A linear, mathematical model of cochlear biomechanics is presented in this paper. In this model, active elements are essential for simulating the high sensitivity and sharp tuning characteristic of the mammalian cochlea. The active elements are intended to represent the motile action of outer hair cells; they are postulated to be mechanical force generators that are powered by electrochemical energy of the cochlear endolymph, controlled by the bending of outer hair cell stereocilia, and bidirectionally coupled to cochlear partition mechanics. The active elements are spatially distributed and function collectively as a cochlear amplifier. Excessive gain in the cochlear amplifier causes spontaneous oscillations and thereby generates spontaneous otoacoustic emissions.