Psycho-acoustics is a topic I feel we could all learn something from. I have been exploring some of these ideas for nearly 20 years now and I feel like I am still only cracking the surface. There are a lot of different artists and musicians working in this field (as well as scientists and acousticians) and there is much to explore.
Maryanne Amacher was one of the most interesting people to have worked in this field. Her work exploring otoacoustic emissions and addition tones stands nearly in a realm of it's own (perhaps we can look at artists like Alvin Lucier, Phil Niblock and Ryoji Ikeda and find some similarities).
It has been awhile since I read the essay I am sharing, but I will read it again this weekend -
'Psychoacoustic Phenomena in Musical Composition' (published as a part of John Zorn's Arcana series (which you all should read). She has a companion essay in another edition of the Arcana series as well), but something she talks about often is that as composers or musicians we never really consider how the ear works and how listening in different spaces affects perception. She did a lot of research on the ear and listening and she started creating music and sound experiences utilizing these findings. She began composing pieces specifically based on evoked otoacoustic emissions and addition tones.
For those of you not familiar with these ideas, the research shows that the cochlea often is emitting it's own sounds - sound is being generated by the inner ear. Maryanne really makes the distinction that when we are really listening and bringing great attention to and enjoying or at least concentrating on what we are listening to, addition tones begin to be emitted by the inner ear and mix with what we are listening to.
I had the opportunity to experience some of her pieces and a lecture on this a few years before she passed. In one of the pieces I experienced, she was playing a series of high pitched tones - between 3k and 15k at very loud volumes. It almost sounded like demented cartoon music to be honest. When the music began, my entire system felt attacked by the sound. It went from silence to 100db, in an instant.
Once I settled into the experience, i became incredibly focused on my skeletal structure. it felt like the sounds that were being played out of the speakers were actually emanating or emitting from my skeleton - especially out of my skull. She called this phenomenon the third ear.
In another one of her pieces, she was emitting lower tones mixed with 3 remote site specific live recordings she was recording in 3 different cities. She mixed in electronic tones along with these live field recordings, essentially making it a live quartet of sounds coming from 3 different environments. One of the microphones was set up at a pier in Boston Harbor. There was a point were there were fog horns going off and the sound of it hit me so deeply that I had to get up and move. I started walking around the room to explore the sonic architecture. Suddenly, I started feeling something a little akin to vertigo. I sat down again, cried for a minute and then got swept up in the experience once again.
That she was able to work with these psychoacoustic effects as a part of how she composed music is completely interesting to me. She did not perform. She spoke and then played the tones through the loudspeaker system. She kind of head banged a little bit too. It was something that just had to be experienced for what it was. It was music completely for and about listening. if you turned your head, it was a whole different experience. Anywhere you moved, a different experience. She was composing to evoke a very specific effect and I feel that hardly anyone considers that this is actually possible.
Is this healing? I do not know. For me it certainly evoked a response and a huge shift in perception. It forced me to study and it showed me that there is much more going on with listening than what we think is going on.
This is pretty heady stuff, but once you get familiar with some of these ideas, we will be able to relate to more of these psychoacoustic subjects much more easily.
I am going to share some a video of Maryanne lecturing, her essay, an interview and a few papers on otoacoustic emissions. I love how much Maryanne goes into her process in the video and I hope that her character and wittiness is not lost on you.
I am away for the weekend doing the "good work", so I apologize for the silence that will come after this post. I will be back on Monday (may try to check in before then, but do not expect much as I will be on my phone).
Here is a lecture Maryanne gave back in 1989
This is the essay I mentioned above.
If you have Scribd, this interview makes all of this much more relatable.
Here is Jonathan Kirk's essay that includes the work of Maryanne as well as Phil Niblock
This paper talks a little more about the history of otoacoustic emissions. This will help you to understand more of what is going on here. http://alexchechile.com/…/Chechile_Spatial_Depth_Using_DPOA…
This article is a little poppy (written in a music mag), but speaks of Maryanne Amacher's work, long drones (which I find to be very important and a discussion of it's own) as well as the experience of Lamonte Young's Dream House.