Jackson Mac Low - Open Secrets

Jackson Mac Low

Open Secrets

Open Secrets comprises seven realizations of works for voices and/or instruments chat require spontaneous performers' choices limited only by given materials and procedural rules, and one fully notated composition. Performers are asked always to listen attentively to other performers (live or recorded) and to ambient sounds, and to produce vocal sounds (usually linguistic elements), and/or instrumental tones, in relation with all they hear. They must often fall silent and listen. By exercising invention, sensitivity, tact, courtesy, and "virtuosity without ego-tripping," they make each detail contribute significantly to the total sonic situation. On this disc, two or more performances of most of the vocal works are superim­posed.

1. 1 st Milarepa Gatha (1976): "Gathas" constitute an open-ended series of verbal performance scores and visual poems begun in January 1961, The letters of their words are placed in the squares of quadrille paper. Performers (soloists or groups of any size) are speaker-vocalists and/or instrumentalists. Gatha (Sanskrit: verse, hymn) originally designated a versified section of a Buddhist sutra; in this century Dr. D.T. Suzuki applied the term to poems by Zen mas­ters and students. Mac Low chose it for these works because (1) he considers them Buddhist poems; (2) until 1973 they were all based on mantras; (3) until 1978 they were solely composed by non-intentional operations, use of which— together with giving performers extensive freedom of choice—de-emphasized the composer's ego and thus encouraged performers and hearers to give "bare attention"—as in meditation—to sounds of words, phonemes, syllables, etc., and to chose of instruments. (When instruments are included in performances, each letter is "translated" by a tone, in accordance with a letter-to-pitch-class code specific to each partic­ular gatha. The gatha-realizations on this disc do not include instruments.)

Vocal performers speak or sing any speech-sounds or letter-names for which individual letters may stand in any language; syllables, words, or pseudo-words made up of letters adjacent in any direction(s); and/or phrases, sentences, asyntactical word strings, etc., composed of relatively adjacent words. Each fol­lows her own path between adjacent squares or jumps to a nonadjacent square and begins a new path. In mantric gathas the whole mantra may be repeated any number of times, especially at the beginning or when one "jumps."

A speech sound may be spoken or sung at any pitch and prolonged or not ad lib. Performers attend closely to harmonies produced by simultaneous sounds and "organ-point" effects of sounds prolonged under shorter ones. Any element may be repeated any number of times (or not), adjacent elements may be "trilled," and performers may "make loops" by following the same path sev­eral times. Performances usually end through performers' consensus.

The 1st Milarepa Gatha comprises 34 vertically placed transliterations of the mantra addressed to the historical Tibetan Boddhisattva-poet Milarepa (1040-1052 to 1123-1135 CS.):Je MiIa Zhadpa Dorje La SolwaDebso. Each transliteration begins in one of the first ten squares of its column, as determined by non-intentional operations. The words of the mantra are pronounced as in Tibetan, but otherwise the letters, words, etc., may be pronounced as in that or any other language.

In this realization, four duo-performances by Mac Low and his wife and longtime collaborator Anne Tardos—eight voices—have been superimposed.

The two have often performed this gatha throughout North America and Europe. It has also been performed by other groups in many countries. [For a more complete discussion of this and other gathas, including letter-to-pitch-class codes for instrumentalists and the E-flat clarinet transposition for this gatha, see Representative Works: 1938-1985 (New York: Roof, 1986), 234-249].

2. Milarepa Quartet for Four Like. Instruments (1982): This fully notated composition may be played on any four instruments of the same kind and range. In this recording of its premiere (Washington Square Methodist Church, New York, 12 September 1982, in a concert celebrating Mac Low's 60th birth­day), the quartet is played by four flutists: Andrew Bolotowsky, Robert Dick, Barbara Held, and Susan Stenger.

A letter-to-pitch-class "code" was employed to "translate" the successive letters of a passage in an English translation of a Tibetan biography of Milarepa (Mila Zhepa Dorje / Laughing Vajra [see above]}. Only the occurrences of the seven different letters in the name "Milarepa" were "translated" as tones belonging to seven different pitch classes. (The composer chose the register of each tone.) The other printed characters and the spaces between words were "translated" as durations of tones (notes) or of silences (rests). The quartet comprises ninety-six four-measure staves (8/8, moderato), each successive four of which are bound as a system. Corresponding lines of die twenty-four systems are played simultaneously by the four instrumentalists.

3. Thanks (1960): Mac Low's most indeterminate work, first published in La Monte Young's AN ANTHOLOGY (New York: Young & Mac Low, 1963; Heiner Friedrich, 1970). Each of any number of performers produces any cho­sen vocal sound(s), word(s), phrase(s), sentence(s), etc., repeats it/them ad lib., or not, falls silent, then produces a new sound, etc., falls silent again, and pro­ceeds in this way to the end of a performance (usually arrived at through per­formers' consensus).

