Max Neuhaus: thoughts on the spoken and written word

Over the last week or so I’ve been working with the audio documentation I have of the Off the route series. So far I have 3x 1hr long tracks to worth with – and I’m compiling these into a sound installation that will be presented in my dialogues exhibition (on next week at Gallery 5: Crown Lane… eep! Pre-exhibition jitters are setting in).

As part of this exhibition I plan to have daily ‘performative workshops’ – so its an open invite, anyone can come in and be part of the ongoing series. My plan is to record each new performance and each afternoon and add in the new audio to the existing sound installation. So just as the performative series itself grows and develops. So too does the sound installation. So this component of the series is kind of like an audio palimpsest.

Now this is a great word – it refers to something ‘reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form’. I think originally it has a reference to a manuscript or a piece of writing where through the editing process pieces have been changed to make room for new writing.

Anyway, along with working with my own audio this week – I’ve also been looking at the work and writings of various people – in particular Max Neuhaus, John Cage, William Raban and The Wooster Group (which is a pretty diverse mixture…). Anyway tonight I was listening to some of Max Neuhaus’ early audio pieces such as Public Supply I from 1965 (you can find this by following this link:, and when I came across his artist statement about this piece I found some lovely musings on the relationship between reading and hearing language. Seemingly the symbols of language written on a page almost involuntarily provoke aural memories…

Here is a snippet from Neuhaus – ‘Right now I’m talking to all of you, but few of you realize you’re actually hearing. You don’t hear what I’m saying as sound; you are able to understand this small group of phoneme sounds directly as the English language. Your aural mind takes care of all the intricate steps in between, without distracting you from thinking about the meaning of the words.

I guess it is kind of like sounding things out in your mind without even realizing you’re doing it. The sounds are so ingrained its almost ‘unconscious’.

This reminds me of dance – the movements are so ingrained in your mind as is the music – that even after years when you hear that clip of music again you can feel the movement from long ago. I guess in a way the sound is a spur to recalling these movements long lost… (this was something that I started investigating in my practice in second year – the body, movement, trace – and was carried through into my third year body of work – with some 35mm photos. I had forgotten about this until the other day when Agnieszka Golda
– who was my practical teacher throughout undergrad reminded me).

But back to Neuahus. I found his assertion interesting in light of my off the route performances because really they are all about the relationship between the written and spoken word – about language. And one of the difficulties in the tasks is focusing in on translating language from one form to another (text to spoken word to text) with so much going on around you. I guess in a way what off the route does is create so much distraction that it you become very aware of this translation (from my own personal experiences there comes a point where you ask ‘how do I spell that?’, or you think ‘geez am I even saying this word right?’, and when you’re typing it becomes so overwhelming when there are so many people talking)… actually I’m not even sure if translation is the right word. Perhaps its more that it is making the arbitrary relationship between the symbols of language and the sounds of language more obvious – making it more difficult to understand the sounds and symbols…

Neuhaus also mentions radio as ‘The radio on the other hand can give us a live ear view into a space which can be anywhere or nowhere’. I find this particularly interesting when looking at the relationship between the ‘live’ and the ‘recorded’. Realistically the ‘recorded’ can be broadcast ‘live’ – and can be experienced live  – directly. The same thing essentially can be happening in my sound installation. These recorded sounds – of an event past – can be experienced live within the gallery space by the viewer. But in a way they also present an event that only exists within the recording itself. That is the compilation of the different audio documentations together into the one track creates a new ‘live’ experience…

anyway check out Max Neuhaus:


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