Dick Higgins

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Obituary by Jackson MacLow Afterimage January February 1998 http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2479/is_4_26/ai_53738023 Dick Higgins was one of the two most versatile artists I've known. The other was John Cage. It was in John's class in experimental music at The New School in New York City that I first met Dick around 1957. Dick and John typified the kind of artists that the critic Richard Kostelanetz has called "polyartists." Born March 15, 1938 in Jesus Pieces, England, Dick made artworks throughout his childhood, and became publicly active as an artist in several media and intermedia in the late 1950s. His poems, plays, performance pieces, lectures, happenings, criticism, scholarly works and writings fall either between categories or within none that are easily defined. He initiated use of the term "intermedia" around 1964 for these categories. Dick's literary works include Jefferson's Birthday (1964), a collection of performance works and plays; foew&ombwhnw (1964), a collection of poems, performance pieces, plays, lectures and essays, designed and bound like a religious book; A Book About Love & War & Death (1972), an extensive poem in prose and verse in five cantos; Modular Poems (1974), defined in the introduction as "one[s] in which the principle structural factor is the repetition, usually in different contexts, of one or more elements of the text" (in my copy Dick wrote, "19.XII.74 dear jackson - here is where my publishing ends [for now] - the i.r.s. and all that - but no end to dreams or to new writing! love, Dick Higgins"); Everyone Has Sher Favorite (His or Hers): (models from 7 of the 70's) (1977), a book of poems; and poems Plain & Fancy (1986), selected shorter poems from 1957-85 and several performance works. His principal critical work is A Dialectic of Centuries: Notes towards a Theory of the New Arts (1978) and his scholarly works include a magnificent international survey of visual poetry made before 1900 entitled Pattern Poetry: A Guide to an Unknown Literature (1987), and an edition of Giordano Bruno's De Imaginum, Signorum, & Idearum Compositione - On the Composition of Images, Signs & Ideas (1991), translated by Charles Doria, which Dick edited and extensively annotated. Manfredi Piccolomini describes the book in his preface as "a fascinating and engrossing multi- and intermedia work which is not to be read by the eyes of the body but with the eyes of the mind." Not only is Dick's literary oeuvre profuse in many areas - creative, critical and scholarly, published and unpublished - he was possibly the most important publisher of so-called avant-garde books (literary and otherwise) in the United States from 1964 to the mid '80s. In 1964 he founded the Something Else Press, which he directed from New York City and later Barton, VT until 1974, publishing many "experimental" works in all the arts. During a short interim, he published several books under the imprint Unpublished Editions. Toward the end of the '70s, Dick initiated the publishing cooperative Printed Editions (the name was my first contribution), which included as members, besides Dick, John and myself, Philip Corner, Geoffrey Hendricks, Alison Knowles, Pauline Oliveros and Jerome Rothenberg. As a composer, Dick wrote music for solo instruments, vocal and instrumental groups and other sound producers. Many of his works can be performed by any number of players of -unspecified instruments and/or voices. Some of his scores were produced by unusual methods such as machine-gunning sheets of orchestral-music paper or printing semitransparent images of trees, clouds, persons and other natural objects and laying them over blank music paper or pages of music by himself or other composers. His large body of paintings and drawings often functioned as scores for his performances. He and I both performed works of our own and works by other participants (notably the first Happenings artists Allan Kaprow, Al Hansen and George Brecht and the now leading Japanese composer Toshi Ichiyanagi) in John's experimental music class in the late '50s. Dick performed in the premiere of the simultaneous version of my Stanzas for Iris Lezak at The Living Theatre in New York City in 1960 during a program of his and Hansen's Audiovisual Group. Dick was one of the first people to participate, as both composer/writer and performer, in the "Fluxus Festivals" organized in Europe (first in Wiesbaden, West Germany) by George Maciunas, himself a polyartist, in 1962-63. (The festivals still exist today.) Dick continued to be active with the Fluxus group for the rest of his life. Indeed his death in his sleep, on October 25, 1998, occurred after a program in which he had performed his "Danger Music Number Three,"(1961) a prototypical Fluxus piece. Its enigmatic instructions read "Divide a pack of incense among those present in a moderately large room. Ask each person to burn his incense, without flame, all together. Darkness throughout." He was an early user of chance operations in composing works in many different media including poetry, music and drama, as well as other performance works and visual art. Most of his performances and musical works are indeterminate (even though many of them are in other respects determinate) and each performance necessarily differs significantly from the others. Dick, like John, was constantly engaged with contingency in his work. Dick's engagement with chance operations and related compositional methods was strongly influenced by the work of John. It was he who initiated the use of chance operations and related methods in musical composition in the early '50s and who, soon after the composers Morton Feldman and Earle Brown, began making indeterminate musical and performance works (or as Feldman preferred to say, "unpredictable"). After meeting in John's New School class, Dick and I were friends, though sometimes severely disagreeing, until his death. His passing is a great loss to the arts, scholarship and criticism. Artists all over the world will miss him. JACKSON MAC LOW is a poet, composer, playwright and visual and performance artist born in 1922. His writings have appeared in his 26 books and in many periodicals and anthologies. His works have been performed in many countries, often by him and his wife, Anne Tardos. His most recent books are 42 Merzgedichte in Memoriam (Kurt Schwitters) (1994) and Barnesbook (1996).