Remembering Maryanne Amacher, A Sound Character

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Maryanne Amacher in July 2009

On July 15, Maryanne Amacher fell on the campus of Bard College and suffered a head injury causing bleeding of the brain. Her friends from the area around Kingston, New York, and the Bard campus (where Maryanne had taught summer classes) including instructors such as Richard Teitelbaum and Bob Bielecki came to her aid, as they had done in the past. Her students from the master’s program made food and spent time with her in the hospital to make sure she was well taken care of and that the staff understood that she was a bit “special.” Her friend and the curator of the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) in Troy, New York, Micah Silver, put together a way for Maryanne’s friends to communicate online, and her dear friend Robert The lead the charge in making sure her care was as good as possible and that her friends knew when visiting hours were. He essentially guided Maryanne from this realm to whatever waits beyond, with as much dignity and love as was possible.

Maryanne could be a challenging person in many ways. She lived in financial poverty in a massive three story home on 2.5 acres in Kingston, New York. The house was in such terrible repair that most of it was uninhabitable and it is probably not salvageable. She had boxes of papers piled almost to the ceiling in places. These boxes were full of ideas from projects past, present, and future. (Her work is thankfully being cataloged and rescued by Robert The and Micah Silver.) The main living space had blankets covering windows for insulation and dark areas of mold on the ceiling from years of water leaking in two stories above. A section of ceiling in the unused main parlor had fallen on a grand piano rendering it useless (or maybe prepared). She was both grateful for help repairing her house and might also get angry at you while doing work on it to make it livable (an ordeal I went through on a few occasions). It seemed to be a rite of passage for many of her friends to get yelled at while helping her. One always ended up a closer friend afterward.

A bank of old oscillators formed sort of a command central that was her mixing and music suite at the center of her living space. The music that came out of those speakers was unique and unlike any these ears had heard from any other composer. The volume could be deafening and seemingly emanate from different points at the same time. You might feel as if things were physically happening to the space around you, almost like beings were trying to emerge from the sounds. The volume levels could also be low and the effects calming as well. In this respect her music was much like she was, very loving and friendly or a bit of a firecracker.

Maryanne was her own artist and seemed to thrive best on her own. She was never easily pinned down with a group, although her creative environment included such artistic greats as John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and David Behrman, to name a few, and she was a member of Musica Elettronica Viva in 1970. She has been cited by Rhys Chatham as one of his main influences and many artists talk about being profoundly affected by her work and ideas.

Maryanne lived in relative obscurity, lessened by the releases of two Sound Character CDs on John Zorn’s Tzadik label, as well as her writing in his Arcana series. There is also day trip maryanne, a film made with Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore that is available on Youtube, and which has helped bring her work to the attention of a new younger crowd. My sons and their friends in Detroit knew about her and had her Tzadik releases. A long overdue acknowledgment is beginning to emerge.

Maryanne was a wonderful friend in my life, and I will never forget her or her unique ways. We sat and spoke about sounds in her living room laboratory. Most recently we were thinking about and listening to the sounds made by the so-called “booming dunes,” sands dunes that create wonderful low frequency drones when triggered by small land or sand slides. She came to my son’s high school graduation party and ate a surprising amount for a woman who only tipped the scales at 85 pounds. All washed down with glasses of wine. She put on headphones and listened to a 76-minute long piece I had made around the low frequencies of explosions on the shore of the Hudson River in Kingston. She had trouble getting up on her own after listening, and her friend Jeffrey Benjamin who had brought her, had to help her get up. I was concerned about her waning strength. She fell one week later. No one knew the extent of her injuries, least of all Maryanne. She was determined to get out of the hospital and rehab centers and get back to work, even angrily referring to me and a few others as cowards for not picking her up and escaping out the window or down the hall in a laundry hamper with her. She was going to convert my house into a sound rehab center. She was not going down without a fight. Then the stroke came and she got quiet. Her friends kept coming and emailing to show their love and support, but she reached the end and at about 9:30 in the morning on October 22, 2009, Maryanne Amacher died.

I sent an email to John Zorn and he replied with a sentiment that seemed to sum up many people’s hopes for Maryanne: “god bless her…and may god grant her peace!”