Tenses of the Audible: Maryanne Amacher’s Wild Sound

This talk is about Maryanne Amacher’s (1939-2009) sound installation “Living Sound: Patent Pending” (1980). This talk develops a thick account of Amacher’s thunderous playback and intermedial mise en scène to suggest a complex auditory rendering of the juridical protocols whereby laboratory-created life forms were determined to be patentable in the landmark case Diamond v Chakrabarty (1980) after which the installation was named. Using a number of audio, visual and spatial strategies, Amacher’s work conjures major episodes in the governance of life in the 1970s and 1980s U.S. to explore how sound might be made to seem as though it were alive. “Living Sound” finds Amacher concerned with how this “life” might be materialized in the juridical, intensified in the laboratory, and supervivified on the market as commercial value.

With this, the talk extends critical genealogies of “the body” that have effloresced in North American musicology with shifted attention to constitutive frameworks for “life” in the late twentieth-century United States. Not simply feminized or othered by concepts of form and structure, “the body” belies a series of terms held in play by an array of governing structures —“life,” “nature,” “matter,” “carnality,” “corporeality, “viscerality”— that are co-extensively materialized, and implicated in different registers of political, social, cultural, economic and technological analysis. Amacher’s attention, specifically, to a concurrent feminist cultural study of technoscience complexly interleaved questions of music, sound and audibility with demands for the recognition of marginalized perspectives in the production of scientific knowledge, articulated in the work of  Haraway, Hartsock, Spanier and others for whom music was far from a central concern. As much a locus of visceral impact as imaginative excess, “Living Sound” crafts from this interleave a surprising, guiding thread through a politics of life in which music, sound and audibility can enmesh distributions of power, agency and security in the late twentieth-century U.S.


Dr. Cimini earned her Ph.D. in Historical Musicology in 2011 from New York University. Prior to her appointment at UCSD, she held an Andrew W. Mellon Post- Doctoral Teaching Fellowship in Music Theory from the University of Pennsylvania from 2011-2013 as well as a visiting position in Music Theory at the College of William and Mary from 2010-2011. Cimini is a historian and performer of music from the 20th and 21st centuries. Broadly, she is interested how performers, composers and audiences practice and theorize listening as an expression of community, sociability and political alliance, with special focus on improvisation, sound art and installation practices. Her book project, Listening in the Future Tense, examines the use of biological and ecological sound sources in late 20th century experimental music circles. Listening in the Future Tense animates surprising connections between these practices and developments in bioengineering, medicine and policy in the U.S. in order to understand how techniques of listening attuned to bodies, built spaces and ecological systems distribute knowledge, agency and security unevenly across the socio-political field. Cimini is also an active violist working across improvised, rock, noise and contemporary classical genres. She views performing, touring and recording as unique opportunities to merge research with creative practice. In her teaching, she draws on this experience to animate discussion, debate and creative engagement with how notions of identity and community are formed in situated events of performance and listening, from the concert hall to the classroom. Cimini looks forward to offering in courses in 20th century music history and music theory that reflect her commitments to critically engaged performance as well as specialized courses in music and political thought, philosophies of music, acoustic ecology as well as sound and new media.