The text on the opposite page may be used in any way as a score for solo or group readings, musical or dramatic perfromances, looking, smelling, anything else &/or nothing at all Jackson Mac Low, July 1961


Science, Technology, and Poetry: Some Thoughts on Jackson Mac Low - by his son, Mordecai-Mark, where algorithmic composition (manual, or computer-assisted) was seen as a form of egoless expression, an attempt to write “egoless poetry.”


However, Jackson encountered Zen Buddhism in the teaching of D. T. Suzuki in New York City in the fifties, in an intellectual environment wildly different from that of classical India or feudal Japan. [....]


In the late fifties when Jackson first started experimenting with chance or aleatoric methods, he was thus using an already well-accepted approach to technical problem-solving. His copy of One Million Random Digits, and 100,000 Normal Deviates, by the RAND Corporation, which he used heavily from 1958 throughout the sixties and beyond, was indeed written (generated!) for use in implementations of Monte Carlo methods.


Jackson only became aware of the scientific use of Monte Carlo methods in physics from the introdcution [sic] to the RAND book, several years after his first use of chance methods in 1954-55 to write the “5 Biblical Poems”. This reinvention of a technique already in use in a related area is an all-too-frequent occurrence even within single fields of science: for example, one approximation I developed in my own thesis work I later discovered had already been independently described by at least one other American group, and was fairly well-known in the then Soviet Union. However, I think the important point is not the exact lineage of the technique, but that Jackson (and others) found it acceptable and interesting to use a technical, algorithmic approach in poetry, and that other people found the results interesting.


 Chance methods were not the only means that Jackson deployed in his attempt to solve the problem of producing egoless poetry and music. He also used deterministic methods that employed particular algorithms to generate poetry whose form and content were not known in advance, but could be reproduced given identical initial conditions. (Of course, these initial conditions often included the essentially random element of his current position in whatever he was reading at the time, as well as the chance elements introduced by the vagaries of the publication process.) (1)


Jackson’s approach to writing poetry was, quite literally, experimental. The question he asked was not so much, “how can I achieve a particular effect?” as, “what will happen if I implement this particular algorithm?”




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