Extremities: Maryanne Amacher

The Role of Music

Frank J. Oteri: The work you do inhabits its own unique realm that is sometimes quite at odds with most of the presentational aspects we take for granted with most music: it’s really not meant to be listened to the same way in time, in space or in volume…So, how you feel about describing your work as music? How does it fit in with the history of music of the past and how it points to the music of the future?

Maryanne Amacher: Well that’s a difficult question [laughs]. Are you thinking of concert music?

Frank J. Oteri: I’m thinking of the role that music has had in society, the relationship people have to is as listeners, the context of concerts, recordings, how it’s assimilated, how it’s taught, how it’s learned, how it’s acculturated in different societies… What you’re doing seems to be somehow beyond that. Obviously it uses sound, tone, and timbre, but it’s doing something else.

Maryanne Amacher: I think I know how I can discuss that with you, but first I’m wondering if you’re thinking more of concerts because occasionally people react and say, “Oh, this is a real experience…” because of the staging and presentation. I guess it’s also because of the music, but I’m interested in making a very different situation for people. From the very beginning, I wanted to do experiential work. I was working with electronic means, therefore I could sit and observe various things. I could try to understand more about what was happening to my ears, to my body, all over.

I think I do music because I’m trying to understand. The ear-tones that I played for you are referred to as otoacoustic emissions. I heard those very early on when I was beginning to work, so I wanted to create a kind of music where the listener actually has vivid experiences of contributing this other sonic dimension to the music—the music that their ears are making. I’ve become very involved with situations like that. My approach is more like in science. This is not to say that music is not emotional and everything else. I sit and listen and I hear things, then I discover how I can expand them or increase them and try to understand them. I think of them as perceptual geographies actually. “Ways of Hearing”—how we hear things far away; how we hear things close. How suddenly in your head there almost is sound, continuing and continuing. It’s particularly effective after very strong sections with enormously long fades, but it has to be done in such a way that the sonic shapes are lingering in your mind afterwards.

I believe a lot of music, particularly as it developed from the past, was really a rearrangement of the figures of other men’s music—I’m not talking about sampling—but it’s just snatching little things and doing your own personalized sequence in time. Whereas, I think my tendency was to become much more involved in the so-called physics—I don’t like the word psychoacoustics—both of music and how our perceptual experience changes when sounds are just traveling around here and it sounds like it’s miles away, when it seems like it’s only in your head…

Frank J. Oteri: You studied with Stockhausen and he was certainly a forerunner of the work you do. He was one of the pioneers of having multiple speakers and later, he did a work that was an entire house, every room had different music happening on it.

Maryanne Amacher: I think I was fortunate in that the first electronic music I heard was in Cologne on multiple speakers. Being a fan of Varèse, I immediately connected to imagining the spacialization of sound, and then to have had the wonderful opportunity to study a little bit with Stockhausen, it was just incredible.

Frank J. Oteri: But at the same time, there’s something so human about the music that you’re creating and how people’s ears are responding. It’s so fundamentally human in some ways even though it’s all created with machines, with electronics. There’s something wonderfully contradictory and beautiful about that. This is somehow a music that could only be created in our lifetime. Maybe you could get strings or the human voice to do this…

Maryanne Amacher: Of course.

Frank J. Oteri: But that’s not what you do. Is that something you’d be interested in doing?

Maryanne Amacher: Well, of course I could but the advantage for me is I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me that they’re machines or computers but I think what was of value was the possibility of being able to work this way, that you do sound explorentally—you could sit and listen and observe things, observe shapes.

There is a situation when you have architecture as I’m describing it—physical architecture, these larger spaces. It is a very communal thing and because of the dimensions of the space itself connecting to the music in the way it does, it creates a very liberating experience. I mean, people dance. It’s very different than if you’re in a small place or particularly if you’re keeping your seat.

Frank J. Oteri: There’s something sort of imprisoning about sitting in a concert hall and having to be quiet.

Maryanne Amacher: Well it’s not even that. I think it’s known that you actually experience sound better when you move, which also connects to dancing.

Frank J. Oteri: When you were playing your work for us you said make sure to move all around.

Maryanne Amacher: Yeah, and it’s fun to move your head and to kind of dance.

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