Radical Sound Artist Maryanne Amacher Dies

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Maryanne Amacher
  • Maryanne Amacher
The singular sound artist Maryanne Amacher died yesterday at age 66; she’d suffered a stroke a couple weeks earlier. Although the one-time Stockhausen student released two stunning albums for John Zorn’s Tzadik label in the last decade—including last year’s remarkable Sound Characters 2—her work was really about the direct experience of sound through installations, where its psychoacoustic and deeply physical properties could be properly felt. Unfortunately, that discipline and purity relegated her to obscurity in most circles.

Back in October 2000 the local experimental music presenters at Lampo brought her to Chicago. As Monica Kendrick wrote in the Reader then, “Amacher's most impressive works are her massive installations, in which she occupies a space for days or even weeks if possible, learning every possible permutation of its acoustic properties, then creates 'sound shapes' augmented by lighting and sometimes sculptural elements—a complete multisensual environment. She's very interested in the physical process of hearing, too, and the effects created by the human ear itself—the resonance of one's own tympanum and ossicles and pinna—which she ‘plays’ using certain frequencies.”

I still have vivid memories of the event. Early in the evening, a fuse blew at the old 6Odum space, and while the problem was addressed nearly all of the capacity crowd went outside in the paved, fenced-in lot adjacent to the building, waiting. When power was restored we filed back into a very dark space, with minimal but deliberately conceived lighting; there were many speakers meticulously placed around the room. Amacher encouraged us to move about the space so we could experience the radically different sounds and physicality of the work as it progressed. 6Odum was ultimately too small for it all to work properly; the speakers were so close that sound bleed damped the shifting perspectives. Plus, there were so many people milling about in the darkness, accidentally bumping into one another, that I sometimes felt like an extra in a George Romero flick. Still, it’s an experience I’ll never forget.

You can get a better sense of Amacher's eccentric personality and utterly unique ideas through these interviews as well as these clips from a documentary made by Andrew Kesin and Thurston Moore called Day Trip Maryanne, about a day-long visit to her home and studio. It's amazing to watch Moore hold his ears to mute Amacher's visceral soundscapes while she prances about in clear reverie.

Sirone
  • Sirone
Sadly, Amacher isn't the only fiercely original musician we’ve lost in the last few days. On Wednesday the brilliant free jazz bassist Sirone (ne Norris Jones) died in Berlin at the age of 69 (I haven’t been able to learn the cause of death). Sirone was a key presence on New York’s free jazz scene from the mid-60s onward—you can find him holding it down on important recordings by the likes of Noah Howard, Marion Brown, Marzette Watts, Dave Burrell, Pharoah Sanders, Cecil Taylor, and Sonny Sharrock, among many others, but he remains best known as a member of the brilliant Revolutionary Ensemble, with violinist Leroy Jenkins and percussionist Jerome Cooper. The group existed between 1971 and 1977, then reunited in 2004 to make a superb new album for Pi Records called And Now…; the violinist’s death the following year cut the reunion short. The trio radically clung to an abstracted sense of pulse instead of clear grooves and blurred the lines between free jazz and contemporary classical music, investing heavily in color, tone, and sensitive interaction. Sirone provided a physical center for the music with his huge woody sound.

Today’s playlist:

Group Doueh, Treeg Salaam (Sublime Frequencies)
Ricardo Gallo Cuarteto, Urdimbres y Maranas (La Distrito Fonica)
Yosuke Yamashita Trio, Chiasma (MPS, Japan)
Hassan Haffar, The Aleppo Suites (Institut du Monde Arabe)
Jozef Van Wissem, It Is All That Is Made (Important)

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