Jackson Mac Low

Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th Edition

Revised and Updated, 1994 - 98

[List of Recordings of Musical Works, end of page]

[“[RW]” indicates work partly or wholly in Representative Works: 1938-1985 (NY: Roof Books, 1986).]

Mac Low, Jackson, American poet, composer, painter, and multimedia performance artist; b. Sept. 12, 1922, d. December 8, 2004. Studies: piano, violin, and harmony at Chicago Musical College (1927-32) and Northwestern Univ. Music School (1932-36); philosophy, poetics, English, etc., at Univ. of Chicago (1939-43; A.A., 1941); in N.Y.: Classical Greek, Latin at Brooklyn College (B.A. cum laude, 1958); piano with Shirley Rhodes Perle (1943-44), Grete Sultan (1953-55), and Franz Kamin (1976-79); composition with Erich Katz (1948-49); recorder with Tui St. George Tucker (1948-53); experimental music with John Cage at the New School for Social Research (1957-60); Moog synthesizer with Rhys Chatham (1973); voice with Pandit Pran Nath (1975-76).

Taught at N.Y. Univ. (1966-73); Mannes College of Music (N.Y.C., 1966); State Univ. of N.Y. at Albany (1984), Binghamton (1989), and Buffalo (1990, 1997); Temple Univ. (1989); Schule für Dichtung in Wien (Vienna, 1992, 1993); Naropa Inst. (Boulder, 1975, 1991, 1994); Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, MFA program, 1994); Brown Univ. Providence, RI (1994); and was Regents’ Lecturer at Univ. of Calif., San Diego (1990).

Among his 27 books, many, e.g., Stanzas for Iris Lezak (1972), 21 Matched Asymmetries (1978), Asymmetries 1-260 (1980), “Is That Wool Hat My Hat?” (1982), Bloomsday (1984), Representative Works: 1938-1985 (1986), Words nd Ends from Ez (1989), Twenties: 100 Poems (1991), Pieces o’ Six: Thirty-three Poems in Prose (1992), 42 Merzgedichte in Memoriam Kurt Schwitters (1994), and Barnesbook (1996), comprise or include works realizable as musical/verbal performances. He wrote  several quasi-musical plays, some composed with the help of chance operations, e.g., The Marrying Maiden (1958, forthcoming in Two Plays) and Verdurous Sanguinaria (1961; publ. 1967 and in anthols., 1980, 1995), and The Twin Plays: Port-au-Prince and Adams County Illinois (1963, 1966). The Pronouns (1964, 1971, 1979) comprises works composed by a nonintentional method which are both poems and dance instructions, realized in the U.S., U.K., and Australia.

He wrote, directed and performed in several verbal-musical Hörspiele (radio works), five produced and broadcast by Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Cologne, one in New York. Both as composer and writer he adopted nonintentional procedures, incl. chance operations, indeterminacy, and related methods in 1954, but has also written and composed extensively by intentional and “quasi-intentional” methods.

His many “simultaneities” (among them his “Vocabularies” and “Gathas”) include musical, verbal, and/or visual elements. They and his other compositions are for live voices, instruments (usually variable), and/or tape multitracking. Many are realized by instruction- and score-guided performers’ choices. He has performed extensively throughout North America, Europe, and New Zealand, often with his wife, the painter, composer, poet, and performance artist Anne Tardos. Others have performed his work in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Japan, and South America. A joint concert of his and James Tenney’s works and a machine recording sounds as visual traces by Max Neuhaus was presented at Town Hall, NYC, in 1966. An 8-hour retrospective was given at Washington Sq. Church, NYC, on 12 Sept. 1982, his 60th birthday, and in September 1997 a concert and reading in honor of his 75th birthday was given at New York University, which was also celebrated in Buffalo at SUNY and in a concert at Hallwalls.

