Tel Aviv 1009
by Marvin Minsky
In her earlier work, Maryanne Amacher explored the worlds of different forms of sounds in space. The scientific psychologists had also tried to study sounds, but never with very much success. And for good reason: in the real universe, there are far too many possible combinations of patterns, Only an artist of Amacher's stature could decide which questions should be asked and her answers have become a part of the history of modern art. Many of her pioneering concepts about spatial sound models and perceptual interactions evolved into the sorts of acoustic installations that are becoming popular today.
But Amacher was never satisfied only with sound and, in the 1980's she began to turn toward more ambitious images of immersions in rooms of sound and sight. I see her work as exploring a number of important issues an the boundaries of contemporary perceptual psychology, exploring the ways that subtle environmental changes affect how we see the world from moment to moment. Amacher's work is very concerned with what happens after you see and hear: the after images and after sounds. In fact. although she works in several media, her main concern is with understanding and manipulating the perception of space and duration, with finding ways to make people feel that they are in a different (and usually more desirable) place. As she uncovers these influences she translates them through her art into ways to use the media to make changes in the local world of the watcher/listener. It seems clear that this sort of environment oriented sculpture will become a vital part of the architecture of our living places, if apparent trends continue. To be specific, I will describe a few ways in which this work seems to me important and unusual.
Subjective Transportation. By transmitting sounds from remote locations, one can begin to produce the effect that one is no longer at home, but in another city, in a storm, in some very different place. This is obvious, on the surface, but there is much more to it; the displacements depend a lot on acoustic techniques that can dominate the local background noises in subtle ways not by drowning them out. Amacher has become a master of controlling sounds that are comparatively "faint" yet produce new senses of location and orientation.
Spatial Sound Sculpture. By combining and modulating several remote sources, she can create new environments, exploiting other new effects. Much of art involves attempts at superimposing different structures, but Amacher's work shows that one can do far more with overlays of sound than anyone would have expected. The room becomes new kinds of places, some unlike any past experiences.
Localizations and Difference – Beats. It is possible to create effects like these from the two inch speaker of a television receiver? Workers in psychoacoustics have long known that there are certain non linear effects of certain higher frequency sounds that produce subjective localizations of their sources in surprising places, near or apparently inside the listener's head, for example. It seems very likely that some of the secrets of classical and modern orchestration effects depend on these sometimes subliminal influences which, in her art, Amacher attempts to isolate and then combine again into new structures and textures.
I have the impressions that Amacher has discovered other such effects that are not yet understood by the psychoacoustic community, as a result of her extraordinary care and persistence. Now she wants to
pursue her new ideas in a series of pieces, each a room of more complete experience. There are all too few individuals that possess her power, persistence, courage, intelligence, and sensitivity but the stages she builds will enable the rest of us to experience these same qualities.
February 3, 1988
Marvin Lee Minsky (born August 9, 1927) is an American cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), co-founder of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AI laboratory, and author of several texts on AI and philosophy.
Maryanne Amacher, 71, Visceral Composer, Dies
By ALLAN KOZINN
Published: October 28, 2009
Maryanne Amacher, an influential composer whose experimental sound installations and multimedia works sometimes required full buildings to present their powerful melding of electronic timbres and live, natural ambience, died on Thursday in Rhinebeck, N.Y. She was 71 and lived in Kingston, N.Y.
Ms. Amacher’s death was announced by Micah Silver and Robert The, artists and friends of Ms. Amacher who recently began assembling an online archive of her work at maryanneamacher.org.
Ms. Amacher was drawn to extremes: some of her scores — for example, the music she composed for the choreographer Merce Cunningham’s “Torse” (1976) — could be so soft as to be nearly inaudible at times. But more typically, she reveled in powerful, high-volume sensory assaults, combining high-pitched electronic chirping and solid bass drones to produce a visceral effect.
“With three tape recorders and a huge set of speakers spread out around a darkened room,” Peter Watrous wrote in The New York Times after a performance at the Kitchen in 1988, “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, rumblings like faraway thunder storms late at night, an idling motorcycle, jets swooping by — into an apocalyptic, terrifying landscape.”
Many of Ms. Amacher’s most notable works are known only by reputation. They were site-specific installations that would be difficult, perhaps even impossible, to recreate, although several have been staged in new versions for different locations. Moreover, the handful of recordings that offer samples of her scores barely do them justice: Ms. Amacher was less concerned with sound on its own terms than with the way sound was perceived in space and over extended time periods.
