Maryanne Amacher was not widely known when she passed in 2009, at least not in the way some of her colleagues were. Having studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen, and then gone on to work alongside John Cage, Anthony Braxton and others, she deserved a more prominent place in new music history.
She described herself as a composer of “large-scale fixed-duration sound installations” at a time when sound art was unknown to most of us. The complexity of her work – and the inability of recording technology to satisfactorily capture it – meant that she could leave us few recordings.
Three multimedia installations stand out as examples of her successful experiments with acoustics: “City Links (1967-1980),” “Music for Sound Joined Rooms” and the “Mini Sound Series.” Thanks to her notes and sketches, artists have begun to record her work.
Enter Blank Forms, a New York non-profit with a mission to support artists like Amacher that deserve a higher profile. Lawrence Kumpf is the group’s artistic director.
“We aim to establish new frameworks to preserve, nurture and present to broad audiences the work of historic and emerging artists,” reads the organization’s website. “Blank Forms provides artists with curatorial support, residencies, commissions and publications to help document, disseminate and advance their practices.”
This new release features the 2017 U.S. premier of Amacher’s 1991 work “Petra” at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in New York. Pianists Marianne Schroeder and Stefan Tcherepnin describe exploring in the church prior to the performance, in search of the right acoustics to match the sketches Amacher left behind.
Neither was new to the piece. Schroeder performed the work with Amacher herself in 1991. She returned to it for a 2012 concert with Schroeder.
The church setting for this recording was intentional. The piece combines impressions of a Swiss church in Boswil with a short story – also entitled Petra – by U.S. sci-fi author Greg Bear.
The pianists’ interactions with the church setting are the real draw here though. When Amacher and Schroeder premiered “Petra” in 1991, they did so without a formal score. It is a cliché these days to refer to an installation’s setting as a musical instrument. That has a great deal to do with the pioneering efforts of Amacher.
A decade after her passing, the artist who would spend hours tweaking speaker placements to get precisely the right sound deserves a revival. Given how many artists and music lovers have caught up with her, all these years later, new recordings are bound to be met with a receptive audience.