Pauline Oliveros, composer and pioneer of 'deep listening', dies at the age of 84

Gramophone Mon 28th November 2016

Born May 30, 1932; died November 25, 2016

Pauline Oliveros by Vinciane Verguethen

Pauline Oliveros by Vinciane Verguethen

The influential composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros has died at her home in Kingston, New York, at the age of 84.

She was a pupil of Robert Erikson and became a co-director of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the early 1960s, which was founded by Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender (and also engaged composers Steve Reich and Terry Riley). 

In the 1970s Oliveros moved towards meditative improvisation – sonic meditations – and text-based scores. One of these pieces, called Native, consists simply of the instruction: 'Take a walk at night. Walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears.'

In 1989, her album Deep Listening was released. Recorded the year before in the extraordinarily reverberant acoustic of an underground cistern (the Dan Harpole Cistern, with a reverberation time of 45 seconds), Oliveros produced drone-based improvisations on her accordion alongside the trombonist Stuart Dempster and vocalist/sound artist Panaiotis. The aim was to encourage the listener to focus not just on the music but on the space around the music and the extra-musical sounds. This album became the blueprint for a philosophy of music that would occupy Oliveros for the rest of her life, a new approach which was to have a huge influence on many of today's composers. Simon Holt has said: 'To my mind [Deep Listening] constitutes a hugely inspiring and important new beginning for a future connected to more than just "things".'

In 1989, John Cage said: 'Through Pauline Oliveros and Deep Listening I finally know what harmony is...It's about the pleasure of making music.'

Oliveros recently explored the difference between listening and hearing in the TEDx Talk below:

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