Performed first by a large group during Mac Low's first concert, in April 1961, it was realized intermittently in the early 1960s and then revived on 6 December 1982 in a spontaneous collaborative performance by Tardos and Mac Low at The Public Theater, New York, which became a conversation about the space in 'which it was being performed. Subsequently, this con­versational version was adapted for broadcast as a horspiel, produced in February 1983 at Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Cologne, and first broadcast that October. This adaptation was a written-out conversation between Tardos and Mac Low about many topics, including the Cologne Cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, Episcopalianism, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Each speech was spoken in both English and German. Mac Low wrote the English versions and Tardos translated them into German. Recently, Mac Low and Tardos have been performing Thanks in versions closer to the 1960 "score," but often including readings from vari­ous sources, sometimes along with this recorded version.

In these three superimposed duo-performances—six voices altogeth­er—Mac Low reads excerpts from his Forties, an on-going series of forty-line intuitive poems and vocal scores (begun in 1990), in which silences are regu­lated by spaces of various lengths and word-groupings akin to musical triplets, etc., are produced by hyphenation. Tardos reads from her recent multilingual writings, from Tibor Tardos's recent novel Girl over the Eiffel Tower (in Hungarian), from Simone Signoret's autobiographical work Nostalgia Ain't What It Used to Be (in French), and from the March 1993 issue of WordPerfect magazine.


4. Winds/Instruments (1980): A musical and verbal work for narrator(s)

nd instrumentalists who may sometimes speak. Both narratives and instru­mental parts were derived from the names of instruments by compiling lists of partial anagrams of their names, drawing a series of words from each list (by a non-intentional procedure involving random numbers), connecting the words in each series into a narrative, and also "translating" the letters in each word-series into a. series of pitch-class notations.


Originally written for clarinet, recorder, transverse flute, and trombone and derived from those instruments' names—hence its first title, Winds—an electric guitar narrative and part was added later. Its second title, Instruments, comes from that addition and from Tom Johnson's having given it that tide in a review of its premiere. From one to all five of the instrumental parts may be played on any number of such instruments, and their respective narratives accompany and regulate the performances. [Instructions, narra­tives, and trombone and electric guitar parts appear in Bloomsday (Barrytown, NY: Station Hill, 1984), 69-88).]

In this performance, the clarinet, transverse flute, and trombone parts are played on those instruments, but a violinist plays the recorder part since no recorderist was available and the flutist, who especially likes the recorder narrative, deplored its proposed omission. (The electric guitar narrative and part are omitted.)

Each series of pitch classes (and in most parts their octave placements) must be played as given, but all other parameters of each performance are chosen spontaneously by the instrumentalists. Their choices are limited only by their sense of the total sound plenum and by the need for the narra­tor always to be heard clearly. All play through their parts simultaneously, in conscious relation with each other and the narrator, repeating them from the beginning when necessary. They introduce silences ad lib. and may occasionally speak words "translated" in their parts.

The narrator(s) read(s) each instrument's narrative successively and reg­ulate^) the performance by the pace and amplitude of the reading and the durations of verbal silences before, between, and after the narratives (during which the instrumentalists may play more freely). The narrator(s) (in this performance the composer-author) signal(s) the beginning of the perfor­mance and its end.

In its premiere, at The Kitchen (New York, 1980), Tardos, Mac Low, and two other narrators each read one of the wind narratives, but in all subsequent performances, including this one, Mac Low has read all four narratives and func­tioned as conductor.

5. 38th and 39th Merzgedichte in Memoriam Kurt Schwitters (1989).

These poems and vocal scores are members of a series initiated by a request from the editors of the Kurt Schwitters Almanack (Hanover) for a contribution to their 1987 "almanac," celebrating the birth-centennial of Schwitters (1887-1948). That 1st Me.rzge.dkhl ("Merz-poem") is no. XXXII of Pieces o' Six: Thirty-three Poems in Prose (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1992). It comprises sentences, poem excerpts, tides, etc., by the German collagist, painter, sculptor, and writer, and comments by his contemporaries and recent critics—all selected by "impulse-chance" from source books—as well as occasional remarks by Mac Low.

Subsequently, Mac Low made "glossaries" comprising words, sentences, etc., selected from the 1st Merzgedicht and its sources and then wrote thirty new Merzgedichte by using random-number procedures to draw items from the glos­saries and place them in the new poems. (He regards the glossaries as gamuts of "notes" from which many new "compositions" were made by non-intentional procedures and editing.)

