Max Neuhaus

Max Neuhaus
Max Neuhaus Estate, Proposals for Aural Gardens, Sound spaces formed solely with plants and topography, Notes on method I-V, collection Frac Franche-Comté, photo: Blaise Adilon

Sound Installation, 1979, "The Clocktower", New-York

Ink, felt pen, pencil and coloured pencil on paper, 76.5 x 65.5 cm

Work presented as part of the exhibition Echos d'une collection - Works by Frac Franche-Comté

The drawing refers to the installation Five Russians (A Tuned Room), created by Neuhaus at Clocktower Gallery, the space that preceded New York's P.S.1. This sound work, specifically focused on the physics of sound and its perception through body movements, was reconstituted at the Frac Franche-Comté in 2016 as part of the Max Feed exhibition. This installation can be reconstituted because it is simply designed for a square room, whereas most of Max Neuhaus' proposals are intended for a specific location. The title is inspired by the type of chairs the artist found in the Clocktower space. The public could move them to test different listening points.

The drawing shows the physicality of the sound, with the symmetrical patterns corresponding to the propagation of low frequencies and the tighter mesh of patterns at high frequencies. These two types of sound produce different effects, quite destabilizing for the body. Low frequencies are calculated to resonate with the architecture, creating pockets in space where they are more or less loud, or even completely silent. High frequencies produce a similar effect, but their wavelength corresponds to the distance between the two ears, as if the cranium were a small resonant chamber within the large resonant chamber formed by the exhibition hall. You only have to move your head a little to hear the sound change completely. All these elements identify Five Russians as one of Max Neuhaus's most significant works.

Proposals for Aural Gardens, Sound spaces formed solely with plants and topography, Notes on method I-V, 1988 - 2004

Pencil and colored pencil on tracing paper, 6 x (21 x 29 cm)

Work presented as part of the exhibition Echos d'une collection - Works by Frac Franche-Comté

The drawings were made for an "auditory garden" project. It all began with Max Neuhaus's fascination with the sound quality of a variety of pine trees growing in the Bahamas. If the sound of two needles colliding is inaudible, the sonic texture of hundreds of thousands of needles becomes strikingly rich. It is therefore possible to create a work in situ without any technical devices, by rubbing the leaves of different plant species together.

The modelling of sound in space would be determined by the relief of the terrain, with zones where it would be absorbed by vegetation, and others where the rustle of leaves would reverberate on parabolic surfaces. Working on the curves of the terrain helps to focus and project the sound. The aim is to design the landscape - in a discreet, unspectacular way - and not to add sound elements activated by wind or water, as has long been the practice in garden design.

The artist became a landscape and sound designer. One of these gardens was to be set up near a Rotterdam freeway, to serve as a soundproofing wall.

Max Neuhaus

Born in Texas in 1939

Died in 2009 in Italy

Max Neuhaus studied percussion with Paul Price at the Manhattan School of Music, earning a Master of Music degree in 1962. He performed as a soloist on tours of the United States with Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and gave solo recitals at New York's Carnegie Hall and in fifteen major European cities.

In 1966, he proposed his version of Fontana Mix, a graphic score for magnetic tape by John Cage, by placing microphones on percussion instruments, connected to loudspeakers placed opposite the instruments.Fontana Mix Feed is considered a milestone in the history of electronic music.

From 1968 onwards, Max Neuhaus gave up performing as a musician and pursued his work as a contemporary artist, developing sound installations - he himself coined the expression - working with electronic or electroacoustic sound for a particular space.

In 1977, he created Times Square. From beneath a grating on the Manhattan sidewalk emanates what the artist likens to the sounds that large bells still make when they no longer ring. This installation still exists. It's not necessarily noticeable.

This discretion is one of Max Neuhaus's creative principles. It also applies to the two permanent works that can still be experienced in Switzerland. One is located in a long corridor at Swisscom headquarters in Worblaufen, near Berne, and can only be visited on request. The other is easily accessible, on the Promenade du Pin in Geneva (part of the Fonds cantonal d'art contemporain).

You can also follow the artist's advice at any time, as stamped as early as 1966 on the hands of those who accompanied him on strolls listening to the sounds of New York. Listen is considered his first work. To mark its 50th anniversary, Frac Franche-Comté organized the exhibition Max Feed.

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