The music world lost one of its most bizarre characters today, and I say that with the utmost possible affection. Maryanne Amacher was an amazing composer of sound installations, who occasionally taught courses at Bard. I first encountered her in 1980 at New Music America in Minneapolis. She had, as was her wont, fitted an entire house with loudspeakers, and the staff was in a state of jitters because at opening time she was still fine-tuning. She was an incredible perfectionist, and there was no overriding her exacting judgment. Years later I interviewed her for my history of American music.
A Stockhausen student, she was absolutely inscrutable, so intuitive that pinning facts down was an insult to her spirit. My first ten questions having elicited no specific information, I finally asked whether her original sound sources were acoustic or electronic in origin. Her answer: “I really can’t say.” She was vagueness personified. Yet she was an incredible artist, and my son thought she was the best electronic music teacher Bard ever had. She typically wore bright red overalls and aviator goggles, and I’d be astonished if her wiry frame weighed 90 pounds. After one semester with her, one of my colleagues – an artistic and sympathetic soul, but I understood his frustration – said, “I feel like I’m on the set of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” She did dress a little like Snoopy.
She lived in a huge old house in Kingston that was cluttered wall to wall with papers, tapes, and technical equipment, among which one walked gingerly through narrow paths. You closed doors carefully, for fear the entire soggy house would fall down. But she was some kind of genius, and her sound installations, better appreciated in Europe than here, had to be heard to be believed. Like La Monte Young, she had an ear that one struggled to emulate. She absolutely lived for her art. I heard a few weeks ago that she’d had a stroke, then from Pauline Oliveros that she was in a nursing home, and today she passed away. I do hope her work is well documented, because it is absolutely unique and inimitable. We will never hear her like again.
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