Maryanne Amacher (USA)

Sound Characters

ph. Blank Forms


Maryanne Amacher was born in 1938 in Kane, Pennsylvania. She enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in 1955. She studied with composer and theorist Constant Vauclain, with George Rochberg and with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Philadelphia in 1964 and 1965. He worked at UPenn and held several fellowships. In the late 1960s, Amacher pioneered what she called “long-distance music,” or telematic works that would later crystallize into her renowned City Links series. During her time as a fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (1972-1976), she began to develop her “ear tone” project with the help of Marvin Minsky’s Triadex Muse, a synthesizer and composition tool using the principles of artificial intelligence. Amacher’s “ear tone” music creatively used frequencies that produce otoacoustic beats and emissions, that is, sounds produced spontaneously within the cochlea. Amacher closely followed developments and debates in otological research and other psychoacoustic phenomena. While at MIT, his extensive research on listening was also profoundly influenced by a continuous live feed, during four years, from Boston Harbor to his studio via a specific telephone line. This monaural environmental transmission (not conveying spatial information via stereo signals) from the Boston Fish Exchange building helped realize another goal of his approach to spatialization: the spectral and dynamic transformation of a sound creates a subtle but perceptible three-dimensional shape in space. He collaborated with John Cage in the mid-1970s and composed “Close Up,” an accompaniment to Cage’s “Empty Words” (1979). He also wrote music for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and later for a film by Charles Atlas. He also spent the 1980s working on materials for a multi-part drama originally envisioned for television and radio simulcast called Intelligent Life. Although it was never fully realized, Intelligent Life reveals much of his thinking about music. In the 1990s, she worked mainly in Europe and Japan. In the 2000s, she joined the faculty of the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. In 2005, she received Ars Electronica’s highest honor, “Golden Nica.” Her last commission, which remained unfinished, was an evening-long work combining stereoscopic video and a multi-story audio composition involving some forty speakers.