Then (in mid-1989) Prof. Charles O. Hartman of Connecticut College (New London) sent Mac Low several computer programs including his DIASTEXT and DIASTEX4—"automations" of versions of "diastic" text-selection proce­dures Mac Low had first developed and utilized in 1963—and Hugh Kenner and Joseph O'Rourke's "pseudo-text-generating" program TRAVESTY.

Mac Low then wrote five new Merzgedichte by running earlier ones through DIASTEXT or DIASTEX4 and then seven more by running earlier Merzgedichte first through TRAVESTY—specifying outputs comprising word fragments and combinations thereof—and then running those outputs through DIASTEX4. (All outputs were subjected to rule-guided editing.)

During Milanopoesia (Milan, September 1989) Tardos and Mac Low began utilizing the 36th through 42nd in performances regulated by the poems' capital­ization, punctuation, spacing, etc., and have done so since then in the United States, Austria, and Hungary. Their simultaneous realization of the 38th and 39th Merzgedichte that is included on this disc was recorded by Norbert Math on 4 April 1992 at Kursalon Hubner, Vienna, during a program of the Schule fur Dichtung in Wien, at which they led creative-writing workshops that month and in April 1993.

6. Phoneme Dance in Memoriam John Cage (Mac Low and Tardos, 1993). A free vocal improvisation in which the collaborators only voice the five phonemes in John Cage's name—/dj/, /ah/, /n/, /k/, and /ei/— in various ways and combinations. Both the introductory paragraph to these notes and the fourth on the 1 st Milarepa Gatha are relevant to their interactions with each other and their sonic environment.

In 1986, under the tide A Phoneme Dance for John Cage, Mac Low and Tardos collaboratively improvised and recorded die first form of this work, six short superimposed duos, at Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Cologne. It was broadcast dur­ing NACHTCAGETAG: Vierundzwanzig Stunden fur und mil John Cage., 14-15 February 1987.

A dozen years before that first collaboratively composed Phoneme Dance, Mac Low had composed—by means of non-intentional operations—the fully written-out Phoneme Dance for/from John Cage (A Word Event for John Cage) 9/28/74 (Representative Works, 251), in which series of letter strings, standing for phoneme strings, are separated by empty spaces. Performers sound only the given sequences of phonemes separated by durations of silence regulated by their interpretations of the spaces. Only tempos and amplitudes are completely free.

Since 1986 Mac Low and Tardos have improvised their collaborative Phoneme Dance for/in Memoriam John Cage in many countries. In this realization, four duo-performances—eight voices—have been superimposed.

7. Lucas 1 to 29: For One or More Instrumentalists (in memoriam Morion Feldman and for the musicians of Germany) (1990). This work consists of a general plan based on the Lucas number sequence 1, 3, 4,7,11,18, 29 and its retrograde, 29,18,11,7, 4, 3,1, and instructions in accordance with which the individual instrumentalists prepare and interpret their own scores. These scores comprise series of duration-segments measured in seconds. The num­bers of seconds in the segments are those in strings of Lucas and retrograde-Lucas sequences in certain combinations. For each alternate time-segment, each musician chooses a tone sequence comprising the same number of entirely different pitches in any tuning system agreed upon by all in a particular group. Each other time-segment is silent.

The present realization comprises five four-sequence strings of time-seg­ments consisting of forward and retrograde sequences. Each type of sequence occurs twice in each string—in all four possible orders (forward, retrograde, forward, retrograde; forward, forward, retrograde, retrograde; etc.).

Lucas 1 to 29 was premiered 12 October 1991 in Sydney, Australia, by four members of the new-music group austraLYSIS: its director, Roger Dean (synthesizer), Hazel Smith (violin), Laura Chislett (flute), and Peter Jenkin (clar­inet). For this first performance Mr. Dean prepared a microtonal score for the four instruments and conducted it from the synthesizer.

Its United States premiere took place at Experimental Intermedia, New York, 21 February 1992. It was realized by the participants in this recorded version—Robert Bethea (trombone), Andrew Bolotowsky (flute), Daniel Goode (clarinet), and Gabriela Klassen (violin). All except Mr. Bethea also real­ized it in a DownTown Ensemble concert at the Renee Weiler Concert Hall, New York, 24 March 1993. These performances and the recorded one were conducted by the computer program LUCAS, written by Andrew Culver in accordance with a schema by Mac Low.

Lucas 1 to 29 was written in response to an invitation to Mac Low from Gisela Gronemeyer and Reinhard Oehlschlagel, the editors of MusikTexte: Zeitschrift fur neue Musik, Cologne, to contribute to the magazine. A German translation of it was published in May 1993 in an issue devoted to Mac Low's work. However, it was first published in Conjunctions (No. 16, The Music Issue, 220-224), ed. by Bradford Morrow (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Bard College, Spring 1991).

