Richard Vance Maxfield (February 2, 1927 – June 27, 1969) was a composer of instrumental, electro-acoustic, and electronic music.
Born in Seattle, Maxfield studied at Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley (with Roger Sessions) and privately with Ernst Krenek in Los Angeles. A Hertz Prize travel scholarship allowed Maxfield to travel to Europe, where he met Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luigi Nono. in 1953 he studied at Tanglewood with Aaron Copland. In 1954-55 he studied at Princeton University with Sessions and his pupil Milton Babbitt. A Fulbright Scholarship allowed Maxfield to live in Europe between 1955 and 1957, where he studied with Luigi Dallapiccola and Bruno Maderna, lived for a brief period with Hans Werner Henze and met John Cage and David Tudor. In 1958, he attended Cage's courses at the New School for Social Research (now The New School). In 1959 he taught classes there himself, becoming the first American to teach purely electronic music (as opposed to electronic music based on musique concrete-style real life recordings). As a student at University of California and in Europe in the 1950s, he composed instrumental scores in a neoclassical style and then adopted 12-tone techniques. It is however techniques for composing with magnetic tape that would prove decisive in the development of Maxfield's mature compositions. Among his innovations with tape music were the simultaneous performance of improvised instrumental solos with tapes based upon samples of the same soloist, re-editing of tapes before each public performance so that the pieces were not fixed in a single form, and the use of the erase head of the tape machine as a sound source. He was also an active Fluxus participant and a friend of La Monte Young who participated in the publication An Anthology of Chance Operations. Young now maintains the archive of Maxfield's works.
In 1960, he and Young co-curated the early Fluxus concerts at Yoko Ono's loft: the first Downtown concerts. In 1967, Maxfield left his tape music, scores and equipment in the care of artist friend Walter de Maria. He moved to San Francisco, where he taught at San Francisco State College (1966–67). In 1969, he moved to Los Angeles. On June 27, 1969, Maxfield, whose drug addiction was getting worse and worse, committed suicide in LA by jumping out a window of the Figueroa Hotel at the age of 42.
Maxfield made a number of mesmerizing, though gritty, electronic minimalist pieces, a few of which have made it to commercial recording.
- Streaming audio: Open reel tapes by electronic music composer Richard Maxfield containing some of his most well-known works.
- MELA Foundation: Richard Maxfield by William Dawes
- Minimal Music, Maximal Impact
- Richard Maxfield Collection (ARS.0074), Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound
- Notes written in 1989 by William Dawes, from the booklet of Sub Rosa CD SR270
- http://www.pytheasmusic.org/maxfield.html Pytheas Center of Contemporary Music - biographical note and detailed catalogue of Maxfield's compositions