Indicative Fields

Denis Smalley
Date of publication: 

The term Indicative Fields and Indicative Networks were coined by Denis Smalley in his chapter The Listening Imagination: Listening in the Electroacoustic Era, which can be found in the Companion to Contemporary Musical Thought Vol 1, to describe relationships within music that can be perceived as mimetic or even considered semiotically. Indicative Fields are not merely messages, events or information; they can also relate to experience outside of music. (Smalley 1993: 521).

The concept of the indicative field and the indicative network has been created to explain the links between human experience and the listener’s apprehension of sound materials in musical contexts. (Smalley 1993: 521)

The term fields is used to describe one of the nine identified Indicative fields, whereas networks is used to describe a central field and its direct relation to others that form its character. A hypen is used to denote whether one is referring to a field or a network e.g. utterance-field vs. utterance-network.

The Nine Fields

Smalley identifies nine fields: gesture, utterance, behaviour, energy, motion, object/substance, environment, vision and space. He describes gesture, utterance and behaviour as archetypal and "original universals"(Smalley 1993: 521). Smalley states that these fields are not "autonomous" and do not exist "inside or outside music without overlapping other fields" (Smalley 1993: 521).


Within the concept of Indicative fields gesture relates to what Smalley terms as the energy-motion trajectory and his previous writings on Gesture and Surrogacy. As an archetypal indicative field it is linked to the human body specifically with proprioceptive perception of body tensions (effort and resistance).


As an archetypal indicative field and similarly to gesture utterance is linked to the human body and therefore is an "essential vehicle of personal expression and communication" (Smalley 1993: 525). As with gesture it is articulated through the energy-motion trajectory. However, the relationship between listener and utterance is often reflexive and not indicative.


The field behaviour is closely related to his terminology within his writings on Spectromorphology. The field can be defined by two pairs of oppositions: dominance/subordination andconflict/coexistence. A third major area of behaviour is causality, specially how one sound event can change a preexisting event, or trigger a new event entirely.

Energy and Motion

As detailed within his writings on Spectromorphology it is hard to separate energy from motion. The energy-field is "distributed by pitch-space creating a spectral texture which can vary between compaction and dispersal (Smalley 1993: 528), whereas motion-field "exists on a variety of time-scales and at a variety of structural levels"(Smalley 1993: 528).


Rather than referring to the sound object, as discussed within Schaefferian theory, the object/substance field identifies three ways a sound could be considered as an object: 
• By using, simulating or alluding to sounding materials.
• By types of motion that suggest analogies with an objects motion.
• By attributing morphologies without reference to real materials, so long as there is a semblance of a plausible gestural origin (Smalley 1993: 529).



The vision-field "embraces both kinetic and static phenomena", such as the "textural design of textiles or rock formations" that could all be part of the listener's indicative reference-bank(Smalley 1993: 530).


Smalley separates the space-field into three main areas: 
• The use of space to articulate sounds and musical structures. 
• The articulation of the composed spatial content in public performance.
• The affective interpretation of space (Smalley 1993: 530).


SMALLEY, D. (1993) The Listening Imagination: Listening in the Electroacoustic Era. In PAYNTER, J. et al. Companion to Contemporary Musical Thought Vol 1 London, Routledge, pp. 514-554.