Max Neuhaus used the largest existing network in 1966, the telephone network, to create his sound-producing activities, music:
Using technology he had constructed himself, he was able to mix calls coming in to ten telephones in the studios of the WBAI radio station in New York in different ways, and then broadcast this melange of listeners’ sounds and noises. Once the listeners who called in had switched their radios on, he played with the feedback this produced and bundled sounds from introverted and extroverted callers together.
[W]hat these works are really about is proposing to reinstate a kind of music which we have forgotten about and which is perhaps the original impulse for music in man: not making a musical product to be listened to, but forming a dialogue, a dialogue without language, a sound dialogue.
Today, phone ringers and lights are silenced yet there’s no shortage of urban noise. Hurrying through the subway network nearly daily one is part of another sound dialogue, absent of language, an urban dialogue comes forth with messier impulses. Recording urban sounds is part of my routine, as its a dialogue as natural as those I might have with fellow commuters themselves. It’s helpful to always have a good pair of noise-canceling headphones around, just in case.
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[Audio: Bucket drummers, 14th Street Union Square Station, L platform, NYC, April 2010. Note intensity in last seconds; common as performers feel and hear approaching trains. Enforced yet spontaneous finales.]