Maryanne Amacher

Last changed: 2009/02/07 18:49 


Jérôme Joy

Note :
Notes de lecture

Maryanne Amacher (1943 - ...)

  • (excerpt of Background Noise, Perspectives on Sound Art, Brandon Labelle, 2006 - page 170)

Her projects mirror much of Neuhaus's strategies, from early works using telephone lines to relocate live sounds from one location to another, to music performances staged across a dispersed environment, and to her interest in sound phenomena and the activation of heightened listening experiences. Amacher's work articulates the driving force behind much sound installation. Through working with technology and extended systems of sound amplification, her focus is led to a deeper concern for architecture and geographic location. Started in 1967 and ending in 1980, her City Links series consisted of installing microphones at given locations and feeding these sounds to another, distant location to create synchronicities of different places. From the Buffalo Airport to Boston Harbor, the City Links series exposed to Amacher the tone of place : In regular music, you don't have any models to learn about spatial aspects because usually the performers are on stage or the music's on a record and you don't really hear things far away and you don't hear things close-up and you don't hear nothings and you don't hear things appearing and disappearing and all these kinds of shapes that emerge from this. Broadcasting using FM transmission or through 15kc telephone link, AMacher could listen to the distant and the proximate, the sound environment as a complex spatial event in which and then something comes through, acoustic shapes dancing, a sonic play of various characters. One such installation work lasted for three years and consisted of a microphone installed at Pier 6 in Boston Harbor and fed directly to her studio at MIT. Over the course of its installation, Amacher lived with the sounds of Boston Harbor, hearing all its rhythms and voices, the tone of the place, which Amacher identified as hovering around a low F-sharp, or 92 Hz. It could have been coming from anything and I wasn't making a scientific analysis to know exactly what was producing this tone, bat that was the tone of this space, really; the color of it. The tone of the place led Amacher to develop and elaborate her installation works into expansive sound environments specifically drawing upon architectural space. (her series of works Music for Sound_Joined Rooms started from 1980).

  • In 1967, she created City Links: Buffalo, a 28 hour piece using 5 microphones in different parts of the city, broadcast live by radio station WBFO. Her pieces are almost exclusively site specific, the psychoacoustic illusions she creates being determined by the acoustics of the architecture.
  • An innovator in exploring sonic telepresence, Amacher has pioneered the use of telecommunication in sound installations. She is known internationally for her dramatic architectural staging of music and sound. Her work includes three series of multimedia installations produced in the United States, Europe and Japan: "City Links," "Music for Sound Joined Rooms" and "Mini-Sound Series."
  • Her numerous works have explored the interface between the acoustic properties of specific spaces and the perceptions of those who pass through them, whilst her experiments in 'sonic telepresence' have composed the aural geographies of dispersed spaces into evolving, networked soundscapes. Here Maryanne will combine her interest in sound in space with an interrogation of the possibilities opened by new media, suggesting that we now face unprecedented potential for creating 'multidimensional immersive aural architectures' - whilst never forgetting how sonic space may be both transformative and enjoyed.
  • A composer of vast, space-specific sonic panoramas at crushingly loud volumes, Amacher defies containment and commodification.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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 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 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. 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. I'm very interested in what are called second order effects in psychoacoustics, which are not the ear phenomena when you tune very close—when you do it with unison it has to be binaural or else you just get beats—but when the beats disappear and you get closer and closer to the 3rd or the 5th or whatever interval and it turns into a shape. I've always been very preoccupied with these different shapes, and of course I have particular frequencies I like, too. But it's the shapes, when it gets really slow and huge, and you're not hearing the beats but it is a beat frequency that's producing the shape. It's something that I've experienced, again, only because I work experientially. (Extremities: Maryanne Amacher in Conversation with Frank J. Oteri - The Problem with Recordings Published: May 1, 2004 - )
  • My first work was doing more or less pure installation work with these City Links pieces in which I brought in remote sounds. I had microphones in different remote environments and brought up those sounds in the gallery or museum or wherever. It also involved performance. The sound was alive and it came through high quality telephone lines—people always thought I was playing a cassette. It was just hard for them to realize at that time that this was actually live sound. It was also very interesting to have more than one location and the kind of simultaneous synchronic things that would happen. You know, there are no laws. (Extremities: Maryanne Amacher in Conversation with Frank J. Oteri - The Problem with Recordings Published: May 1, 2004 - Friday, April 16, 2004—4-5 p.m. Kingston, New York - ) et

* From: maryanne-list(at)