His awards include fellowships from N.Y. State’s Creative Artists Public Service Program (1973-74, 1976-77), the National Endowment for the Arts (1979), the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1985), and the New York Foundation for the Arts (1988); a Fulbright grant for New Zealand (1986); a composer’s grant from New Zealand’s Queen Elizabeth II Art Council (1986); and grants from P.E.N. (1974, 1982) and The Fund for Poetry Mac Low Entry Baker’s Biog. Dict. of Musicians, 8th Ed., revised, updated, 1994-98--2(1988-89, 1991-92).

His musical works have been discussed in John Cage, “Music and Particularly Silence in the Work of Jackson Mac Low,” in the Mac Low issue of Paper Air (II, 3, 1980; repr. in John Cage, Writer, ed. R. Kostelanetz (1993); Ger. trans. in MusikTexte 49, Cologne, 1993); Eric Salzman, Twentieth Century Music: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (1988); Hazel Smith, “Image, Text and Performance: Inter-artistic Relationships in Contemporary Poetry” in David Murray, ed., Literary Theory and Poetry: Extending the Canon (1989); and Roger Dean, Creative Improvisation: Jazz, Contemporary Music, and Beyond (1989); and in the Mac Low half of MusikTexte, Zeitschrift für neue Musik 49, Cologne, May 1993.

