AMN Reviews: Maryanne Amacher – Selected Writings & Interviews [Blank Forms Editions, 398 pp.]

Maryanne Amacher (1938-2009) was a sound artist whose compositions and site-specific audio installations focused attention on often-overlooked facets of aural perception. She described her installations as “sonic theater” that used features of the surrounding architecture to amplify the listener’s sensorial experience; this was an important component of her long-standing interest in what she called “perceptual geography”–the way sounds from spatially distant locations are perceived and experienced.

An exemplary work in this area was her City-Links series of site-specific sound gatherings, which were staged from 1967 to 1988. For the series, Amacher installed microphones at carefully chosen locations and transmitted the sounds they picked up via telephone link to a listening space—typically an auditorium, art gallery, or hall—where the mixed transmitted sounds and the ambient sounds of the space into which they were projected would coexist. Amacher was interested in how the separation of visual information from the audio information coming in from the remote microphones would affect perception of the sounds, and how these distant sounds would interact with, and affect, the listener’s perceptual experiences of the ambient sounds within the receiving space.

These and many of Amacher’s other projects addressing theoretical and experiential issues in sound perception were articulated extensively in her writings. Selected Writings and Interviews collects a wide range of mostly unpublished source documents covering the whole extent of a career that spanned the early 1960s to the late 2000s and that was varied enough to include studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen and George Crumb, collaborations with Merce Cunningham and John Cage, and the conception of a good number of highly ambitious, large-scale works many of which, as the book amply documents, were unrealized for lack of funding or opportunity.

Thus the importance of the written record Amacher left behind. Some of the documents collected in Selected Writings and Interviews represent the only form a number of her works took. Like Duchamp’s Notes for the unfinished Large Glass, Amacher’s notes, score fragments, sketches, press release drafts, correspondence, and proposals articulate the substance of projects planned but never produced, and in the process take on the guise of works in themselves. Through them, thanks to this carefully curated, well-designed volume, we can derive a multi-dimensional picture of a complex artist with a challenging body of work that existed largely “in the gap between idea and manifestation,” as editors Amy Cimini and Bill Dietz put it in the book’s introduction.

Daniel Barbiero