Maryanne Amacher: Sound, Body, Space

Maryanne Amacher was an experimental sound artist who composed music and created site-specific sound installations. Early in her career she played music on multiple tape machines and mixed them live. She was interested in the experience and perception of sounds in particular spaces.

As Alvin Curran writes in her New York Time Obituary:

During that short visit Maryanne wanted me to hear a new work-in-progress that she was composing on tape. I sat dead-center between her two finely (obsessively) placed loudspeakers which she lamented were a disappointment; she hesitated, then started the tape. Pulsing sounds emerged from what seemed like every direction, began to circle my head, I thought I was hallucinating swarms of biological air, Maryanne was standing there looking at me with a knowing smile on her face. I said, “But how do you get the sound to circle my head, to move in back of me as well as in front of me?” She said, coyly, something like, “Well, I really don’t know but I am working on it.” Then we both broke up as if we were stoned.


Living sound, for “Sound-joined Rooms” series (1980).

“I produced my first large scale multichannel installation/performance in the MUSIC FOR SOUND-JOINED ROOMS Series, Living Sound, Patent Pending (Traveling Musicians Being Prepared) for the Walker Arts Center, during the New Music America Festival, Minneapolis-St. Paul (June 7-14 1980). The music and visual sets were staged architecturally, throughout the nearly empty Victorian house of the conductor Dennis Russell Davies and filmaker, Molly Davies. The visual elements gave clues to a story discovered in the different rooms, and in the outside garden. The house, on a hill in St. Paul with its panoramic view of Minneapolis, was lit by tall quartz spots, as if a movie set. The time: midnight. Davies’ music room, where two grand pianos had been, was now an “emergent music laboratory,” where 21 petri dishes with “something” growing in them (the musicians and instruments of the future) were placed beside metal instrument cases marked Fragile: “traveling musicians being prepared” and “the molecular orchestra”; TV story boards refering to “symbiotic aids,” biochemical companions tailored to enhance neurophonic recognition; “making new scores.” DNA photos and biochemical diagrams were placed on music stands. Meanwhile, the entire house was full of sound, circulating throughout the rooms, out the doors and windows, down the hill, past sedate Victorian mansions. I was thrilled to discover that the law to patent life forms (the Diamond V. Chakrabarty decision) followed a few days later. As the possibilities of biocomputers and emerging media approach, perhaps this work was not as much fantasy as it may have seemed at the time.”
– from

Artist Statement

In a departure from frontally staged concert and theater productions, an entire building or series of rooms provides a stage for the sonic and visual sets of my installations. In Music for Sound Joined-Rooms, and Mini-Sound Series I use the architectural features of a building to customize sound, visual, and spatial elements, creating multi-dimensional environment-oriented experiences, anticipating virtual immersion environments. As the audience moves through new scenes being created by the “Sound Characters,” they navigate the expanded dimensions of a sonic world that is staged throughout the architectural site, an entire building, or its rooms. The idea is to create an atmosphere that gives the drama of being inside a cinematic close-up, a form of “sonic theater” in which architecture magnifies the sensorial presence of experience. Rooms, walls, and corridors that sing. I produce these works in location-based installations/performances that are built from “structure borne” sound (sound propagated through walls, floors, rooms, corridors), which acousticians distinguish from the “airborne” sound distributed by loudspeakers only. Creating the detailed sound design is very much like scripting a sonic choreography. In some episodes sound sweeps through the rooms; in others, chords and tonalities are intricately joined between the rooms; in still others, a particular sound shape is emphasized to animate sonic imaging of a distant room. The rooms themselves become speakers producing sound which is felt throughout the body as well as heard.

Synaptic Island
Exploring acoustics, perceptual psychology, architecture, and computer technology, Synaptic Islands creates a space where the listener becomes the vibrating instrument in a transformed environment. The music is engineered as sound, felt throughout the body, as well as heard. We might naively assume that professional musicians need only to know how to count, recognize, and name notes, tones, and chords, etc., but are not really concerned with describing them physically, to be able to experience what is inside the sounds – what they are as energy – all the complex and interesting events take place within the timbres.
– Amacher, ‘Synaptic Island: A Psybertonal Topology’, Architecture as a Translation of Music. Ed. Elizabeth Martin. Canada: Princeton Architectural Press. 1994. pps. 32 – 35. p. 32.

“when played at the right sound level, which is quite high and exciting, the tones in this music will cause your ears to act as neurophonic instruments that emit sounds that will seem to be issuing directly from your head […] Do not be alarmed! Your ears are not behaving strange or being damaged. These virtual tones are a natural and very real physical aspect of auditory perception, similar to the fusing of two images resulting in a third three dimensional image in binocular perception.” 
– Amacher. Sound Characters (Making the third ear). Liner notes. New York: Tzadik. 1999

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