Three to One by Max NeuhausMax Neuhaus has been a visionary in the artistic use of sound for decades. In the 60s he worked with some of the most innovative musicians in America (Cage, Stockhausen, Feldman), and was a pioneer of “live electronic music.” But soon he sloughed off the constraints of traditional musical performance altogether. The limitations Neuhaus tore down include time-based sound composition and the separation of audience from performer. To free sound from the tyranny of time, Neuhaus developed the concept of sound installations, which work as audio sculptures to be experienced as spacial components of the environment (one of these pieces is located in Times Square, and maintained by the Dia Art Foundation).

To break down the isolation of audience, performer, and composer, Neuhaus began to work on community-based sound compositions in the 60s. To do this, he connected two widespread audio networks: the telephone and the radio (apparently this was before the days of call-in radio shows). By putting ten telephone lines into a radio studio in New York, and developing a device to answer them and mix the audio, he created a sound piece in which the audience was the primary composer and performer of the work. He later convinced NPR to let him repeat the project across the nation in the late 70s. For Radio Net, Neuhaus connected 200 NPR stations, five of which were accepting calls. Over the course of two hours, ten thousand people participated in a nationwide audio loop.

His newest project flows out of these ideas of communities collaborating with sound, but moves the work to the Internet. With his Auracle website, Neuhaus has built both an instrument and a space within which to perform. Using a microphone, visitors can use their voice to control a sophisticated sound-creation tool. Your voice is analyzed by a JavaScript program on your computer, and certain gestural cues are sent to the server, which then sends them back to your computer to generate the sound. When you enter the website, you can set up virtual spaces (like chat rooms) in which you can perform with a group of other people. The sounds generated are ghostly electronic echoes, but in them can be heard the gestures of human speech. They are simultaneously mechanical and natural, robotic and organic. As Neuhaus says, “what these works are really about is proposing to reinstate a kind of music which we have forgotten about and which is perhaps the original impulse for music in man: not making a musical product to be listened to, but forming a dialogue, a dialogue without language, a sound dialogue.”

[Image courtesy Lawrence Markey Gallery]