* Subject: SenseSonic Session 5 :: Maryanne Amacher

* Date: 13 July 1999




It is with special pleasure that we welcome Maryanne Amacher to Session 5

of the SenseSonic digest. Described as 'the best kept secret in American

New Music' by The Wire (March 99), Maryanne studied with Karlheinz

Stockhausen at the University of Pennsylvania before going on to compose

works with John Cage and Merce Cunningham in the 1970s. Her numerous works

have explored the interface between the acoustic properties of specific

spaces and the perceptions of those who pass through them, whilst her

experiments in 'sonic telepresence' have composed the aural geographies of

dispersed spaces into evolving, networked soundscapes. Here Maryanne will

combine her interest in sound in space with an interrogation of the

possibilities opened by new media, suggesting that we now face

unprecedented potential for creating 'multidimensional immersive aural

architectures' - whilst never forgetting how sonic space may be both

transformative and enjoyed.

Send comments and questions for Maryanne and other subscribers

to the SenseSonic list to

      • ************************************************************

Today media exist which begin to match the range and subtlety of our

perceptual modes. As a result of recent advances in multisensorial and

immersive technologies, new visual and aural experiences are being

explored, some unlike any past experiences, particularly those being

created for converging media and telepresence platforms.

As immersive technologies expand and grow to mirror the sensitivity of our

responsive energies, will sound art delve consciously into these expanded

sensitivites? Consider two basic examples resulting from advances in

digital audio technologies: dynamic range and spatial dimension. Much of

the music circulating the world is still based on the limited capacity of

the recording technology available for Lp records having a dynamic range of

40db, compared to digital's 120db. With today's "technologies of presence"

we are able to experience multidimensional immersive aural architectures in

which sonic imaging is perceived from many different spatial orientations,

in large public spaces, and in homes with emerging multispeaker systems.

Hardware is no longer the problem. (Although I really wish loudspeakers

could rise out of their mechancial souls!)

The real need is to explore new ways in which intelligent interfaces can be

created which respond, enhance, and communicate with sonic perceptual

information being processed by the listener, in addition to sonic

information produced acoustically. It is important to fully realize, that

with the experiential nature of current technologies we are able for the

first time to effectively distinguish between acoustic information and

perceptual information, and consciously create for these dimensions.

"CREATING PRESENCE," Part 1 of this session will address the mapping of

"perceptual geographies" for new media: exploring scenarios and

vocabularies for staging multidimensional sonic worlds, and possibilities

for individualizing sonic imaging for listeners and for spaces.

"Creating Presence" is in response to Drew's questions:

>Are spatial effects and distributed sound destined to remain the preserve

of isolated art installations, or might they have a place in the venue and

PA design of tomorrow?

> D.H. will explore the grey area between club and installation,

considering the extent to which innovations devised primarily for art

installations can work in a club context.

I believe that many of the spatial applications now used mainly in art

installations can have exciting larger lives in many different situations.

Perhaps one of the problems is that often the isolated art installation is

not created as a compelling, transformative experience! There may be a real

appreciable lack of "presence" in this world, so that people have little to

respond or interact with. Experience is abstract, synaptic modulations

totally weak!

And this certainly has much to do with how perceptual information is

presented. It is very hard to resist good compelling beats, perceptually.

They are on target and there are no questions of their direct neural

effects! They create a really vivid world that everyone enters, with full

sensorial presence. I map "perceptual geographies" in the immersive aural

architectures I create because I want to target certain specific spatial

effects with the kind of compelling unquestionable, sensorial focus that

emerges in a beat environment. WAYS OF HEARING — how we locate, sense and

feel sonic events — are the specific factors which characterize experience

in immersive sonic environments; how we particularize acoustic information

to construct distinct transformative experiences. HOW CERTAIN SOUNDS ARE TO


SOUNDS THEMSELVES. What perceptual modes they trigger - where and how they

will exist for the listener. In creating 3D Music-Image Worlds, ways of

hearing become as important in shaping an aural architecture as the

acoustic information: such as frequencies, tone colors, and rhythms:

"Will certain sounds be locatable, seem miles away, feel close, pulsate

vertically above our head, vibrate an elbow, suddenly appear in the space,

dramatically disappear as though without a sound? Do we perceive the sound

in the room, in our head, a great distance away: do we experience all three

dimensions clearly at the same time? In the room, does the sound drift,

float, fall like rain? Does it make such a clear shape in the air we seem

to "see it" in front of our eyes? Is there no sound in the room at all, but

we continue to hear "after-sound" as our mind is processing sonic events

perceived minutes ago? Do we experience sonic imaging very near, moving

beside (outside and around) one ear only: "feel" patterns as they in fact,

do originate and develop quite specifically inside, within our ears.....?"

