere of 500: Hidden Hemisphere, that "the whole effect is one of cultures in collision."

Such a description is particularly appropriate for "Bazaar II" (section 9 of the work), which explores clashes of four different musical styles that are assigned to the four bands (ex. 5). In this section the following layers are presented simultaneously or alternatively in various combinations:

1. Chordal ostinato in A minor, in duple meter, and slow tempo (half note = 56 M.M.) in the Steel Drums;

2. Fast waltz in B-flat major in Band I (quarter note = 144 M.M.). The waltz is "mechanical, without Viennese lilt";

3. "Military" march (with snare drum) in D-flat major in Band II (quarter note = 112 M.M.);

4. Tango in C major in Band III (quarter note = 120 M.M.).

This type of spatial music calls for the Ivesian mode of listening, in which the listeners' attention may shift, at will, from one layer to another, from one point in space to another. For this reason, the musical layers are kept perceptually distinct by means of spatial separation. Brant's oft-declared lack of interest in musical coherence is severely tested in 500: Hidden Hemisphere.(45) Because of the constraints of the commission, the composer resorts to pitch repetitions and canons that emphasize the timbral similarity of distant wind bands. In "Relays" (section 5 of 500: Hidden Hemisphere), a melody played in unison by several wind instruments from the three bands--clarinets, English horns, bassoons, horns, tenor saxophones, and euphoniums--ends on a long-held note, waiting to be taken over and carried on by a melody played by another band (a literal "relay"). The use of canons within one ensemble or one spatial layer of the work is quite pervasive throughout all of grant's music, usually serving to thicken the texture. Canons between the distinct, spatially separated groups are much rarer because of the composer's principle of stylistic contrasts, the basis for his conception of spatial music. In the spatial canon of the three bands in "Trinities I and II," from 500: Hidden Hemisphere, Brant explores the timbral identity of distant sonorities. He describes the repetition of the same theme in turn by each of the three groups (ex. 6) as a "spatial canon," because "the spaces are in canon with each other, not just musical lines."(46)

500: Hidden Hemisphere does not contain much spatial experimentation or the unusual effects of Voyage Four or Millennium II, but the separation of groups is essential in this composition. The use of space also embraces the manipulation of sound direction by ordering the entries of individual groups. Brant uses all possible patterns: in the first section, "Conclaves," the piece begins with the anticlockwise direction of successive entries (Steel Drums, Band I, Band III, Band II),(47) and it ends in the final chords in "Dispersions" with an angular pattern of back-right-left-front (Steel Drums, Band I, Band II, Band III); the zig-zagging pattern of Band I, Band II, and Band III is also used in "Incantations" (section 3), "Relays," and "Fanfaronade" (section 7). grant's interest in creating geometric patterns of sound movement and his use of identical scoring for three of the four ensembles in 500: Hidden Hemisphere bring his work closer to the context of the spatial preoccupations of the European avant-garde, from which he is otherwise quite distant.(48)

Brant has not participated in the systematic search conducted by many avant-garde composers for new means of unifying musical structures. His spatial music has little in common with that of radical "structuralist" composers of spatial music such as Iannis Xenakis (e.g., Nomos Gamma [1968], for orchestra dispersed in the audience) or Pierre Boulez (e.g., Repons [1981-88], for six instrumental soloists, instrumental ensemble, and live electronics). Yet grant's compositions, influenced by American vernacular styles (including jazz and dance music) and the American experimental tradition (notably Charles Ives), contain an abundance of ideas, relating mostly to space but also to form, rhythm, and perceptual experience. Brant's music, built with simultaneous sound layers that contrast in many aspects (including spatial location), continues the line of development that commenced with Charles Ives. Later composers have explored the simultaneity of various musical processes that take place at different points of space. Their ideas of the coexistence of several distinct strands within a composition are rooted in polyphony. In grant's spatial music, distant groups of musicians perform strands of music that coexist without a common tonal denominator and, therefore, belong to separate "auditory streams."(49) At times one of the strands dominates and infuses the music with a sense of tonal belonging (for instance, in sections of Millennium II), but more often the tonalities of musical streams are selected for maximum contrast. The simultaneous juxtaposition of keys a semitone apart introduces constant dissonant clashes and reduces the tonal appeal of the individual layers. In this regard Brant follows an original path, a direction envisioned by Charles Ives in his boldest experiments with polytonality and musical layering in space. The discovery of this type of musical spatiality in the twentieth century is not synonymous with forsaking music's temporal nature and transforming it into a static analogue to painting. Rather, through the exploration of the co-presence of different and evolving musical strata, a full articulation of time an space becomes possible.


