Maryanne Amacher

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Maryanne Amacher
Maryanne Amacher 2006-10-06.jpg
Maryanne Amacher 2006-10-06
Background information
Born February 25, 1938
Kane, Pennsylvania
Died October 22, 2009
Genres Electronic music, experimental music
Occupation(s) Composer, installation artist
Instruments Piano, etc.
Website The Maryanne Amacher Archive

Maryanne Amacher (February 25, 1938[1][2] – October 22, 2009) was an American composer and installation artist. She is known for working extensively with a family of psychoacoustic phenomena called auditory distortion products (also known as distortion product otoacoustic emissions and combination tones), in which the ears themselves produce audible sound.


Amacher was born in Kane, Pennsylvania,[1] to an American nurse and a Swiss freight train worker. As the only child, she grew up playing the piano. Amacher left Kane to attend the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship where she received a B.F.A in 1964.[1] While there she studied composition with George Rochberg[1] and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Subsequently, she did graduate work in acoustics and computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

While in residence at the University of Buffalo, 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. There were 21 other pieces in the "City Links" series, and more information can be found in the brochure for an exhibition on the series by Ludlow 38 in NYC (available on their website). A common feature was the use of dedicated, FM radio quality telephone (0–15,000 Hz range) lines to connect the sound environments of different sites into the same space, a very early example of what is now called "telematic performance" and preceded much more famous examples of this by Max Neuhaus and others. Neuhaus was involved with the original 1967 work in Buffalo.

Her major pieces have almost exclusively been site specific,[1] often using many loudspeakers to create what she called "structure borne sound", which is a differentiation with "airborne sound", the paradox intentional. By using many diffuse sound sources (either not in the space or speakers facing at the walls or floors) she would create the psychoacoustic illusions of sound shapes/"presence". Amacher's early 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 she created, that is unique in its use of architecture and serialized narrative.[citation needed]

Amacher worked extensively with a set of psychoacoustic phenomena known as 'auditory distortion products';[3] put simply: sounds generated inside the ear that are clearly audible to the hearer. These tones have a long history in music theory and scientific research, and are still the object of disagreement and debate. In music, they are most commonly known by the name of 'combination tones','difference tones', and sometimes 'Tartini tones' (after the violinist Giuseppe Tartini, who is credited with discovering them). Amacher herself termed them 'ear tones', until in 1992 she discovered the work of David T. Kemp and Thomas Gold, and began referring to them by the psychoacoustical terminology of 'otoacoustic emissions'.[4] It has since become clear that some of the sounds Amacher, and indeed all musicians who have exploited this phenomena, were generating can be attributed to a particular family of otoacoustic emissions known as 'distortion product otoacoustic emissions' (DPOAE).[5] Occurring in response to two pure tones presented simultaneously to the ear, these tones appear to localise in or around the head, as though there were a 'tiny loudspeaker inside the ear'.[4] Amacher was the first to systematically explore the musical use of these phenomena using electroacoustic sound technologies. The subtitle of her first Tzadik Records album Sound Characters (Making the Third Ear) is a reference to them. She describes the subjective experience of these phenomena in the following passage:

When played at the right sound level, which is quite high and exciting, the tones in this music will cause your ears to act as neurophonic instruments that emit sounds that will seem to be issuing directly from your head ... (my audiences) discover they are producing a tonal dimension of the music which interacts melodically, rhythmically, and spatially with the tones in the room. Tones 'dance' in the immediate space of their body, around them like a sonic wrap, cascade inside ears, and out to space in front of their eyes ... Do not be alarmed! Your ears are not behaving strange or being damaged! ... these virtual tones are a natural and very real physical aspect of auditory perception, similar to the fusing of two images resulting in a third three dimensional image in binocular perception ... I want to release this music which is produced by the listener ...[6]

Over the years she received several major commissions in the United States and Europe with occasional work in Asia and Central and South America. Amacher received a 1998 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award. In 2005, she was awarded the Prix Ars Electronica (the Golden Nica) in the "Digital Musics" category for her project "TEO! A sonic sculpture". At the time of her death she had been working three years on a 40 channel piece commissioned by the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in Troy, New York.[citation needed]

For the last decade of her life she taught at the Bard College MFA program.[citation needed]

Discography and exhibits[edit]

  • 1967: City Links: Buffalo


  1. ^ a b c d e Allan Kozinn, "Maryanne Amacher, 71, Visceral Composer, Dies", The New York Times, 2009 Oct. 28.
  2. ^ Note, while most sources state Amacher's birth year as 1938, she had in later years used the birth year 1943.
  3. ^ Gary Kendall, Christopher Haworth, and Rodrigo Cádiz, "Sound Synthesis with Auditory Distortion Products", Computer Music Journal 38 no. 4 (2014 Winter): 5–23 doi:10.1162/COMJ_a_00265.
  4. ^ a b Maryanne Amacher (2004), "Psychoacoustic Phenomena in Musical Composition: Some Features of a Perceptual Geography", FO(A)RM 3: 16–25. [full citation needed]
  5. ^ Christopher Haworth, "Composing with Absent Sound", in Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference 2011, University of Huddersfield, UK, 31 July – 5 August 2011, edited by Monty Adkins and Ben Isaacs, 342–45 (San Francisco: International Computer Music Association; Huddersfield: Centre for Research in New Music, University of Huddersfield, 2011). ISBN 9780984527403.
  6. ^ Pieter-Paul, "Played at the Right Sound Level", Displaced Sounds (2009 June 24, archive from 2011 September 21, accessed 2015 June 11)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]