Perfect Sound Forever: Addressing Intermittent Functionality in the Permanent Installations of Max Neuhaus

Meaghan Perry and Sarah Thompson
Electronic Media Review, Volume Six: 2019-2020


Pioneering sound artist Max Neuhaus (1939–2009) was known for his innovative “sound installations,” nonvisual artworks that use aural perception to alter the qualities of a specific space. Prior to his death, Neuhaus was exploring new technologies, such as automatic gain control and website-controlled calibration systems, that he believed would allow his software-based audio works to self-regulate indefinitely. 

Despite the artist’s efforts, several of these works became only intermittently operable within a few years of their installation. Building upon the work discussed by Brad Epley and Sarah Thompson at the AIC Annual Meeting in 2018, this presentation follows the continued process to conserve the Menil Collection’s Sound Figure (2007), and explores the cultivation of collaboration across disciplines and between institutions charged with the care of related works. Menil Conservation enlisted the expertise of programmers, engineers, and other consultants to address technical aspects of Sound Figure’s treatment, including code resituation and disk imaging. Concurrently, interinstitutional collaboration enriched the understanding of Sound Figure’s significance within Neuhaus’ larger body of work and informed further treatment decisions. Treatment outcomes, documentation strategies, and improvements to the Menil’s digital preservation policies will be discussed, as will forthcoming plans to further scholarship of Neuhaus’ software-based audio installations.


Meaghan Perry
Assistant Objects Conservator
The Menil Collection

Sarah Thompson
Conservation Coordinator
The Menil Collection