Extremities: Maryanne Amacher

Aural Architecture

Frank J. Oteri: Some of the words you’ve used to describe your work are: architecture, choreography, and neurobiology. You’re really using sound architecturally. That’s sort of a different construction. Music historically and culturally seems to exist as a social behavior that occurs over time. What my ears are hearing seems more like a sonic architecture occurring in space rather than developing over time.

Maryanne Amacher: I actually do think of it more as an aural architecture. I think of it quite literally in terms of architecture itself. When I’m able to have the opportunity to make a large installation, I learn the acoustics of the place, and I can work in more than one room: I may have 6, I may have 4, I may have 7 rooms, or the entire structure. All of that began not because I had a fixed notion. Really it began because I hated loudspeakers. I was working in electronic media, so it was quite a contradictory thing. I was always interested in the spatial aspects of sound. I discovered that maybe if I put the speaker in there [points to the kitchen]—the way that you heard it from another room became much more rewarding. I could make a virtual meta-space, so you wouldn’t get the sense of these [gestures to a nearby loudspeaker] boxes.

Frank J. Oteri: In terms of the space that you’re creating for a listener, to some extent the listener creates his or her own space because there’s no predetermined path. If you have sound coming out of 6 rooms…

Maryanne Amacher: No, it’s like a sonic choreography. I have to think of the scenario, otherwise everyone would just walk around and the experience would not be vivid. Usually on a large work, I work there for three weeks. It’s like creating a narrative. I realized that there were sonic characters and they could appear and interact with each other.

It’s very interesting how people walk in a main space. How do they know something is part of the composition? Maybe you pass out something and half the people don’t read it. I might have something in a distant room that draws them to it. I’m always performing between these rooms. I still maintain that I like the intensity of this directness of performing, even though the installation is all the work that went in beforehand.

Frank J. Oteri: So what constitutes a performance? What is a performance?

Maryanne Amacher: It’s just me mixing. Of course there are visual elements, and the performance with the people, that’s what I’m talking about. I’m mixing live and I’m connecting with an audience rather than just having this on a hard drive.

Frank J. Oteri: And the mixing that you’re doing, you’re responding to the audience as they are there, so there is an element of improvisation to it, if you would? How much of it is predetermined?

Maryanne Amacher: See that’s when you get into this funny area. [laughs] Music is crazy… it’s insane. Of course I’m improvising. But I’m not improvising the notes.

Frank J. Oteri: Right. The notes are there, prerecorded.

Maryanne Amacher: Yes, or else I might be making them with samplers or something, but I’m not having the notes come out of my head. What I’m doing is, again, dealing with these perceptual degrees, degrees of sensitivity, degrees of intensity, and things like that. Not the notes because you can play something a million different ways.

Frank J. Oteri: In a weird sort of way you’re almost doing what a conductor does with an orchestra. Bringing out the woodwinds in a certain passage, etc…

Maryanne Amacher: Yes. I never thought of it that way, but it is like that because the basic music is in a way very raw. It’s nothing without the oomph. I mean I’ve come back from these works to where we’re sitting now and it takes me over a month to be able to even hear. I have learned what I’ve been able to learn because I have worked in these situations.

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