On my way out of the Walker Library the other day a little red spine caught my attention. I grabbed the hardback book off the shelf and started paging through and was immediately charmed by what I was seeing and reading. What was bound between those two red covers was a small sampling of the Great Bear Pamphlet series. Each pamphlet is simply produced with black printing on colored sheets of paper (each pamphlet a different color) except for Cage’s poem DIARY: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) Continued Part Three (1967) [fig. 1, and 4] which uses multicolored, and shifting type-faces to help realize his idea. The overall affect is a beautiful stack of reading.
The Great Bear Pamphlet series was published by Dick Higgins, Something Else Press, from 1965–67. Numbering 20 in total the thin-little pamphlets represent some of the seminal themes of the avant-garde and cultural scene of the times. Each pamphlet, except the Manifestos issue [fig. 2, 5, and 6], features a single author, with some notables being John Cage, Allan Kaprow, Dieter Roth, Claes Oldenburg, George Brecht, Jerome Rothenberg, and Jackson Mac Low. The pamphlets represent a sampling of artforms from concrete poems, and plays to happenings/events, and collages.
Higgins himself was a composer, poet, and early Fluxus artist. He studied under John Cage at the New School for Social Research in New York City, and was married to artist Alison Knowles (who also contributed a pamphlet). Many other students of Cage’s ‘Experimental Composition’ classes would later contribute to Great Bear. In describing the aesthetic of publications from Something Else Press Higgins seemed to make some decisions based on themes of chance learned from Cage:
“I set poems and short chapters flush bottom on the type pages (usually they are set in the middle). I used larger and bolder running heads at the tops of pages than is customary in order to tie the page together and because I liked the legibility it gave to a sometimes rather scattered or unorthodox page. Since I did not wish to develop favoritism among typefaces, I used whatever faces a particular supplier had, often making my selections by means of chance operations, using dice… [this] gave the Something Else Press books their look of old-but-new.”
fig. 1–3: Sampling of covers from Great Bear Pamphlets, 1965–67
fig. 4: Spread from John Cage’s pamphlet DIARY, 1967
fig. 5–6: Spreads from the Manifestos issue, 1966
fig. 7: Spread from Allan Kaprow’s pamphlet Untitled Essay and other works, 1967
fig. 8: Spread from Robert Filliou’s pamphlet A Filliou Sampler, 1967
fig. 9: Spread from Dieter Roth’s pamphlet a LOOK into the blue tide part 2, 1967
fig. 10: Spread from Luigi Russolo’s pamphlet The Art of Noise (futurist manifesto, 1913), 1967
fig. 11–12: Spread and back cover from Philip Corner’s pamphlet Popular Entertainments, 1967
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