Taking VR (virtual reality) and telepresence as points of departure, it is

interesting to consider cross-sensory explorations between stereo visual

imaging and auditory dimension. After images. Thresholds. Physiological

resonances. Acoustic spaces of felt sound phenomena, experienced either

subliminally, or making recognizably direct physical resonances to the

body. Composite mental images of immersion in space, as in stereo vision;

direct physiological experience of an acoustic space, as distinguished from

the perception of an acoustic space, aurally, as "image."

The next installment of "Creating Presence" will discuss the staging of

some specific SONIC SHAPES and MOVEMENTS, and how they may appear in both

foreground and background structures.

In the meantime pick up your copy of J.G. Ballard's "Vermillion Sands" and

enter what may be the first virtual world with total "presence" maintained

through each of the incredible stories. And imagine constructing a sonic

equivalent, that is as vividly and totally present, even though the

Episodes may change over time. "Tone of Place" is indelibly alive,

penetrating sensorially from all perspectives. How does he do this? Years

ago I lived with these stories. And I realize now how much they influenced

the development of my concept for the "Mini-Sound Series" which I create.

I returned to Ballard the other day when the "sonic curtain" came up in

Drew's session. I always loved the wonderful "Sound Sweep" where the little

guy with the "sonovac" cleans all embedded sound, including ultrasonic and

takes it to the sonic dump. It was wonderful to again read Ballard's

descriptions of "ultrasonic spaces" and the atmospheres created by these

inaudible musics which are perceived, but not heard. Hopefully we might

have time to discuss such ultrasonic tonal inlays later in the discussion.

Maryanne Amacher


In my first sound works I developed the idea of sonic telepresence,

pioneering the use of telecommunication in sound installations. While a

Fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Massachusetts Institute

of Technology (1972-76) I developed a number of projects for solo and group

shows in collaboration with the visual artists Scott Fisher, Luis

Frangella, and the architect Juan Navarro Baldeweg. This was a very

interesting time, especially because of our ideas about what has since

become known as virtual reality, telepresence technologies, and the

internet. In the telelink installations for "CITY-LINKS" 1-22 (1967- ) the

sounds from one or more remote environment (in a city, or in several

cities) are transmitted in real-time to the exhibition space, as an ongoing

sonic environment. I create the "CITY-LINKS" installations using real-time

telelinks, transmitting the sounds from microphones which I place at the

remote locations. I introduced the concept of an environment-oriented

spatial sound sculpture (created by combining and modulating several remote

sound environments) in solo and group shows at the Museum of Contemporary

Art, Chicago (1974) and the Walker Arts Center, "Projected Images,"

Minneapolis. (1974) The adventure is in receiving live sonic spaces from

more than one location at the same time - the tower, the ocean, the

abandoned mill. Remote sounding environments enter our local spaces and

become part of our rooms. I was particularly interested in the experience

of "syncronicity" - hearing spaces distant from each other at the same

time—which we do not experience in our lives.

For over three years I received live sound from a microphone which I

installed on a window overlooking the ocean at the New England Fish

Exchange, Pier 6 Boston Harbor. Dedicated 15kc telelinks provided

continuous transmission of the BOSTON HARBOR sound environment to mixing

facilities at my studio. These continuous transmissions gave me the

opportunity to experience live incoming patterns over time. Time

corresponds here to life of the space, to sense of being there. Approach

and disappearances of sounding shapes.

My work is best represented in the three series of multimedia installations

produced in the United States, Europe, and Japan: the sonic telepresence

series, "CITY LINKS" 1-22 (1967- ); the architecturally staged "MUSIC FOR

SOUND JOINED ROOMS" (1980- ) and the "MINI-SOUND SERIES" (1985- ) a new

multimedia form which I create, that is unique in its use of architecture

and serialized narrative. In these major works I adopt the mini series

television format in order to develop a more involving narrative context, a

serialized narrative to be continued in consecutive episodes, as

distinguished from an ongoing installation. The evolving Scenarios of the

"Mini-Sound Series" build one upon the other over a period of several days

or weeks. The six part "SOUND HOUSE," my first "Mini-Sound Series" was

produced during a three month residency at the Capp Street Project in San

Francisco (Novl6-Dec22 1985). "THE MUSIC ROOMS" was produced by the DAAD

gallery in Berlin, and staged over a four week period (Feb19-Mar15 1987);

