- In Your Head:Notes on Maryanne Amacher's Intelligent Life
An idiosyncratic three-part storyboard drops us into the middle of Maryanne Amacher's media opera Intelligent Life (1981–1982) (see figure 1). Readied for submission to directors and funders throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the opera consisted of nine one-hour-long episodes designed for television broadcast with in-home FM simulcast. As of yet, it has not been taped, recorded, or broadcast. Rather, it persists as five short texts, totaling 150 pages in length, with Amacher's surprising membership in the Professional Screenwriters of America foregrounded on the cover page.1 A "Premise" and "Background to the Story's Intrigue" introduce the opera's fictive milieu. The year is 2021—the bicentennial of Hermann von Helmholtz's birth—and the plot concerns Supreme Connections LLC, a music research and entertainment company, following the workaday lives, research practices, and aspirations of its leading figures. In a "Partial Treatment and Material for Pilot Story," Amacher's characters narrate how Supreme Connections came into being. Forged amid the failure of algorithmic music recommendation services and a second-generation artificial intelligence that could compose in nearly any historical idiom,2 the company proposed an alternative world of public media interactivity: "smart" technologies for the car and the home, enchanted architectures of customizable audio, and multisensory designs for a burgeoning "urban informatics" that re-cast the city as a kind of theme park that could respond to passersby with all sorts of original but also highly situated forms of sounding.3 Though its technologies are fictive, Supreme Connections' story makes a clear reference to concerns that long structured Amacher's own work.
A "Character Summary" introduces the opera's main personages: Supreme Connections' head researcher, Aplisa Kandel (pictured in figure 1), as well as Ty Choline, her Lead Investigator, and Ray Alto, a minor character and director of Supreme Connections' subsidiary, the Psycho-Sound Research center. [End Page 269]
The storyboard-like "Sound Treatment" reproduced in figure 1 depicts the project's multivalent engagement with media and an opera whose audio-visual logic coordinates its listener's involvement across three distinct social and sonic locations. I begin the essay with this scene because its offers a particularly provocative introduction to how the opera dramatizes Supreme Connections' attention to bodily involvement through a reflexive awareness of the opera's small-screen mediality and the immense cyborg apparatus on which it depends. A closer look at each location on the storyboard (which Amacher also calls a "Sound Treatment," henceforth "Treatment") helps us discern what is at stake in each location. [End Page 270]
Seemingly frozen, Aplisa's hard-boiled close-up commands the image on the small screen. "Aplisa mixes," the text tells us (see figure 2).4 Her focused gaze beams, laser-like, toward the in-home audience from just left of center in the frame while her diamond-shaped visage and open, full lips seem to turn at the same time toward another figure seated close but just out of frame on her right. Aplisa looks away from the mixing board as her right hand alights on the potentiometers: the expert's pre-reflective familiarity with the console is subtly but unmistakably on display. But from this image alone, we cannot know what sorts of sounds she "mixes."
The image labeled "sound" on the Treatment diagrams the viewers' living room and the home theater that would embed Intelligent Life's simulcast in the home's architectures of domestic intimacy (see figure 3). The television is front and center, with two speakers positioned inside the walls of a room. Two scrawled ears place Amacher's in-home audience between the...