Eric Salzman                                                                                                         pdf

I have intentionally listed this fascinating disc under the name of the performer rather than under the names of any of the composers - gurus all of the post-war avant-garde - for, in every case but one, the decisions of what to hit and when are made entirely by the performer. Even in the Stockhausen, the qualified exception, the performer is offered a certain freedom of choice (the piece is circular and ends wherever it happens to begin) and has the opportunity to take even greater liberties - Neuhaus turns the score upside down and thus produces a 'counter-clockwise' realization. In all cases the composers have supplied what the jazz and pop boys call a 'chart' - graphic figures of one kind or another which may convey more or less specific information about what to play or may be open to a variety of interpretations. In the case of the Brown, Bussotti, and Cage works, all of which are worked up from relatively abstract 'graphs', Neuhaus has, on his own, extended the live sounds through electronics. The amplified cymbals in the Brown realization approach the quality of electronic white noise. The Cage, which uses charts originally prepared for a tape piece, is entirely made up of feedback produced by putting microphones on various percussion instruments in front of loudspeakers and riding gain on the various channels. The Bussotti realization amplifies vocal grunts and groans as well as sounds produced by Neuhaus' body in motion! The Stockhausen and the Feldman are not electronic at all - except by virtue of their being recorded. This is of special significance (as Neuhaus remarks in his program notes), for Feldman's soft sounds can be picked up and communicated through recording in ways that would not be possible in a hall. (The curious title is the composer's tribute to the king who prevented the Nazis from deporting Danish Jews during World War II.)

Neuhaus himself disdains questions of notation and authorship in favor of the reality of the musical experience itself and, of course, basically he is quite right. Nevertheless, why shouldn't credit go where credit is due? Neuhaus makes of his Cage-ian material a fascinating, disturbing experience somewhere on the very inside of electronic circuits; his Stockhausen is strong and varied, easily the best of many versions of this piece that I have heard. Feldman's music is, as always, soft and delicate, but emerges here as also subtle and elegant; in fact, somewhat surprisingly, this is the major overall effect of the record - not, as one might expect, mere power or outré sound. The record, produced by David Behrman, himself a composer of related persuasion, is an excellent example of the creative use of the medium.

An amusing footnote. Neuhaus appears on the jacket in living color, surrounded by his instruments, stripped to the waist and ready for action, his long-haired, bearded head surrounded by a shining halo of light - a veritable hirsute avant-garde guru himself. Alas, that head of hair is no more; it was shaved down to the bald skull during a public performance shortly after this recording was made. Nevertheless, I think these performances can still be rightfully called hairy!


First published as: 'Max Neuhaus' Electronics and Percussion', HiFi Stereo Review , November 1968