The first version of this article was presented at the Twentieth Annual Conference of the Sonneck Society for American Music on Apr. 7, 1994, in Worcester, Mass. This article is based on chapter 6 of my dissertation, "Space and Spatialization in Contemporary Music: History and Analysis, Ideas and Implementations" (Ph.D., McGill University, 1994).

(1.) Henry Cowell, "Henry grant," in American Composers on American Music: A Symposium, ed. H. Cowell (1933; repr., New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, by arrangement with Stanford University Press, 1962), 93-96.

(2.) Henry Brant, "Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition," in Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music, ed. Elliott Schwartz and Barney Childs (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), 221-42. For a history of musical spatialization see Harley, "Space and Spatialization." Other recent publications include Thuring Bram, ed., Musik und Raum. Eine Sammlung von Beitragen aus historischer und kunstlerischer Sicht zur Bedeutung des Begriffes "Raum" als Klangtrager fur die Musik (Baser: GS-Verlag, 1986), which contains articles by Bram, Hoffmann-Axthelm, Meyer, Eichenwald, Binkley, and Barthelmes; Francis Dhomont, ed., L'Espace du Son I, special issue of Lien: Revue d'Esthetique Musicale (Ohain, Belgium: Musiques et Recherches, 1988), containing articles by Vande Gorne, Dhomont, Risset, Bayle, and Chion; F. Dhomont, ed., L'Espace du Son I, special issue of Lien: Revue d'Esthetique Musicale (Ohain, Belgium: Musiques et Recherches, 1991), containing articles by Schafer, Parmegiani, Kupper, Boulez, and Smalley; Peter Szendy, ed., Espaces, Les Cahiers de l'IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique), Recherche et Musique, no. 5 (1994), containing articles by Lelong, Tarasti, Xenakis, Bayle, and Nunes.

(3.) Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Musik im Raum," Die Reihe, no. 5 (1959), trans. by Ruth Koenig as "Music in Space," Die Reihe (English ed.), no. 5 (1961): 67-82 (all references are to the English trans.); also published in Stockhausen, Texte zur elektronische und instrumental Musik, Bd. I. 1952-62 (Cologne: Verlag M. DuMont Schanberg, 1963). Stockhausen's best-known early spatial pieces are Gruppen fur drei Orchester (1955-57) and Carre, for four choirs and four orchestras (1959-60).

(4.) See David Nicholls, American Experimental Music, 1890-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

(5.) Henry Brant, Antiphony I, for symphony orchestra (New York: Carl Fischer, 1977), composed 1953, rev. 1968.

(6.) This formal similarity has been pointed out by Martina Homma, a German specialist on Lutoslawski's music (private communication, Nov. 1993).

(7.) Henry Brant, "The Uses of Antiphonal Distribution and Polyphony of Tempi in Composing," American Composers Alliance Bulletin 4, no. 3 (1955): 13-15 (passage quoted from p. 13.)

(8.) Seeger describes dissonant counterpoint in his treatise, "Tradition and Experiment in the New Music," 1930-31; the text is illustrated with examples written out and probably composed by Ruth Crawford (see Joseph N. Straus, The Music of Ruth Crawford Seeger [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995]; also Nicholls, American Experimental Music, 90).

(9.) Dorothy C. Drennan, "Relationship of Ensemble Dispersion to Structure in the Music of Henry Brant" (Ph.D. diss., University of Miami, 1975), 48. The idea of "oblique harmony" was introduced in Variations for Four Instruments and abandoned soon afterwards.

(10.) Nicholls, American Experimental Music, 64.

(11.) Brant, "Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition," 225.