"STOLEN SOULS" commissioned by INKA Digital Arts Amsterdam, was presented

in De Beurs van Berlage Amsterdam (May20-24 1988); "202l THE LIFE PEOPLE"

commissioned by the Ars Electronic Festival, was presented in the

Brucknerhaus, Linz Austrria (Sept13-16 1989); and "THE BIAURALS"

commissioned by The Electrical Matter, an electronic arts festival was

presented at the Samuel Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia, Pa. (Sept11-22



architectural features of a building to customize sound, visual, and

spatial elements, creating intense and dramatic sound experiences. I

produce these works in location-based installations that are built from

"structure borne" sound (sound traveling through walls, floors, rooms,

corridors) which acousticians distinguish from the "airborne" sound

experienced with conventional loudspeaker placements. An entire building or

series of rooms provides a stage for the sonic and visual sets of my

installations. Immersive aural architectures are constructed, linking the

main audience space sonically with adjoining rooms through specially

designed multiple loudspeaker configurations, creating the effect that

sounds originate from specific locations and heights rather than from the

loudspeakers. The idea is to create an atmosphere similar to the drama of

entering a cinematic closeup, a form of "sonic theater" in which

architecture magnifies the expressive dimensions of the work.

The audience enters the set and walks into the "world" of the story,

exploring multi-perceptual viewpoints. As they move through new scenes

being created by the "Sound Characters," they discover clues to the story

distributed throughout the rooms. Places of "thematic focus" are selected

to create the scenes - rooms, corridors, walls, doorways, balconies,

stairways. In some episodes sound sweeps through the rooms; in others,

chords, and tonalities are intricately joined between the rooms; in still

others a particular sound shape is emphasized to animate sonic imaging in a

distant room. Together with the architectural staging of projected visual

environments, I am able to construct multi-dimensional environment-oriented

experiences, anticipating virtual immersion environments. Rooms, walls, and

corridors that sing. Architecture especially articulates sonic imaging in

"structure borne" sound, magnifying color and spatial presence as the sound

shapes interact with the structural characteristics of the rooms before

reaching the listener. The rooms themselves become speakers, producing

sound which is felt throughout the body as well as heard.

In two recent installations I had the opportunity to produce "Music For

Sound Joined Rooms" in remarkable architectures with unique acoustical

characteristics: the Kunsthalle-Krems in Austria (1995;) and the 21st

Century Cultural Information Museum in Tokushima Japan (1992.) I created

distinct sonic worlds that could only be articulated through architecture.

The Kunsthalle-Krems Minioritenkirche is a large expansive space that was

originally part of a monastery that was built in the 11th century. I

produced my work, "A Step Into It, Imagining 1001 Years" in the six areas

of the Kunsthalle: the main hall; the altar spaces (one at a high elevation

approached by a tall stairway;) the two antechambers adjoining the high

altar; and the crypt. A space of expanded seeing and hearing enfolded

throughout the Church, linking sonic interactions and visual imaging in six

thematic locations. Aural events appeared larger than life; as though many

miles away; inside the listener. For "Synaptic Island" which I produced at

the 21st Century Cultural Information Museum in Tokushima, I created very

discrete placements of sound, emphasizing distinct characteristics in four

adjoining rooms. Special layering of sonic imaging was developed; areas of

intense sonic pressure; others very ethereal. Staged at specific locations

and heights, these sonic areas became tactile in presence, existing as

"things in themselves."

To produce the location-based installations for my major works, intensive

acoustic and auditory research in the space is required. Usually a

residency of one month is needed for my investigations, depending on the

size of the space and the number of rooms. During this period I discover

special acoustic features of each room, exploring how they interact

sonically with each other, and develop the aural imaging and spatial

characteristics of the installation. Creating the detailed sound design is

very much like scripting a sonic choreography.

