Petra by Maryanne Amacher

Petra front cover

Maryanne Amacher | Petra
Blank Forms Editions (LP/CD/DL)

Maryanne Amacher (1938-2009) was a sound/installation artist known for her “psychoacoustic phenomena called auditory distortion products” where she coupled tones to create experiential situations. This recording of Petra (1991) was originally commissioned for the ICSM World Music Days and is the first time the late composer’s instrumental work is commercially accessible. This piece for duo piano was recorded live in 2017 by notable players: Swiss pianist/composer Marianne Schroeder and American electronic composer Stefan Tcherepnin and is exceptional for various reasons. The piece is being performed live twice this season in Philadelphia to commemorate this posthumous release.

Petra is a unique example of Amacher’s late work, a direct extension of her working methodologies for electronic compositions taken into an acoustic realm that alludes to the music of Giacinto Scelsi and Galina Ustvolskaya. The piece is a sweeping, durational work based on both Amacher’s impressions of the church at Boswil and science-fiction writer Greg Bear’s short story of the same name, in which gargoyles come to life and breed with humans in a post-apocalyptic Notre Dame.”

A singular thirty-eight minute work that is immaculately paced, almost brooding in its slowness. The quiet piano makes marks, showing a reverence in the wake of each note, in the way in which each tone fades from existence. Even as stripped down as this is at first there are references to her approach to the way ears hear, to process (and even make) sounds, especially when to players begin to ‘duel’ in a rhythmic conversation.

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The players deliver notes with a sense of free spirit, and of steps that bare an awkward gangliness – coordinating an emotive performance that leans on the more romantic side. Most of the hues are fairly on the softer side, the type that make you want to lean in a bit further, rather than becoming part of the wallpaper. The acoustic has a slightly haunted feel, after all there is no definitive score as the work is divided into a series of fragments and working notes left to be deciphered by the players. As this live work was also the American premiere at New York’s St. Peter’s Episcopal Church the piece, as such, was under the auspices of the structure’s tall architecture (also referenced in the coverart). Midway through the two plays criss-cross over one another with an incredible percolating, rippling effect.

About 3/4 through the two start to harmonize in something that pops like a set of whirling dervishes, spinning and turning round the room, it’s quite fanciful and pattern-oriented. The keys begin to mimic the fingering effects of a banjo or other like stringed instrument – and the two players most definitely churn a lively melodic froth that spilleth over, leaving a tingling echo sensation in their aftermath.

The final seven minutes begins a breakdown of notes, dispatched ala carte, in succession. This minimal course of disintegration does not sound like your average acoustic fallout, rather keeps to an elemental neutrality, still with a sweet resonance, just as simplifed as a hand gesturing goodbye, in a steady slow-motion.

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