Hans Rudolf Reust                                                                                          pdf

I. While Walking

As if a dog were barking, an owl hooting, as if the trees were soughing, the motorway nearby droning, as if the dark rumble of an airplane were encroaching on the invisible space out here on a path in the park between tall tree trunks and glassy, reflecting ponds, in a space unlimited for a moment that belongs only to itself, receiving me and the distant sounds as transient guests. This sense of presence multiplied distinguishes the experience of Max Neuhaus’ volume of sound; yet, it is not until I have walked away from the invisible space that I am certain I really heard it: a sound that acquires volume around me, passing through me, its omnipresence steadily swelling, its ingredients and sonorous seasonings proliferating, the longer and more intently I listen. In the lingering texture of sound, of multiple interwoven layers spreading out in all directions, single sounds can barely be distinguished for any length of time. I am immersed in a highly energized element; it is an entirely new experience with very special properties: a mentally modified state of gravitation between water, ether, and weightlessness. My head feels as if it had become larger than the landscape surrounding it, as if it were overflowing, dissolving into boundlessness, as if sounds heard in the distance were casual memories, tugged, octopus-like, into this sphere and there blending in with a steady flow of immaterial, drifting sensations and thoughts in the midst of the almost motionless tableau of the park. Only the impatient crunch of the gravel under my shoes reminds me that I can leave this site and return to it at will, as casually as I did the first time I was here. In the moonlight or very early in the morning, the sound and the noises are different again probably because of the deeper silence emanating from the larger landscape around them and because our other senses are “listening” more intensely as well.


II. Space Shift

Eybesfeld 2007 is an entity, here, now. Like all of the sound works that Max Neuhaus makes, this “volume of sound” can never be captured in a recording or photograph; it is and remains only a real experience. The words and the image that accompany the work as a drawing complement each other and together lay a trail with clues to possible experiences within the work. In the image, starting from the two lower corners, the vanishing point of the gravel path reaches up to form a large white triangle. The optical extension of this plane evokes the quality of the space, modified by the sound inserted in the surroundings like active silence. Where the drawing’s image leaves off, its text begins to speak:

Walking along a
graveled road one
enters an invisible
volume of sound.

This space enfolds
its aural context.

Enveloped external
sounds enjoin
perception to reach
beyond the volume’s
limits and include
their distances.

But it is not until
listeners step out
of this field of sound
and are confronted
with the reality of a
new dimension there,
that they realize it.

This portion of the path can be perceived as a passage in the park but it also creates a place of its own in the landscape. Here “place” and “passage”—a distinction made in 1998 by Michael Tarantino in reference to Max Neuhaus—coincide. The path is transition and transit and, as such, a highly energized zone. While entrance and exit follow a linear logic, physical and mental movement in the sharply contoured chamber of sound can move in any direction. The sound generates this contradiction between two settings of Euclidean space—directional and nondirectional. And it is not self-sufficient; it is neither the subject matter nor the medium of the message. Instead, it introduces and transmits; it functions as a liaison, ultimately leading to a sensually all-embracing inner and outer perception of landscape. “Fundamental to these works is that their sound is not the work; I use sound as a tool to shape the site into a work.” (Max Neuhaus

This aurally defined spot in the park of the Schloss Eybesfeld is a linear passage with a mental intersection. The spot becomes the starting point for discovering a new spatial quality: deterritorial in situ, atopian in a historically and socially defined outside space. Arthur C. Danto has described the shifts caused by a static sound, the difference in standstill, as “minimal displacements of the real rather than replacements of it through the insertion of contrived artistic entities, which carry their own imperatives and inducements.” (http://www.max-neuhaus.info/bibliography/Danto.htm)

Through the ear alone, outside space is converted into modified inner space: the world is different; it has changed but without the slightest visual modification. If you stand between the countless sources of sound emanating from under the unassuming grids of the two water conduits on either side of the path, you suddenly experience “being in two spaces at the same time” (Michael Tarantino, 1998). Max Neuhaus has generated a microtonal mixture of untold sounds in several zones from what he calls the surrounding “palette of sounds,” much like the flow of paint when working in watercolors or oil. The result is an aural platform that enhances the perception of the noises around us, much like the visual effect of a repoussoir. “The sounds I create are in the large sound space around and in-between these sounds of everyday life.” (Max Neuhaus, Sound as a Medium, 1997) The section of the path offering a special view of the park landscape is deliberately chosen, although the piece does not refer exclusively to this location and its context. Neuhaus describes his approach as “in fact, not site specific, but more than site specific: I make these works out of their sites, the site becomes the work’s physical component.”

There are two related outdoor works in Switzerland, one on the footpath “La Barma” in Saint Luc, Valais, and the other on the Promenade du Pin, a small rise in Geneva (both 2002). Suspended Sound Line (1992) in Bern subdivides the walk across a pedestrian bridge into alternating pitches, similar to the sound passage inside a telecommunications building near Bern or the three-story installation in the staircase of the AOK in Kassel (Three to One, 1992). Essential to all of these works is the sustained presence of the sounds, ensuring the interaction between the work and its non-stationary listeners. Reception is bound up with the journey that Max Neuhaus describes with regard to the composition of his sounds: “It is a voyage where we deliberately do not want to know where we are going.”

The listener’s body is the sound box: my ears tell me that I am in the middle of the box but my hand might well be in that other sphere that I had presumed to be a binding reality prior to the experience. Max Neuhaus conjures a consummate illusion but it never harbors any expressive pretensions. In fact, the conscious breakdown of the illusion requires but a small step on the gravel path. Strange, how visual perception imperceptibly changes in tandem with the aural shift. In the volume of the sound and the intensified silence that follows, all our senses are even wider awake than awake.

This text was edited during a few quiet days on the Ligurian Coast: the pulsating murmur of waves ceaselessly washing the gravel beach supplied the basso continuo for a medley of children’s voices, “Coco bello” with a bell, the fire brigade, the recycling of glass, air conditioners, a helicopter… What Neuhaus does is entirely different from this backdrop in nature and daily life: the sound he makes precludes naturalism. Of course, I hear the dog barking. We automatically identify noises, choosing to hear them or ignore them, but in the artist’s aurally modified world, our reflexes are neutralized, suspended in a state of still undirected, but utterly focused attentiveness, all of our senses sharpened and attuned to unknown qualities of perception.


III. After Sound

It is often said that the essence of a Neuhaus Sound Work lies in its afterimage, “a transparent aural afterimage,” as Arthur C. Danto calls it. The situation may well be even more radical. In the stringent dimensions of this chamber under open skies, the experience is as absolute as it is pragmatic. Where the extremely special sound ceases to be, I am no longer in the circumscribed shape. But whatever the case, I can never again relive the naiveté that preceded the experience of the shift installed in this specific location. The silence that follows when you leave the passage gives perception the slight shock that Walter Benjamin described when you wake up out of history. “Where thinking suddenly stops in a configuration pregnant with tensions, it gives that configuration a shock, by which it crystallizes into a monad.” (Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” XVII)

The memory of this one place in the park pertains to a difference that is windowless like a monad: the now of lapsing into silence has enhanced the permanent sound to the extreme, making a permanent impression. What endures is not an afterwards but an unending now.

Translation from the German:
Catherine Schelbert