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Richard Maxfield

Groundbreaking electronic composer Richard Maxfield was born in Seattle on February 2, 1927. According to the biographical entry at http://melafoundation.org/rm01.htm, as a child he studied piano and later played clarinet in the Seattle All Youth Orchestra, even writing a symphony while still in high school. After a stint in the Navy, Maxfield spent a year at Stanford University, transferring to the University of California in 1947 to study under composer Roger Sessions. Upon graduating in 1951 he was awarded the Hertz Prize before travelling to Europe and befriending the likes of Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen; during a subsequent trip abroad, he also met Christian Wolff, John Cage, and David Tudor. After spending 1958 in New York studying under Cage at the New School, the following year Maxfield assumed Cage's teaching duties, tapping LaMonte Young as his assistant; instructing his students in the art of creating music from exclusively electronic sources, he is widely believed to be the first true teacher of electronic music in America.

Also in 1959, Maxfield completed his first major electronic piece, "Sine Music (A Swarm of Butterflies Encountered Over the Ocean)"; over the next five years, he wrapped up no less than two dozen new works, primarily created via a cut-and-paste method assembled from randomly chosen pieces of tape containing pre-recorded and manipulated sound sources spliced together with blank passages of assorted duration. Maxfield then continued adding and dropping passages from each piece, often creating what he dubbed inter-masters -- i.e., multiple tape reels played simultaneously to generate a new master recording. His home studio arsenal at this time essentially consisted of a pair of tape recorders, several sine-square wave generators, microphones, a homemade mixer and turntable, assorted filters, switches, amplifiers and speakers, and finally a reverberation machine dubbed a "Dynamic Spacexpander." Maxfield was likely the first American to generate electronic music by means of building his own equipment, and may also have been the first outside of European circles to compose pure electronic music removed from the principles of musique concrète.

Maxfield's visibility in the New York art underground was raised considerably by his standing as a member of the Fluxus movement, with performances at various downtown performance spaces, including appearances at the famous loft concert series mounted by LaMonte Young at Yoko Ono's loft during 1960 and 1961. He also tenured as a recording engineer at Westminster Records, and additionally served as musical director of the James Waring Dance Company. In 1966 Maxfield left New York for California, teaching at San Francisco State College for two years. There he released his best-known work, a recording titled simply Electronic Music; originally issued in 1967 on the Advance label, it featured both tape constructions and ensemble performance pieces, including collaborations with David Tudor and others. In 1968, Maxfield relocated to Los Angeles; tragically, he committed suicide the following year at the age of 42. ~ Jason Ankeny
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