(12.) Ibid., 223. Brant also experimented with performances of polychoral and polyphonic compositions from the Renaissance and the Baroque (e.g., Tallis, Gabrieli), and he was impressed by a performance of Berlioz's Requiem, op. 5, with brass ensembles separated in space.

(13.) Brant, "The Uses of Antiphonal Distribution and Polyphony," 13-15.

(14.) Brant, "Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition," 224.

(15.) Stockhausen, "Music in Space," 72-82.

(16.) The perception of distance in enclosed spaces depends also on the proportion of direct to reverberated sound; see, for instance, Jens Blauert, Spatial Hearing: The Psychophysics of Human Sound Localization, trans. from German by John S. Allen (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983).

(17.) Stockhausen, "Music in Space," 79, 82.

(18.) As proof that Stockhausen borrowed from his 1955 article, Brant refers to the unconfirmed source that Joan Peyser quotes in her biography Boulez (New York: Schirmer Books, 1976). According to that account, Stockhausen kept grant's text on his desk while working on Musik im Raum and his spatialized compositions.

(19.) Interview, Henry Brant with Maria Anna Harley, New York, Aug. 1992 (unpublished TS, 12, 13).

(20.) Cage observes that his brand of the new music is "not concerned with harmoniousness as generally understood, where the quality of harmony results from a blending of several elements. Here we are concerned with the co-existence of dissimilars, and the central points where fusion occurs are many: the ears of the listeners wherever they are" John Cage, "Experimental Music" [1957], 12; repr. in Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings [Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961], 7-12).

(21.) Charles Ives, "Music and Its Future," in American Composers on American Music, ed. Cowell, 193. This article is a slightly altered version of a lengthy footnote to the Conductor's Note for the second movement of the Fourth Symphony, first published in 1929 and reprinted in 1965. Since Cowell's article on Brant was published in the same volume, Ives's text must have been well known to the younger composer.

(22.) Ibid., 196, 191.

(23.) Henry Brant, Millennium II. Spatial Assembly for Separated Brass and Percussion Ensembles and High Voice (New York: Carl Fischer, 1978), composed in 1954.

(24.) Brant, "Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition," 238. The subsection "Travel and `filling-up' (density)" contains a diagram of a rectangular concert hall in which the musicians are located not on the stage but along the walls of the auditorium, while arrows point the order of sound entries from the front (left) to the back, to the right, to the front. A similar effect--of the "flood sound," defined by Jonathan Harvey as "a sound coming from one then successively from other loudspeakers thus gradually filling up the hall"--appears in Stockhausen's Kontakte (1960); see J. Harvey, The Music of Stockhausen (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975).

(25.) Drennan, "Relationship of Ensemble Dispersion to Structure," 15. Drennan's definition of sound axis is not related to any terms obtained from grant's writings, but draws instead from grant's explanation of the phenomenon of spill (see below, notes 35-36).

(26.) This form of sound movement differs from those used by Stockhausen and Xenakis. grant's "sound travel" proceeds stepwise, increasing the spatial extension of the music by the gradual addition of distinct melodies to the texture (which are extended from one point in space to the entire length of the wall, depending on the placement of the musicians). Xenakis focuses on the virtual sound motion created by dynamics: distant groups of the same timbre perform identical musical material with overlapping dynamic envelopes (crescendo--decrescendo), creating an impression that the sound moves continuously from one point in space to another (M. A. Harley, "Spatial Sound Movement in the Instrumental Music of Iannis Xenakis," Interface: Journal of New Music Research 23, no. 3 [Aug. 1994]: 291-314). This form of sound motion in instrumental music is based on the principle of intensity cues known from electroacoustics (M. A. Harley, "From Point to Sphere: Spatial Organization of Sound in Contemporary Music [after 1950]," Canadian University Music Review 13 [1993]: 123-44).

(27.) Quoted in Drennan, "Relationship of Ensemble Dispersion to Structure," 83.

(28.) Witold Lutoslawski, Jeux Venitiens (Celle: Moeck Verlag, 1962), composed for orchestra in 1961; see also Lutoslawski, "Rhythm and the Organization of Pitch in Composing Techniques Employing a Limited Element of Chance," Polish Musicological Studies 2, ed. Zofia Chechlinska and Jan Steszewski (Krakow, Poland: PWM Edition, 1986), 37-53.

