Ruth Dockwray

Signifying Space: The Sound-Box

Stereophony has significantly impacted the way songs are produced and experienced, enabling the creation of a virtual performance that exists exclusively on the record. This virtual performance can be conceptualised in terms of Allan Moore’s ‘sound-box’, a four-dimensional virtual space, within which, sounds can be located according to: laterality within the stereofield; perceived proximity to a listener; perceived pitch-height of sound-sources; and time.
The spatial location of sounds in recordings and the use of space within the ‘sound-box’ can have a significant impact on the potential meanings of a track. In certain tracks for example, lead vocalists may appear to be positioned in a different space to that of the accompaniment and seem to be located close to the listener. The type of space and vocal staging experienced by the listener is an important factor in the interpretation of popular music tracks and can also suggest possible interpersonal distances between the listener and lead vocal, drawing from Edward Hall’s theory of proxemics.
This paper will demonstrate the usefulness of the sound-box as an analytical tool and outline some of the various sound-box mixes including the ‘normative’ mix, which was gradually established during the period from the mid-60s to the early 70s. It will also illustrate how the combination of sonic placement within the sound-box and aural descriptors can be used as a basis for proxemic analysis.