The New York School                                     Page 3 of 3                                       pdf



"Max Neuhaus is a rare musician. His performance is at one with his intention; in his every gesture there is dance. There is no gap or unsureness to blur the clarity of the sound-idea. And his intention always grows out of a sensitive understanding of the music.

His choice of program demonstrated a mind searching out the full potential of his instruments (even beyond conventional procedures). The first piece, 'Reaktionen', by Bo Nilsson, was a pleasant kind of prelude into the realm of percussion sounds. While Mr. Neuhaus played one realization, another previously tape-recorded one was played back simultaneously. It is an elegant composition, no more, no less.

Earle Brown's 'Four Systems', next on the program, is quite a different matter. It is notated in a graphic manner, using lines of different thicknesses and lengths to indicate dynamics and duration, in a field (the four systems) that indicates the range of pitch. (It can be performed by any instruments, though it was originally composed for the pianist David Tudor.) That's all that is given. From there Mr. Neuhaus took it and traveled into fantastic realms. For his realization he suspended several different-sized cymbals and attached contact microphones to each. Touching (rubbing, tapping) each with a variety of metal rods, he created a kind of continuous melodic line that varied from a gentle rasping to an ear-shocking clamor, and all of the nuances in between. Within the relatively small timbre of the cymbals, Mr. Neuhaus created music that was always spacious, going beyond its seeming limitations. It was an exciting experience that cannot be forgotten.

The third composition was Karlheinz Stockhausen's 'Zyklus', a guttural, dramatic composition. Again Mr. Neuhaus changed to meet and realize a different conception. He moved in harmony with the music, transforming the virtuoso demands of the piece into intense expressive energy.

After the intermission, John Cage's '27' 10.554" for a Percussionist' was presented. The numbers in the title indicate the time-length of performance, and the score indicates the sequence in time of four general materials: wood, metal, skin, and a fourth by choice of the performer, not included in the category of the first three. (A radio was used.) Mr. Neuhaus set up his choice of specific instruments, sat down in the midst of them, and played. After a while the range of the instruments explored became a kind of continuum, but then the music began to reveal still more subtle possibilities within this timbre range. The radio was a touch of genius on Mr. Neuhaus's part: always a 'radio' but much more than that."

Malcolm Goldstein, Village Voice,
June 1964


"The final work on Max Neuhaus's solo percussion concert last night at Carnegie Recital Hall was perfect for primary night. Its instrumentation included an FM tuner.

In the manner of the work's composer, John Cage, there were many other sounds, too, from an immense battery of instruments that Mr. Neuhaus struck, rubbed, tickled, patted and beat the stuffings out of at times. To his own considerable energies the percussionist added electronic amplification, so that not only the initial impact tore at the ears, but also the echo as well.

At odd moments fragments of the tuner were heard, none for long enough to be intelligible, but all recognizable as election-night sounds: ''s headquarters. Come in, John. The very ....' Or, 'Congressman Hea ....' And other snatches, all spoken importantly, as election announcers do.

The Cage piece was called 27' 10.554" – which describes its length as timed by Mr. Neuhaus's stopwatch. As music, it was threatening, frightening, disjunct, and although not predictable in detail it was in effect.

Incidentally, the tuner was Mr. Neuhaus's own choice. The piece was written for four groups of instruments, three of which were classified by the composer according to the materials of which they are made: metal, wood, skin, and the fourth to be chosen by the performer.

Equally frightening and almost as loud was Earle Brown's 'Four Systems', for four sizes of electronically amplified cymbals. Here, the composer played with timbres and he gave a great deal of freedom to the performer in working out details of timing.

Again, the choice of instruments was left to the performer. For instance, the piece has been performed on the piano in place of the cymbals with four differently pitched sets of tone clusters.

But the limitation to four strong timbres of the same kind makes for a compelling unity, provided the performer's judgment is as dramatic as Mr. Neuhaus's was.

The other two percussion works sounded almost conventional compared with the Cage and Brown. Bo Nilsson's 'Reaktionen' was a plodding succession of puddles of sound with pauses between. Its notes were written out in detail, in distinction to the Cage and the Brown.

Karlheinz Stockhausen's 'Zyklus' was also written out carefully, with full instructions to the performer, but it was anything but plodding. Its splendid, altogether satisfying juxtaposition of timbres, its strong rhythmic gestures and its firm sense of direction made it a pleasure to hear. Mr. Neuhaus played it, and all else, beautifully."

Theodore Strongin, New York Times,
3 June 1964


These texts were published as liner notes for the CD Max Neuhaus, The New York School (nine realizations of Cage, Feldman, Brown), Alga Marghen (plana-N 22NMN.053), released in 2004. Portions of the notes on individual works were first published as liner notes for the Columbia Masterworks LP Electronics and Percussion, Five Realizations by Max Neuhaus (MS 7139), issued in 1968.


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