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Richard Maxfield Collection now streaming online

Tape container for Wind (1961)

The Archive of Recorded Sound is delighted to announce that the Richard Maxfield Collection (ARS.0074) can now be listened to online, via the collection's finding aid on the Online Archive of California. This collection features nine distinct works by electronic music composer Richard Maxfield, composed between 1959-1964, four of which are believed to be previously unpublished (Dromenom, Electronic Symphony, Suite from Peripateia, and Wind). Additionally, as Maxfield frequently produced unique edits of his work for each performance, many of the open tape reels that form this collection include alternative edits to those previously published, such as the tapes for Amazing Grace which feature three different versions of the work. 

While Maxfield did not exclusively compose electronic music, winning the Gershwin Prize in 1959 for his orchestral work Five Movements, it was within the genre of electroacoustic composition that Maxfield's contribution had the most influence. He was one of the first American composers to create works for acoustic instruments with tape accompaniment, and his technique of creating works containing frequencies outside of the range of normal human hearing (below 20Hz or above 20000Hz) that are modulated to produce sounds has since become a notable characteristic of electroacoustic composition. 

Born in Seattle, WA in 1927, Maxfield began composing in high school. He later enrolled at Stanford University but shortly transferred to U.C. Berkeley in 1947 to study with Roger Sessions, whose work he had developed a great admiration for. After graduating in 1951, Maxfield traveled to Europe, where he was introduced to Boulez, Stockhausen, Nono, and crucially electronic tape music for the first time. Maxfield also then studied with Krenek, Babbitt, Copland, Maderna, and Dallapiccola. It was the work of John Cage however, who Maxfield met in 1958, that had the biggest influence on the composer. Maxfield began to adopt Cage's technique of chance operations during composition, sometime selecting strips of tape from a bowl at random to splice together. However, unlike other composers who used chance when composing, Maxfield often later edited works according to his taste.

Along with his mentee La Monte Young, Maxfield co-curated early Fluxus concerts in New York, and also presented his works at the Living Theatre, and other New York City loft performances (notably Yoko Ono's loft) beginning in the late 1950s. 

Outside of composing, Maxfield was significantly involved in music education. New Grove's Dictionary of Music calls him "the first teacher of electronic music techniques in the United States." Maxfield taught at the New School in New York City in 1959 (taking over a class taught by Cage) and later at San Francisco State in 1966 and 1967.

Maxfield's life was cut tragically short on June 27, 1969, when the composer, then 42 years old, committed suicide by jumping out of a window at the Figueroa Hotel in Los Angeles.

Thanks go to the Stanford University Libraries' Media Preservation Lab, who digitized the original tapes in the Maxfield Collection, and Franz Kunst, who processed this collection and produced it's finding aid in 2011, with generous financial support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.