The Archive
The Maryanne Amacher Foundation

The Archive at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Maryanne Amacher in her MIT studio during her stint as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, early to mid-1970s, Cambridge, MA.

In partnership with the Foundation, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has acquired Maryanne Amacher’s archive, which, once processed, will be available as part of the Library’s Music & Recorded Sound Division.

As a whole, Amacher’s work and collected archive represents one of the most important artistic contributions of recent decades. Assembled shortly before her death in the summer and fall of 2009, The Maryanne Amacher Archive contains a wealth of knowledge and research potential that promises to be a source of interest and inspiration for generations of artists and scholars to come. Much of the material was organized by Amacher herself, including for example, a critical series of folders and small boxes containing what she felt to be the most important works and writings from various periods. She also kept her annotated drafts, project notes, performance materials, ephemera, audio versions dating to the early ’60s, etc. With future archival efforts, research, and scholarship it will be possible to trace her working processes and ways of thinking across nearly every category of media.

In addition to notebooks, scores, sketches, and other papers, the archive consists of over 1,000 reel-to-reel tapes, hundreds of cassettes, DATs, floppy disks, videos, and audio in other various formats. The collection also includes oversize papers such as original concert posters and drawings, a miscellany of personal artifacts, and a collection of electronic music tools, some rare and custom-made, which the Foundation will house and repair.

The types of materials present in the archive vary greatly and go far beyond those of the traditional composer, typically limited to scores, recordings, sketches, and correspondence. Working with Amacher’s archive represents a unique opportunity to explore new models for archiving the composers of the future and may serve as a prototype for other composers and artists of her generation. Because Amacher’s work was grounded in first-person research focused on perceptual processes as well as site-specific techniques of sound recording, amplification, and transmission, processing her archive raises important questions about future presentations of her work—how (and if) adequate perceptual and site-specific methodologies can be (re)constructed through archival research How Amacher’s archive is treated can serve as a beacon for a new wave of archival development that must ensure that a wide range of late-20th and 21st century cultural production can be adequately communicated into the future. Standard methodologies developed around painters or orchestral composers, for example, will never capture the more ephemeral practices now pervasive in our post-disciplinary framework.

Interest in the Amacher Archive coincides with the recent emergence of sound and listening as a key concern in a wide number of scholarly, artistic, and popular discourses. The interdisciplinary field of sound studies has begun to explore how sonic phenomena like vibration, resonance, rhythm, and silence might offer new interpretive frameworks for literature, film, and social life more generally. The brain sciences have also turned to listening and psychoacoustics and Amacher’s practice is the most direct artistic investigation and utilization of inner ear distortions, what she called “Ear Tones”. Her work has been and will continue to be the subject of research in these areas. Concurrently, journalistic and critical pieces about noise regulation, music, torture, as well as sound in advertising and branding circulate with astonishing urgency in social media, blogs, and other formats. Why this so-called “sonic turn” has occurred with such force and urgency at the current moment remains a rich, compelling, and very open question–one that further engagement with the Amacher Archive will surely illuminate.