Maryanne Amacher - - - - - - - - - Communications on Sound Perceptions

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* Subject: SenseSonic Session 5 :: Maryanne Amacher
* Date: 13 July 1999



It is with special pleasure that we welcome Maryanne Amacher to Session 5
of the SenseSonic digest. Described as 'the best kept secret in American
New Music' by The Wire (March 99), Maryanne studied with Karlheinz
Stockhausen at the University of Pennsylvania before going on to compose
works with John Cage and Merce Cunningham in the 1970s. Her numerous works
have explored the interface between the acoustic properties of specific
spaces and the perceptions of those who pass through them, whilst her
experiments in 'sonic telepresence' have composed the aural geographies of
dispersed spaces into evolving, networked soundscapes. Here Maryanne will
combine her interest in sound in space with an interrogation of the
possibilities opened by new media, suggesting that we now face
unprecedented potential for creating 'multidimensional immersive aural
architectures' - whilst never forgetting how sonic space may be both
transformative and enjoyed.

Send comments and questions for Maryanne and other subscribers
to the SenseSonic list to

Today media exist which begin to match the range and subtlety of our
perceptual modes. As a result of recent advances in multisensorial and
immersive technologies, new visual and aural experiences are being
explored, some unlike any past experiences, particularly those being
created for converging media and telepresence platforms.

As immersive technologies expand and grow to mirror the sensitivity of our
responsive energies, will sound art delve consciously into these expanded
sensitivites? Consider two basic examples resulting from advances in
digital audio technologies: dynamic range and spatial dimension. Much of
the music circulating the world is still based on the limited capacity of
the recording technology available for Lp records having a dynamic range of
40db, compared to digital's 120db. With today's "technologies of presence"
we are able to experience multidimensional immersive aural architectures in
which sonic imaging is perceived from many different spatial orientations,
in large public spaces, and in homes with emerging multispeaker systems.
Hardware is no longer the problem. (Although I really wish loudspeakers
could rise out of their mechancial souls!)

The real need is to explore new ways in which intelligent interfaces can be
created which respond, enhance, and communicate with sonic perceptual
information being processed by the listener, in addition to sonic
information produced acoustically. It is important to fully realize, that
with the experiential nature of current technologies we are able for the
first time to effectively distinguish between acoustic information and
perceptual information, and consciously create for these dimensions.

"CREATING PRESENCE," Part 1 of this session will address the mapping of
"perceptual geographies" for new media: exploring scenarios and
vocabularies for staging multidimensional sonic worlds, and possibilities
for individualizing sonic imaging for listeners and for spaces.

"Creating Presence" is in response to Drew's questions:
>Are spatial effects and distributed sound destined to remain the preserve
of isolated art installations, or might they have a place in the venue and
PA design of tomorrow?
> D.H. will explore the grey area between club and installation,
considering the extent to which innovations devised primarily for art
installations can work in a club context.

I believe that many of the spatial applications now used mainly in art
installations can have exciting larger lives in many different situations.
Perhaps one of the problems is that often the isolated art installation is
not created as a compelling, transformative experience! There may be a real
appreciable lack of "presence" in this world, so that people have little to
respond or interact with. Experience is abstract, synaptic modulations
totally weak!

And this certainly has much to do with how perceptual information is
presented. It is very hard to resist good compelling beats, perceptually.
They are on target and there are no questions of their direct neural
effects! They create a really vivid world that everyone enters, with full
sensorial presence. I map "perceptual geographies" in the immersive aural
architectures I create because I want to target certain specific spatial
effects with the kind of compelling unquestionable, sensorial focus that
emerges in a beat environment. WAYS OF HEARING -- how we locate, sense and
feel sonic events -- are the specific factors which characterize experience
in immersive sonic environments; how we particularize acoustic information
to construct distinct transformative experiences. HOW CERTAIN SOUNDS ARE TO
SOUNDS THEMSELVES. What perceptual modes they trigger - where and how they
will exist for the listener. In creating 3D Music-Image Worlds, ways of
hearing become as important in shaping an aural architecture as the
acoustic information: such as frequencies, tone colors, and rhythms:

"Will certain sounds be locatable, seem miles away, feel close, pulsate
vertically above our head, vibrate an elbow, suddenly appear in the space,
dramatically disappear as though without a sound? Do we perceive the sound
in the room, in our head, a great distance away: do we experience all three
dimensions clearly at the same time? In the room, does the sound drift,
float, fall like rain? Does it make such a clear shape in the air we seem
to "see it" in front of our eyes? Is there no sound in the room at all, but
we continue to hear "after-sound" as our mind is processing sonic events
perceived minutes ago? Do we experience sonic imaging very near, moving
beside (outside and around) one ear only: "feel" patterns as they in fact,
do originate and develop quite specifically inside, within our ears.....?"

Taking VR (virtual reality) and telepresence as points of departure, it is
interesting to consider cross-sensory explorations between stereo visual
imaging and auditory dimension. After images. Thresholds. Physiological
resonances. Acoustic spaces of felt sound phenomena, experienced either
subliminally, or making recognizably direct physical resonances to the
body. Composite mental images of immersion in space, as in stereo vision;
direct physiological experience of an acoustic space, as distinguished from
the perception of an acoustic space, aurally, as "image."

The next installment of "Creating Presence" will discuss the staging of
some specific SONIC SHAPES and MOVEMENTS, and how they may appear in both
foreground and background structures.

In the meantime pick up your copy of J.G. Ballard's "Vermillion Sands" and
enter what may be the first virtual world with total "presence" maintained
through each of the incredible stories. And imagine constructing a sonic
equivalent, that is as vividly and totally present, even though the
Episodes may change over time. "Tone of Place" is indelibly alive,
penetrating sensorially from all perspectives. How does he do this? Years
ago I lived with these stories. And I realize now how much they influenced
the development of my concept for the "Mini-Sound Series" which I create.

I returned to Ballard the other day when the "sonic curtain" came up in
Drew's session. I always loved the wonderful "Sound Sweep" where the little
guy with the "sonovac" cleans all embedded sound, including ultrasonic and
takes it to the sonic dump. It was wonderful to again read Ballard's
descriptions of "ultrasonic spaces" and the atmospheres created by these
inaudible musics which are perceived, but not heard. Hopefully we might
have time to discuss such ultrasonic tonal inlays later in the discussion.

Maryanne Amacher

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