Recent projects include the creation of major works: a String Quartet with

an electroacoustic installation commissioned by the Kronos String Quartet

and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund to be premiered in 1999; two new

installation works produced in 1998 for the Kunstmuseum Bern, "Taktalos"

Festival (March 1998); and for "Tunnel Vision" in the three story

Maastunnel, Rotterdam, the Netherlands (Sept 1998). Visiting Artist at Bard

College (July 1998) and at the Art Institute of Chicago (April 1999). The

Two Part Multimedia Narrative, "A Step Into It, Imagining 1001 Years,"

commissioned by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Culture and Siemens Kultur

Program was produced in the Kunsthalle-Krems, Austria. (Feb-Mar 1995) "The

Reference Room" a telelink installation using the "CITY-LINKS" format was

produced for the Rosekrans Residency at Mills College. (1993) The Four Part

Multimedia Narrative, "Synaptic Island" was commissioned by the Japanese

government and produced at the 21st Century Cultural Information Museum in

Tokushima Japan. (Apr-May 1992) I was invited to give the John Spencer Camp

Lecture at Wesleyan University. (Nov 7 1995) Participation in the two week

Symposium, "Tuned Matters Into Sound," Krems-Vienna with La Monte Young,

Bernhard Leitner, James Tenney, and Georg Friedrich Haas at the Museum of

Modern Art, Palais Liechtenstein, Vienna. (Feb20-Mar5 1995) 3-D sonic

architectures, commissioned by the Matshushita Electric Company were

designed and produced for the 750 programmable loudspeakers in Panasonic

Hall, Tokyo. (1991) CD recordings were released on the Tzadik label,

"Sound Characters" (Making The Third Ear) ( Feb 99;) and on the Asphodel

Sombient Triology: "The Throne Of Drones" (May 95) "The Swarm Of Drones"

(Oct 95) and "The Storm Of Drones" (Aug 96)

13 july 1999

Maryanne wrote:

>It is very hard to resist good compelling beats, perceptually. They are on

>target and there are no questions of their direct neural effects! They

>create a really vivid world that everyone enters, with full sensorial

>presence. I map "perceptual geographies" in the immersive aural

>architectures I create because I want to target certain specific spatial

>effects with the kind of compelling unquestionable, sensorial focus that

>emerges in a beat environment.

Drew replies:

>David Toop suggested that the club aesthetic of a single, overpowering

>soundfield leaves little room for the kinds of spatial effects considered

>in SenseSonic. And Andrew Deakin asked if anyone had experience of how

>sound diffusion and spatialisation could work with powerful amplification.

>In your view, what are the best ways to combine the kinds of strategies

>found in sound installations or sonic art (such as sound spatialisation)

>with a beat environment?


I will not write much now since I only have about 1/2 hour before the bell

rings The second installment of "Creating Presence" will give some specific

examples based on the description of your recent club event. I believe such

sound designs can be effective even in the club aesthetic of a single,

overpowering soundfield. A new approach to the situation is what is

exciting to me, with many possibilities. But more about this later.

Andrew asked if anyone had experience of how sound diffusion and

spatialisation could work with powerful amplification. The architectural

staging of my works in "MUSIC FOR SOUND-JOINED ROOMS" and "MINI SOUND

SERIES" is certainly an example, and Naut Humon's wonderful system for Sound

Traffic Control events.

These are two different approaches to creating multidimensional sonic

environments and should be discussed in more detail. In short: in my work is

location-based, I create spatial relations by staging the sound

architecturally, throughout a number of rooms and usually in large spaces. I

am specifically using architecture - "the spaces the sound sounds in" - to

develop experiences that can only be realized through architecture. (More

specifics about this later) Sound Traffic Control is a completely designed

portable system ready to go anywhere; the spatial parameters are designed and

developed at the Compound in San Francisco.

The following is an excerpt by Peter Watrous describing an experience of

powerful amplification in one of my performances, using one room only.

" times the room seemed literally filled with sound — sound became

tactile..she used immense volume to make sound feel liquid, all-enveloping,

as if it were pouring into ears, between fingers and through hair. Ms

Amacher layered her noises — buzzing tones wrapped in sandstorm textures,

........into an apocalyptic, terrifying landscape. ..About one-quarter of the

way through the show, Ms Amacher, calmly but theatrically adjusting the knobs

on her control panel, made the music sound as if 1,000 cicadas had settled on

the inside of the ear; the music sprang from inside a listener's head - an

unusual experience. Suddenly music became dangerous, violating the body.

Experiencing this discomforting penetration, the audience merged as if it

shared a catstrophe, passengers on a plane that narrowly missed crashing. In

a sense her music is similar to bass-heavy reggae sound systems or a

high-volume Sonic Youth concert - the extreme of volume and intensity make

the experience communal,a shared natural event. But this sense of physical

danger is tied into something else MA, a long time electyronic and

environmental music experimentalist, is getting at: by having the audience

walk around the room and having music erupt from all sides, she readjusted

the traditional relatiions of power between performer and audience. And by

by walking around, the source materials changed as a listener's relationshipo

to various speakers changed,....."