PLAN 77: Article
Sound Shapes And Ear Dancing

A Tribute to Pioneering Sound Artist Maryanne Amacher

In October, the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) presented a tribute to pioneering sound artist Maryanne Amacher on the first anniversary of her death. During the 1970s, Amacher was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies – the precursor of ACT – and her work was strongly influenced by its founder the Hungarian artist and educator Gyorgy Kepes.

As a seminal figure in electroacoustics and architectural installation, Amacher worked extensively with otoacoustic emission, a physiological phenomenon in which the ears themselves act as sound generating devices. She researched sound in its spatial dimension and relation to time and composed several ‘ear dances’ designed to stimulate ’ear tones’, clear third tones resonating within the listener's ears.

Although not known by a wider audience, her work was recognized with important awards and grants from such organizations as the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Pew Memorial Trust and the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts; in 2005 she was awarded the Prix Ars Electronica.

While at MIT, Amacher worked on a series of installations called City-Links, using FM-quality phone lines to transmit sounds from remote locations into galleries, auditoria and radio broadcasts. Between 1967 and 1981, she produced 22 City-Links projects in total, relaying sounds from one or more remote environments ‘live’ to the exhibition space as an ongoing sonic environment.

Installations of City-Links included shows at such disparate venues as Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, MIT’s Hayden Gallery, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art and the Corps de Garde in Groningen, Holland. In October, an exhibition at New York City’s Ludlow 38/ Kuenstlerhaus Stuttgart, a project space of the Goethe Institute NYC, brought together images and sound samples in a retrospective look at this important but little published series of early telematic art works.

The event at MIT’s Bartos Theater in October – initiated by ACT director Ute Meta Bauer and Amacher friend and CAVS co-fellow Keiko Prince – included a lecture by Anne Hilde Neset, deputy director and editor of The Wire magazine; Micah Silver and Robert The, curators of the nascent Amacher Archive; and a roundtable discussion on Amacher’s influence with experimental musician Kevin Drumm, electronic music composer and artist Florian Hecker and previous Amacher student and CAVS affiliate Jessica Rylan Piper, an artist, performer and engineer investigating the history and future of technology. A reception and evening of sonic works by Rylan, Drumm and Hecker dedicated to Amacher’s work in acoustic experimentation followed the presentations, held in The Cube of the Weisner Building.

The event did not, however, include any of Amacher’s work. ‘It’s not surprising,’ wrote Boston Globe Correspondent Matthew Guerrieri. ‘Re-creating an Amacher piece would be a challenge. Her music was anything but portable…. She filled rooms and buildings with loudspeakers and then let people roam through them in a sea of rumbling drones and piercing scrapes, wrapping the listener in a viscerally loud blanket…. The result was music of tremendous impact and built-in transience.’

Amacher released only two full-length recordings in her lifetime, Guerrieri continued, because ‘she preferred sound in the world, in concrete space, pumped up and stretched out to the point where it buffeted and embraced. Her music would erupt into the world for brief spells, in site-specific, temporary installations, and then disappear, the overtones drifting back into the hum of everyday noise….’

At Amacher's urging, The Amacher Archive was initiated by her friends Robert The and Micah Silver during her illness in the summer of 2009. The Archive contains hundreds of boxes of Amacher's writings, project documentation, paper materials, audiotapes, video and oral and written histories by friends and co-conspirators. For more information on the archive: http://maryanneamacher.org

The MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) was formed by a merger of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies and the Visual Arts Program in July 2009 and is also home of the CAVS archive. ACT operates as a critical studies and production based laboratory, connecting the arts with an advanced technological community.