8. Free Gatha 1 (1978) and Free Gatha 2 (1981). Although Mac Low began writing English-language Gathas in 1973, Free Gatha •/ is the first one composed without the aid of non-intentional procedures (therefore "free"). For both Free Gathas, words and names were chosen and placed spontaneously and rapidly, and were limited to running vertically down or from left to right horizontally or slantwise (down or up). Generally, crossings were allowed only if words formed at them were either English words or names. However, when Free Gatha 1 was composed, accidentally formed portmanteau words ("frankincest," "poetree") and a few abbreviations and non-words formed fortu­itously at crossings were accepted.

Following the procedures described above in the notes on the 1 st Milarepa Gatha, Mac Low and Tardos perform from both gathas, moving freely from one to the other. They have performed the two gathas in many countries, sometimes with their own recorded realizations, most recently in the United States, Austria, and Hungary. In the present realization, two duo-performances by them—four voices—have been superimposed. [For Free Gatha 1, and the instrumental code for both, see Representative Works, 239, 246.]

JACKSON MAC LOW, born in Chicago in 1922, is a composer, a poet, a writer of performance pieces, essays, radio works, and plays, a painter, and a multimedia perfor­mance artist. He began writing music and poetry when he was 15, but the two came together after 1953 in his "simultane­ities" for speakers, vocalists, instrumentalists, and/or projec­tionists. These performance works, like much of his poetry and other work of the past forty years, have often been composed by "non-intentional" procedures, and are usually "indetermi­nate": each performance is different, because many aspects of their realizations result from performers' choices—often made during performances. Most of the works on this disc are simultaneities of this kind, although he has also often written and composed by intentional methods.

He has read and performed his work throughout North America, Europe, and New Zealand, and since 1979 he has usually performed with his wife, Anne Tordos, in both his own works and hers. Others have performed his work in those places and in South America, Australia, and Japan. He and Tardos have participated in many poetry, music, and perfor­mance festivals in the United States, Canada, and Europe. He has been awarded CAPS, NEA, Guggenheim, Fulbright, NYFA, and other fellowships and grants.

Twenty-five books of his work have been published, and it has appeared in many anthologies and periodicals, here and abroad. Recent books include Representative Works: 1938-1985 (New York: Roof, 1986), Words nd Ends from Ez (Bolinas: Avenue 8,1989), Twenties: 100 Poems (New York: Roof, 1991), Pieces o' Six: 33 Poems in Prose (LosAngeles: Sun & Moon, 1992), and 42 Meagedichte in Memoriam Kurt Schwitters (Barrytown, NY: Station Hill, 1993).

His works have been recorded on the cassette tapes The Black Tarantula Crossword Gathas (S Press 33,1975), Breathing Space/77 (Watershed C-2002,1978), Homage to Leona Bleiweiss and Shorter Simultaneities (New Wilderness Audiographics 7705A, -B, and -C, 1977), Songs� Simultaneities (Tarmac 1,1985), and Spoken Music (S.E.M. Ensemble, 1990), and on the double compact discs The Museum Inside the Telephone Network (Nippon Telephone & Telegraph, 1991) and A Chance Operation: Tribute to John Cage (Koch toll, 1993).

ANNE TARDOS is a painter, composer, poet, and multi­media performance artist born in Cannes in 1943. She grew up in Paris, Budapest, and Vienna and has been living and working in New York since 1966. She is married to Jackson Mac Low and has frequently performed with him in both their works in the United States and Canada and throughout Europe.

Her paintings have been exhibited in New York, Paris, Vienna, Milwaukee, and Bolzano, and in the 1990 Venice Biennale. Her video computer poem Ami Minden wasexhibit­ed in 1993 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her earlier films and video works were shown in the United States and Europe. Her computer-mediated graphics and four-lan­guage poems have appeared in her book Cat licked the Gallic (Vancouver, BC: Tsunami, 1992) and in Conjunctions, Avec, Central Park, and Hot Bird Mfg. Several of her graphics and paintings appear on the covers and within several of Mac Low's hooks, and on several CD liner covers. The painting on the liner cover, Jackson with Red Vertical Shape, 1990 (acrylic on linen, 48 x 36 inches) was exhibited in her show Portraits at Woodland Pattern Gallery in Milwaukee.

Her works have been recorded on the cassette tapes Gatherings (New Wilderness Audiographics 8137A, 1982), Songs & Simultaneities (Tarmac 1,1985), and Spoken Musk (S.E.M. Ensemble, 1990), and on the double compact disc A Chance Operation: Tribute to John Cage (Koch Intl., 1993).