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Max Neuhaus, "Fontana Mix - Feed (six realizations of John Cage)"

Alga Marghen
Live electronic music performance was a novelty in 1964 as was the use of electronic percussion instruments. Perhaps even more progressive was that Max Neuhaus' version of Cage's Fontana Mix is used nothing but feedback. Neuhaus placed contact microphones on top of kettle drums and put the drums in front of loud speakers. The microphones were free to move around on the drums. The performer controlled the intensity of each microphone with a mixer and Neuhaus did this following a performance score that he prepared from John Cage's Fontana Mix. This indeterminate composition from 1958 comprises a grid and a set of curved lines, some with dots, on transparencies. The interpreter arranges these in superposition to create a unique new graphic image from which, following the instructions, a performance score from is derived. Using this procedure Neuhaus created the set of curves that he used to control the intensity of each microphone in the mix and used this score in each performance. However, the feedback system itself is a very sensitive and unpredictable instrument, so much so that even following the same score the resulting music is essentially indeterminate. Hence the six different versions on this CD, four live and two studio recordings, spanning 1965-68 are very different from each other. Neuhaus, a brilliant and highly respected percussionist, would put Feed on the program of high-brow contemporary percussion concerts in places like the Carnegie Recital Hall and he would play it very loud. It's amusing to imagine the responses in the highly cultivated audiences. The remarkable thing is that even in today's context with decades of noise art behind us, Neuhaus' trail-blazing performances from the mid 60s are brilliant. The music is relentless feedback noise but has a structural complexity that, if you can tolerate its basic assault, is fascinating and hypnotic. It is piercing and very abrasive but once immersed in it, and if you are willing to play it loud enough, its vitality and detail are consuming. Neuhaus' musical genius blazes through this brutal material in manner that puts many a modern noise artist in their place.



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