(29.) Brant, "Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition," 234.

(30.) Diagram included in ibid. (score deposited at Carl Fischer does not include a placement plan).

(31.) Diagram of a distribution of the string section over four levels in the concert hall (basses--ground-floor level, cellos--first balcony, violas--second balcony, violins--third balcony) accompanies grant's description of the wall of sound: "If the players can be distributed vertically from floor to ceiling, playing simultaneously in an even spread over a substantial part of the area of an entire wall, the result, especially if the instruments are arranged vertically in order or pitch (lowest notes at lowest level, etc.) will be quite as hoped for" (Brent, "Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition," 231). The term "wall of sound" is not grant's; instead, he discusses this phenomenon in a group of similar sound effects under the subheading of "Projection."

(32.) Brant, "Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition," 232.

(33.) Ibid.

(34.) Brant's hostility toward electroacoustic music and amplification explains the almost total absence of electroacoustics from his output ("Space as an Essential Aspect of Musical Composition" includes a reference to one exception, a piece for tape titled St. Catherine's Wheel).

(35.) Brant maintains, "From experience, I would say that no space less than twenty feet is emphatic from the point of view of the audience. The distance of four or ten feet, when you are sitting in front of it, does not really cause a perception of space... The direction from the back of the hall to the front of the hall is the best; from ground level to the top balcony--that is also good. And, perhaps, distances half of that" (Interview, Brant with Harley, 5).

(36.) Drennan, "Relationship of Ensemble Dispersion to Structure," 47.

(37.) In a letter of July 30, 1996, Henry Brant reiterated his objections to my use of the word collage to describe his compositional method. Brant stated that "collage carries a suggestion of randomness quite alien to my practices. I prefer montage in its cinematic connotation of planned superimpositions."

(38.) Elliott Schwartz, "Henry Brant Embraces Amsterdam. The Holland Festival Sets His Music Afloat," High Fidelity/Musical America 34, no. 12 (Dec. 1984): 35-36.

(39.) Interview, Brant with Harley, 10.

(40.) Schwartz, "Henry Brant Embraces Amsterdam," 36.

(41.) Interview, Brant with Harley, 11.

(42.) Ibid.

(43.) For Brant the steel drum provides an association with Europe's first contact with the New World in the Caribbean. In fact steel bands did not exist in Columbus's time; they have emerged in the twentieth century as a result of the interaction between European and Caribbean cultures. grant's attitude to the celebration is clearly Western or Eurocentric, which is apparent in the title of his composition: before Columbus's time the Western Hemisphere was "hidden" for the Europeans, but not for its native inhabitants.

(44.) Interview, Brant with Harley, 8, 7.

(45.) "I try to avoid any musical relationship as much as I can. I think that this is what kills all music: there are so many things that are related that people are not listening to anything past the first minute because it all sounds the same" (ibid., 10).

(46.) Ibid., 8. Spatial canons are also used in Iannis Xenakis's Alax (1985), written for three identical ensembles.

(47.) That is Steel Drums, Band I, Band III, and Band II.

(48.) Cf. the geometric patterns of sound movement designed by Karlheinz Stockhausen in Carre (1959-60), for four choirs and four orchestras placed at the corners of a square, or Iannis Xenakis's use of mathematical functions to create "sound spirals" in Terrelektorh (1965-66), for orchestra scattered among the audience (Harley, "Space and Spatialization," 282-85).

(49.) Term borrowed from Albert S. Bregman, Auditory Scene Analysis: The Perceptual Organization of Sound (Cambridge, Mass.: Bradford Books, MIT Press, 1990).

Maria Anna Harley, born in Poland, studied musicology (M.A., 1986, University of Warsaw, Poland; Ph.D., 1994, McGill University, Montreal, Canada) and sound engineering (M.A., 1987, F. Chopin Academy of Music, Warsaw). After a postdoctoral fellowship at McGill University (1994-95), she was appointed assistant professor of music history and director of the Polish Music Reference Center at the School of Music of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles (fall 1996).


Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A19427603