Musical Works: Overture to Paul Goodman’s “Faustina” (1949); Overture, Songs, and Incidental Music for Paul Goodman’s “Jonah” (1950); Hear, O Israel! (choral canon, 1950);5 biblical poems (1954-55) [RW]; Songs and Incidental Music for W. H. Auden’s “The Age of Anxiety” (1955); Rush Hour(1955 for speaker and/or keyboard); 4 Pianissimo Pieces (1955); Peaks & Lamas (1958-59); Sade Suit (1959); Headline Glass Material Buildings(source poems, 1954; perf. scores for multiple speakers, 1959);Stanzas for Iris Lezak (for speaker(s) and non-vocal sound sources, 1960; publ. 1972) [RW]; A Piece for Sari Dienes (1960); Asymmetries 1-501 (for speaker(s) and/or instrumentalist(s) 1960-61; Asymmetries 1 - 260 publ. 1980) [RW]; Thanks, a simultaneity for people (for speakers, 1960-61; CD rec., 1993); Nembutsu Gathas(1961 [NOTE: all Gathas are for speaker(s) and/or instrumentalist(s)]); 1st Aum Gatha (1961); Aum Field (1961); 1st Mani Gatha (1961); An Asymmetry for La Monte Young (1961); A Piece for Recorder, Right Hand Moving (1961); F# for Simone Forti (for any pitched instrument, 1961); Pitches (1961); A Word Event for George Brecht (for speaker, 1961) [RW]; “The text on the opposite page” (for speaker(s) and/or instrumentalist(s), 1961; Max Neuhaus’s tape realization, 1965; voice-duo realiz., 1966; multitrack tape realiz. from duo, 1970; cas. rec., 1977); Gate Gate Gathas (1961-66); Jesus Gathas (1961-66); Chamber Music for Barney Childs (1963); Jail Break (1963-66) [RW]; Hare Krsna Gathas (1967); The 10 Bluebird Asymmetries (1967; publ. [in 21 Matched Asymmetries], 1978); The 6 Asymmetries for Dr. Howard Levy (1967; publ. 1978); The 5 Young Turtle Asymmetries (1967; mag. publ. w. LP rec., 1969; bk. publ. 1978; #5 publ. in crit. bk., 1988); A Vocabulary for Carl Fernbach-Flarsheim (1968 [NOTE: all Vocabularies are for speaker(s) and/or instrumentalists]); LETT (1969; quartertone guitar realiz., 1976); Word Event(s) for Bici Forbes (for speaker(s), optionally with instruments),1971-72) [RW]; A Word Event for Bici Forbes on the Book Title Lucy Church Amiably (cassette rec. of vocal improv., 1971; publ. 1978); A Word Event for Bici Forbes on the Word “Environmentally” (vocal duo improvisatory realization, 1971; cas. rec. pub, 1977); The Black Tarantula Crossword Gathas (1973; 8-voice multitrack tape realiz. 1973; reel-to-reel tape & cassette. rec. pub. 1975); Guru-Guru Gathas (1973; one publ. on LP, c. 1980); A Vocabulary for Michael Wiater (1973); A Vocabulary for Sharon Belle Mattlin (1973); The Tennyson Asymmetries (texts and multitrack tape, 1973); Phoneme Dance for/from John Cage (1974) [RW]; Govinda Gathas (1974); A Vocabulary for Vera Regina Lachmann (1974); A Vocabulary for Charlotte Moorman (1974); Counterpoint for Candy Cohen (multitrack tapes, 1974,1978); A Vocabulary for Peter Innisfree Moore (1974-75); Heavens (1974-75); Mani-Mani Gatha (1975) [RW]; Guru-Guru Gatha (1975); Tara Gathas (1975; cas. rec., 1985) [RW]; Kaddish Gatha (1975; anth. publ, 19); 1st Sharon Belle Mattlin Vocabulary Crossword Gatha (1976) [RW]; 1st Milarepa Gatha (1976, 1979; LP rec., 1979; publ. in crit. bk., 1989; CD rec., 1993) [RW]; A Word Event for Bici Forbes on the Word “Bicentennial” (1976; cas. rec., 1977); Homage to Leona Bleiweiss (1976; cas. rec. 1977) [RW]; Stephanie Vevers Vocabulary Gatha (1977); Albuquerque Antiphonies (1977); Musicwords (for Phill Niblock) (1977-78); Free Gatha 1 (1978; CD rec., 1993) [RW]; A Notated Vocabulary for Eve Rosenthal (1978; pub. in crit. bk., 1989); A Vocabulary Gatha for Pete Rose (1978) [RW]; A Vocabulary for Custer LaRue (1978-79) [RW]; A Vocabulary for Annie Brigitte Gilles Tardos (1979; revised instructions, 1980-82) [RW]; A Vocabulary Gatha for Anne Tardos (1980; cas. rec., 1985) [RW]; “Is That Wool Hat My Hat?” (1980; bk. publ., 1982, 1986) [RW]; Winds / Instruments (1980-84; narratives and two inst. parts publ. in Bloomsday, 1984; CD rec., 1993); Dream Meditation (1980-82) [RW]; Words nd Ends from Ez (1981-83; sect. used in WDR Hörspiel [radio work], 1981; arr. as multitrack tape, 1985; bk. publ., 1989; portions set in Brian Ferneyhough’s 4th String Quartet, 1990) [see below: “Ezra Pound” and 99 Anagrams, 1989], [RW]; Dialog Unter Dichtern/Dialog Among Poets (WDR radio wk., 1981); Canon for the Summer Solstice (1981); Free Gatha 2 (1981; CD rec., 1993); Transverse Flute Mime Piece (1981); 2nd Aum Gatha (1982; cas. rec., 1985) Milarepa