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from nothingness and going: Jackson Mac Low’s Numbered Asymmetries

  • Author(s): Bewerse, Jennifer
  • Advisor(s): Curtis, Charles
  • et al.

In October of 1960, Jackson Mac Low created a system for generating poems called Asymmetries. The system evolved from his earlier chance poems to create a situation where poems could be “self-generating.” Over time, the system itself evolved, generating poems of endlessly varying content, each with its own self-contained features that could be translated into performance. These features were described in detail by Mac Low in his instructions for performance. However, like his poem-generating system, these instructions also evolved over time.

Mac Low’s Asymmetries can be approached from many vantage points: as a reader, listener, performer; through a solo performance or simultaneity; through the original or evolved instructions; or through Mac Low’s copious documentation. Exploring these vantage points generates an evolution in one’s understanding of the poems and their openness or limits in the context of the many formats in which they can be realized.

Where are the limits to Mac Low’s extraordinarily contingent compositional and performance scenarios? How do Mac Low’s countless performance scenarios impact the work’s identity? Mac Low’s creative processes pulled at the boundaries of the poem/score and show how a work can exist as a complex and evolving system that can have both clear boundaries and limitless possibilities.

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