Extremities: Maryanne Amacher

All-Time Music

Frank J. Oteri: I’d like to get back to your essay in the book about Cage after what you just said about listening to something for 24 hours. This is one of the things that really got me very excited about talking to you and there’s this quote that appears in that same essay that reinforced it. You wrote: “As the possibilities of all-sound music of the future were to Cage, the possibilities of all-time music are to me. In theory, years, weeks, days minutes, seconds will be possible.” So there no longer needs to be this notion of a piece of music, a string quartet that’s half an hour long, or a three-minute pop song, or a two or three-hour opera. Your music seems to exist beyond time; it’s not really about time, at least not in a metrical sense…

Maryanne Amacher: Not that kind of time, it’s more like the time in life when something appears and disappears and maybe you don’t hear it again for a half hour, you may not hear it for an hour. Suddenly a boat appears after five hours and it gets closer and closer, you know, and makes an approach. It’s time like that because we have the means now to do that.

Frank J. Oteri: But when you create a work you don’t think about whether something is going to last 20 minutes or 2 hours? Or do you?

Maryanne Amacher: Well, as a composer I am fascinated by this. I see what I wrote about in that article as really an expansion of even classical music, of phrase structure. We used to call it the elemental line. It’s like you’re trapped, one thing has to come after another. It was always my obsession to get out of the elemental line. I studied medieval metaphysics and I used to try to think of ways of making a macrostructure. Particularly, if you’re trained as a musician you do this or that because this is the right note to play and it’s all based on habit. I did a psycho-analysis of all my musical habits in order to try to stretch them. How you decide what comes after which is another arbitrary thing. It’s more effective with these after-sounds if you let the sound go completely out of the head, which could last eight minutes or longer. You know I once did that in a work with Merce Cunningham. It was such a glorious kind of experience…

Frank J. Oteri: Last season, as part of the all-David Lang concert at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, Alarm Will Sound performed The Passing Measures which lasts for about an hour or so. At the end of the piece, the conductor stopped and didn’t signal it was over, and there was this silence for maybe two minutes.

Maryanne Amacher: …Oh, that’s beautiful…

Frank J. Oteri: After about two minutes somebody finally broke it by starting to clap. But for those two minutes, time stood still. That silence at the end I thought was the most stunning music I had ever heard live in a concert hall. And it was incredible because it wasn’t silence, it was a lingering uncertainty…I love David’s piece but for me the silence was even better than the piece.

Maryanne Amacher: Because you had time, and it is true. There is a part of timing when one thing ends and another thing begins that actually is another thing that as composers we should be probably more conscious of manipulating and controlling.

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