Lecture: Maryanne Amacher and the Third Ear: A Genealogy of Listening


February 15, 2013 - 4:00pm

In the subtitle of her 1999 release Sound Characters: Making the Third Ear, American experimentalist Maryanne Amacher (1938-2009) implicitly frames her record as an intervention on the very material constitution of listening. By listening to Sound Characters, it seems, we will be “making the third ear.” This talk begins with a seemingly simple set of questions: what is a third ear? What kind of listening might it facilitate that our two existing ears lack? Amacher is increasingly recognized as a pioneer in the emerging practices of sound art, installation and site-specificity. This talk proposes new contexts for the study of her work by pursuing her interest in perceptual transformation through an interpretive framework drawn from Baruch Spinoza’s conception of matter and expression. Following Amacher’s interest in a third ear, this talk further illuminates unlikely trajectories in intellectual history that also rely on the production of a third ear in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, Theodor Reik and Jacques Derrida. With Amacher, these conjunctions yield a broad genealogy of the third ear in which techniques and epistemologies of listening proliferate, diverge or coalesce in relation to different configurations of power, knowledge and agency.

Amy Cimini is violist and historical musicologist. Her research, teaching and performance practice engage 20th-century philosophy and political thought with an emphasis on theories of the body and the ethics of experimental practice. She earned her doctorate in Historical Musicology at New York University in 2011 and she currently holds a Mellon Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellowship in Music Theory at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation, “Baruch Spinoza and the Matter of Music,” proposed Spinoza’s ethics as a new resource for theorizing embodied musical projects and as a means of overcoming persistent constructions of Cartesian mind-body dualism in contemporary musical thought. She has published work drawn from this research in Contemporary Music Review, Gamut and a number of edited volumes. As a violist, Cimini moves fluidly between improvisatory, contemporary classical, noise and rock idioms. Recently, she has enjoyed performing with Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Orchestra, improvising duo Architeuthis Walks on Land (with bassoonist Katherine Young) and preparing the release of her chamber ensemble Till by Turning’s second album. She is currently writing a book about the musical thought and work of Maryanne Amacher entitled Listening in the Future Tense, supported by a grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.

Cosponsored by the Humanities Center and the Department of Philosophy

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