Quartet for Four Like Instruments (1982; CD rec., 1993); Thanks / Danke (collab. WDR radio wk. with Anne Tardos., 1983); Heterophonies from “Hereford Bosons 1 and 2” (texts, 1981, publ. 1982; 1984; cas. rec., 1985); Phonemicon from “Hereford Bosons 1” (text, 1981, publ. 1982; 1984; cas. rec., 1985); A Bean Phonemicon for Alison Knowles (1984); Reisen (“Traveling”: WDR radio wk., 1984); Locks (radio wk., 1984); Für Stimmen, etc. (“For Voices, etc.” WDR: radio wk., collab. WDR radio wk. with Anne Tardos, 1985); Definitive Revised Instructions for Performing Gathas (1985) [RW]; Wörter und Enden aus Goethe / Words and Ends from Goethe / (text written and arr. as WDR radio wk., 1986); Phoneme Dance for John Cage / Phonemtanz für John Cage (collab. WDR radio wk. with Anne Tardos, 1986); The Birds of New Zealand (multitrack tape, 1986); Iran-Contra Hearings (text, 1987; music, 1988; instructions, 1988-90; mag.publ. 1990); Westron Winde 2 (1987-88); 22nd Merzgedicht in Memoriam Kurt Schwitters (verbal text, music, and instructions, 1988; mag publ. 1989; bk. publ., 1994); Westron Winde 4 (1988-89); Definitive Revised Performance Instructions for each of the Vocabularies (1989-90); “Ezra Pound” and 99 Anagrams (1989, for instrumentalist(s) and speaker(s) reading from Words nd Ends from Ez [see above, 1981-83]); Low Order Travesties (various computer-mediated poems, arr. as voice duos, 1989-90; cas. rec., 1991); 36th-42nd Merzgedichte in Memoriam Kurt Schwitters (1989, mag publ. 1991; arr. as voice duos, 1989-93; 38th & 39th on CD rec., 1993; bk. publ., 1994); Lucas 1 to 29 (plan for instrumentalist-generated scores, 1990-92; mag. publ. 1991, 1993; CD rec., 1993); Motet on a Saying of A.J. Muste (for 4-part choir, 1991); S.E.M. (for instrumentalists, 1992); 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Four-Language Word Events in Memoriam John Cage (3 collaborative painting-scores for voices, with Anne Tardos, 1992, 1993; mag. publ. of 1st, 1992; CD rec. of 1st, 1993; anthology publ. of 1st, 1996); Phoneme Dance in Memoriam John Cage (collaboration with Anne Tardos, for speaker-vocalists, 1993); CD rec., 1993); Trope Market Phonemicons (for voices and/or instruments, with optional audiotape of source poem [“Trope Market,” 1983; book publ., 1984] and of a mix of its principal words), 1993; Phoneme Dance in Memoriam John Cage, Bob Watts, and George Maciunas (collaboration with Anne Tardos, for speaker-vocalists), 1994; A “Forties” Opera (collaboration with Pauline Oliveros, for improvisatorily regulated speaker of poems and improvising instrumentalist, vocalist, and/or electronicist; speaker chooses part from “154 Forties,” 154 40-line poems by Mac Low (1990-95, revised 1991-98), 1st versions of opera, 1995; Laboratory Fantastication (for two speakers and instrumentalist(s)), 1996; Forties Poetry Event, presented as part of “Edit Mode,” by Anne Tardos, for poet spontaneously choosing and speaking fragments from his/her poems and video artist spontaneously choosing and showing parts of videotapes produced for the piece, or showing a version edited from those tapes, 1996; Fieldpiece (for two speakers), 1996; “Provence” (collaborative work with Anne Tardos, comprising a videotape by Tardos edited from tapes she shot in France in summer 1996 and a performance work on Provence for two speakers), 1996; Dream Other People Different (part for 1 speaker in a vocal duo; other part to be composed by other performer), 1997; For Dick Higgins (collaborative work with Anne Tardos (for two to four speaker-vocalists and optional percussion), 1998.

List of Recordings of Musical Works

Some works are recorded on LPs and audiotapes. CDs: The Museum Inside the Telephone Network (2-CD anthology), incl. Communication(s) (Mac Low, 1990), realized by Anne Tardos. Curtis Bahn, and Mac Low (Tokyo: InterCommunication '91, Nippon Telegraph & Telephone, IC91-001, IC91-002, 1991); A Chance Operation: The John Cage Tribute (2-CD anthology), incl. 1st Four-Language Word Event in Memoriam John Cage, composed and realized by Tardos and Mac Low (Westbury, NY: Koch International Classics, 3-7238-2 Y6x2, 1993); and Open Secrets, (8 works by Mac Low, one a collab. w. Tardos, realized by Tardos, 7 instrumentalists, and Mac Low) (NY: Experimental Intermedia, XI-110, 1993).}

Jackson Mac Low is represented by BMI.

Copyright © by Anne Tardos, Executor of the Estate of Jackson Mac Low. All rights reserved.