You may love this stuff—or you may hate it. Either way it’s inspiring. She kept searching, into her mid-60s and beyond, for new sounds.
Maryanne Amacher, February 23, 1938-October 22, 2009
day trip maryanne/excerpts (2003, with Thurston Moore and Jim O’Rourke)
. . . unequivocally one of the greatest music-makers of the 20th century — a title she would have mocked and laughed at, but cherished in quiet . . .
—Alvin Curran, “The Score: In Memory of Maryanne Amacher,” New York Times (blog), 12/27/09
“Maryanne is one of the best kept secrets of the Cage/Tudor scene,” says Paul D Miller aka DJ Spooky. “She was one of the first people of that set to really deal with heavy bass, electronic bass, crazy bass.” Rhys Chatham is also quick to sing her praises. Meeting her at Morton Subotnick’s studio when he was still in his teens, she “became a kind of role model for me of what a composer should be,” he remarks. “I’ve always been inspired by Maryanne, and her work had a profound influence of the music I made in the 70s and 80’s.”
Amacher’s first major work dates back to 1967’s City Links series, which continues (in theory) to the present day. In 22 separate pieces, sounds from one or more distant urban environments were transmitted in real-time via telelinks to an exhibition space as a continuous sound installation. All kinds of locales were used, harbours, steel mills, factories, airports, etc. In City Links 15, sounds from New York, Boston and Paris were mixed in a live broadcast at WBAI in New York and then further transmitted to Radio France Musique in Paris – Long before the internet made such intercontinental practices common. “I was particularly interested in the experience of ‘Synchronicity’, hearing spaces distant from each other at the same time, which we do not experience in our lives,” she explains, noting that quite often a “flurry of activity” would occur in two different places at the same time. One example is the piece No More Miles, in which she placed a microphone in a Budget Rent-A-Car unit in an indoor arcade in Minneapolis, which was the acoustic double of the exhibitions space’s acoustics: voices, footsteps and other sounds completely matched those heard in the gallery. Visiting the gallery, you would hear the sounds produced by the installation as though people were moving and talking around you, like, “ghosts in the otherwise silent space She took the idea further by installing a microphone on a window overlooking the ocean at the New England Fish Exchange in Boston Harbour, transmitting the sound into her home studio continuously, sometimes using it as an element in other performances or exhibitions of City Links. “I would come in and it would be different according to different weather and changes,” Amacher told interview Leah Durner in 1989. “I learned a lot about shapes and I realised why I was doing this: in regular music you don’t have any models to learn about spatial aspects of music. Usually the performers are on stage, or the music’s on a record, and you don’t really hear things far away or close up: you don’t hear things appearing or disappearing, and all the shapes that emerge from this.” She lived with the live transmission for three years. “I actually miss coming home to it,” she says now, some 20 years later.
I ask Maryanne what her early influences were. It transpires that, years before, she’d put her ear next to a cymbal and wanted to investigate what made up the wash of sound that it produced. . . . She insists that the music is supposed to “make you feel good” . . . Unlike most ‘noise’ musicians, the ineffable roar of her pieces is not an expression of rage, pain nor despair—it’s ecstatic and celebratory.
—Alan Licht, “Maryanne Amacher: Expressway to Your Skull,” The Wire (3/99)
It’s unfortunate that music is still presented as it was in the 19th century, frontally, instead of finding new ways of presenting events. There should be fantastic buildings for musical and sound productions. Not just a lot of speakers, but a really extraordinary architecture that you find your way in, that evolves. This will happen because there is a need for it.
Most music amounts to a rearrangement of the figures and patterns of other men’s music, in a personalized sequence of time. In order to go beyond that, you’ll need to begin with the physical spectrum itself, with effects based on a very precise knowledge of the listening mind.