Alison Knowles (in collaboration with CalArts students Norman Kaplan and Richard Banks), Poem Drop, 1971. Performance view, CalArts campus, Burbank, CA, 1971. Foreground: Knowles in front of House of Dust, 1968.

Alison Knowles (in collaboration with CalArts students Norman Kaplan and Richard Banks), Poem Drop, 1971. Performance view, CalArts campus, Burbank, CA, 1971. Foreground: Knowles in front of House of Dust, 1968.

Alison Knowles

Alison Knowles (in collaboration with CalArts students Norman Kaplan and Richard Banks), Poem Drop, 1971. Performance view, CalArts campus, Burbank, CA, 1971. Foreground: Knowles in front of House of Dust, 1968.

THE COMPUTER-GENERATED POEM “House of Dust” came out of informal seminars with electronic composer James Tenney that were held in my home in Chelsea in 1967. The topic was computers and the arts. I consider Tenney to be a technical collaborator on the project, since he gave a programmer at Brooklyn Polytechnic lists of each of four qualities that could be assigned to a house—material out of which the house is made, location, lighting source, and inhabitants. These lists were translated into the FORTRAN programming language so that a computer could combine them at random and print out hundreds of unique stanzas in quatrain form. One stanza read (for example):

A house of discarded clothing
under water
lighted by candles
inhabited by people from all walks of life

the following year, we built one of the stanzas in New York and later moved that sculptural House of Dust to CalArts’ Burbank campus, where the poem and biomorphic form provided a site for performance works.

Exploring new media, for me, has always been a collaborative endeavor; it involves working with different people and the diverse materials and means we choose. Some new-media projects today are missing this collective aspect.