Monday, June 16, 2014

Documenting Amacher

Here is a short documentary video portrait by Elisabeth Schimana and Lena Tikhonova of the late composer Maryanne Amacher.  Over the end credits, there is a moment in which two of her assistants admit that they don't quite understand her work, a feeling I share.  I always had the sense of something substantial going on — and sometimes even dangerous, whether bathing petri dishes with cultures labeled as "musicians of the future" in incredibly amplified sounds or exploring the possibilities of a "post-cochlear" mode of listening (possibinvolving direct transmission to the brain) —; her appeals to hard science were both studied and off-kilter enough to evoke musical liveliness, her environmental-acoustic consciousness was admirable, and her demand for quality in performance was real evidence of her seriousness (if often frustrating to those trying to help her present her work.)  But that doesn't mean that I came anywhere close to understanding Amacher's music.  I was, alternately, deeply impressed and intensely disappointed by it, too often wanting it to be even more radical than it was. In Krems, Austria, in a wonderful space of an old monastery church, I watched and listened to her work over a week's time she demanded and received the best equipment available, including the largest transportable mixing board available in all Austria, spent an extreme amount of time (including time generously given over to her by Jim Tenney and La Monte Young (!)) making sure every channel, cable, amp and loudspeaker was in perfect condition and then gave a performance which was basically playback from a stereo cassette tape and  a couple of long tones added from a keyboard of some sort.  It was loud, her physical presence at that huge mixer was theatrically compelling, but the sounds were just dull, nothing like much of what had been heard during the week before. But then again, maybe all of that fascinating week before was part of the piece, part of a performance, both theatrical and musical, but also the intense discussions in the church and late nights out in the restaurant, over soy milk and vodka, in which the contents that fell between the public entrance and exit time at the end of the week were just a detail, a musical project much larger than the concert which concluded it.

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