For her “Music for Sound-Joined Rooms” series, which began with a weeklong installation in Minneapolis in June 1980, she took over a Victorian house lent to her by the conductor Dennis Russell Davies and filled its rooms with visual elements that could seem mysterious or whimsical. In one room, visitors found music stands holding diagrams of DNA, as well as petri dishes filled with unidentified substances and metal instrument cases marked “Fragile: Traveling Musicians Being Prepared,” as if an orchestra were being cloned from the material in the dishes. And every room was filled with sound, which was heard not only through speakers, but traveling from room to room through the floorboards and walls.
In Ms. Amacher’s “City-Links” series, which she began in 1967 and returned to periodically through the 1990s to create 22 installations in all, sounds from different locations within a city — or several cities — were transmitted over telephone lines and mixed together. In the first, she placed microphones at five locations in Buffalo and mixed the sounds transmitted from each site for a 28-hour live radio broadcast. Other pieces in the series used sounds from the harbors of Boston and New York. In “City-Links 15,” Ms. Amacher combined sound from New York, Boston and Paris for a live broadcast carried by WBAI-FM in New York and Radio France Musique in Paris.
“I was particularly interested in the experience of ‘Synchronicity,’ hearing spaces distant from each other at the same time, which we do not experience in our lives,” she told the composer Alan Licht in a 1999 interview for The Wire.
Ms. Amacher was born in Kane, Penn., in 1938, although in recent years she tended to list her date of birth as 1943. After studying the piano at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, she completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where her principal composition teacher was George Rochberg. She also studied composition in Salzburg, Austria, and Dartington, England, and privately with Karlheinz Stockhausen.
After presenting early works, including the first few pieces in the “City-Links” series, during fellowships at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was invited by the composer John Cage to collaborate on several projects. She produced a storm soundtrack for Cage’s multimedia “Lecture on the Weather” (1975), as well as a sound environment piece, “Close Up,” which accompanied Cage’s 10-hour solo voice work, “Empty Words” (1978). For Cunningham, she produced “Torse” and several other evening-length works from 1974 to 1980.
Ms. Amacher, who left no surviving relatives, taught electronic music at Bard College, beginning in 2000. She was also an important influence for a generation of composers who combined rock instrumentation and avant-garde sensibilities, among them Rhys Chatham and Thurston Moore. The documentary film “Day Trip Maryanne,” by Andrew Kesin, captures discussions and performance collaborations between Ms. Amacher and Mr. Moore.
Apparently they are back and working on a new album!
The Just Alap Raga Ensemble featuring La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela and Jung Hee Choi, voices, will perform the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra in Raga Sindh Bhairavi accompanied by The Tamburas of Pandit Pran Nath from the Just Dreams CD, as the opening musical offering at the memorial celebration for Merce Cunningham’s life and work on Wednesday, October 28, 2009 from 4 – 4:20 pm. The memorial, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue between 66th and 67th Streets, from 4 to 9 pm. Please note that space at the Armory is limited. Guests will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis, no reservations required.
After The Just Alap Raga Ensemble performance ends at 4:20 pm, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company will perform “Events” and other Cunningham dances will be featured, as well as presentations by the MCDC Music Committee, additional artists and former company members. Further information and a complete program listing can be found online at http://www.merce.org/p/memorial.html
John Cage selected La Monte Young's radical work 2 Sounds (April 1960) to accompany one of Merce Cunningham's most forward looking dances, Winterbranch, with lighting by Robert Rauschenberg. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company toured extensively with this work and performed it throughout the world from 1964 on. Merce was a member of the MELA Foundation Advisory Board.
In the Hindustan Times (2003), Shanta Serbjeet Singh wrote: “[Young and Zazeela] would create works like the “Just Alap Raga Ensemble” which would amaze musicians of the caliber of Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj or the Gundecha brothers were they to hear it. In fact I wish they would hear it and savour their own legacy of Indian classical music in two new ways, one, by way of the Youngs’ immense sadhna and two, by way of the fact that today the great art of Hindustani Shastriya sangeet has actually become so much a part of the world of music. Did not the ancients say: Vasudeva Kumutbhakam—the world is a family? A work like “Just Alap Raga Ensemble” actually proves it.”
The 2005 article, “Tales of Exemplary Guru Bhakti / Pran Nath, La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela," SPIC MACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth) quarterly magazine "The Eye," noted: “He [Young] is a master of Hindustani classical music. … In June 2002, shortly before he died, Khalifa Hafizullah Khan Sahib, Ustad Wahid Khan Sahib’s son and a great sarangi master, conferred on Young the title of Khan Sahib.”
For further information about The Just Alap Raga Ensemble visit www.melafoundation.org.
Also review of our first London show, at the time. 2000.
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