Pauline Oliveros
(Copyright © 1993 Piero Scaruffi)

With a long and intense career that spawned a number of mas- terpieces, Pauline Oliveros has achieved the reputation of being one of the most prominent and influential composers of our time.

She now resides in Kingston, New York, where her Foundation is also based. The Pauline Oliveros Foundation inc, a non-profit organization to help avantagarde artists develop their ideas, is a difficult task, but nonetheless she seems to enjoy every moment of it:
"The Hudson Valley is ideal for practicing creative arts. It's a rural environment, dotted by victorian homes, surrounded by natural beauty. There's quiet and silence. At the same time it is not far from the cultural centres of New York and Boston. The house we chose has superb acoustics and is structured ideally to think about and organize music. The Foundation, that was born in 1985, when the Creative Music Studio in West Hurley was shut down, has a budget of about $200,000, raised through grants from government and state institutions, individual donations, concerts, tours, catalogs, workshops, lectures, consultation, admissions. We have three programmes: literature, music and performance arts. And we have already received five commissions. Our mission is to create and disseminate new works. So around the Foundation we now have a community of artists, which also includes poets and playwrights."

Your career is a monument to American art, and cannot be summarized in a few lines, but what are the essentials of your beginnings?
"I was born in Houston, Texas, in 1932. The music I was exposed to has definitely had an influence on my art. To start with, I was brought up in a very musical environment: my mother and grandmother played the piano and my grandfather was an amateur musician with a huge collection of string instruments. There was always a lot of music in our home. I was listening as well to the music of my homeland, Texas: country & western, cajun, folk, dixieland, shows. I learned to play both the piano and the violin. One day my mother gave me an accordion, an instrument that was very popular in the Forties and little by little it became my favorite. That was 1942, I was ten years old. I feel a direct, physical connection to the accordion. The accordion is like an extension and an amplification of my breath."

But the accordion that she is employing today is rather dif- ferent from the accordion that you may find at the store round the corner. It took 25 years of technical modifica- tions to reach today's sonic power:
"My instrument is amplified and coupled with multiple delay processors which facilitate layering, pitch bending, spatial and timbral transformations. It is also tuned in just intonation: a five limit system in the left hand, a seven limit system in the right hand."

Tuning is certainly a key element of her music:
"I have been interested into different tuning systems for a number of years. I probably picked up some ideas from Terry Riley, whom I knew from the days at San Francisco State University. He had played with Lamonte Young, who was into just tuning. Harry Partch was nearby. John Cage was an inspiration for all of us.In San Francisco, I was a student of Robert Erickson, who taught me the importance of improvisation and the existence of an organic rhythm that is not periodic in the metric sense.

Besides technical matters, for Oliveros music has always been a strong spiritual experience.
"I studied with Tai Situ Rinpoche. I was intrigued by his deeply conceptual views. One can find spirituality in many things that you wouldn't suspect. I still am fascinated by the mandala, by the many ways that one can structure its internal geometry."

Furthermore, Oliveros' music is as much about listening as about playing.
"But the biggest influence on me was that of natural sounds: the animals in a wood, or the insects in a warm summer night,... You learn to pay attention, to listen to all these sounds that fill your life."

And "paying attention" is just another way of saying "deep listening", the keyword to access Oliveros' most recent works. Not to mention her "sonic meditations", which were instructions for ways of listening and responding. It's a common theme throughout her career.

Oliveros' Sixties were very intense. In 1961 she, Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender founded the Tape Music Center, devoted to electronic music. Do you think your initial works were in any way related to what Morton Subotnick was doing?
"Vaguely, very vaguely. "Sound Patterns" was very important to me because I was making all those sounds and trying to figure out how to write them down. There was nothing like that at the time. "Bye Bye Butterfly" and "I Of IV" were very special in their technique, performing the music in real-time using different tones and delay systems. Mort was collecting sounds and piecing them together, he was working from a literary tradition. I was working from the sensation of sound".

In 1967 she moved to San Diego, where she became director for the Center for Music Experiment.
"Those were happy years. Musically, those were the times of my "sonic meditations". But I was open to all sorts of musical experiences. I even played in The Big Jewish Band, performing at oldtime cafes and dance places..."

Do you miss the Fifties and the Sixties? What are the main differences between then and today?
"I have memories of very wonderful things, very wonderful moments, of a wonderful kind of connecting with the community in San Francisco. We were working for the first time with tape music and going through all sorts of new experiences. We are not necessarily more creative today, although there is more financial help for a composer today than there ever was. In those times we had almost no support at all. Today the audience is more sophisticated, many more people have been exposed to many more musics."

By that time, singing had become a key element of her works.
"Singing is just a spontaneous phenomenon. I never studied singing, I developed my own culture of accordion playing. Same thing with singing: I just amplify what I do with the accordion. There are times when you can't tell whether it's accordion or voice. But the voice is way more flexible. Indian singing has been an influence, if nothing else because I had been listening to it for years. I like its subtlety."

And she was getting more and more ambitious about large groups of players (eg in "Wanderer"):
"I wanted to do because I had a lot of fond memories of playing in large groups".

The emphasis was also shifting towards the attention strategies, towards more intense ways of listening and ways of responding:
"My style of composing is different from the conventional style. I care for directing attention rather than notes."

Which finally brings us to the "Deep Listening Band" period. First of all, why did you feel that you needed a band?
"Because it's a lot of fun! Because in order to do some of the things that we do you need more people. Because different personalities add different elements to the music. I think it gets especially important with the technology. And working with other musicians is a challenge, it presents you with different pathways that you can take."

What do you think of electronic instruments, now that you turned to acoustic music?
"They were good things because they openend new frontiers. Now more people con make music. What is not good is the loss of detail and subtlety. Sometimes people think they are mak- ing music but they are just repeating something that is very elementary."

What has been the evolution of the "Deep Listening" band?
"Towards more drama and dynamics, I guess a natural evolu- tion towards more detail, more subtlety. I don't think in terms of composing, but in terms of sound. I care for the sensual nature of sound. It's the difference between concrete and a beautiful stone."

Would you say that "deep listening" is actually a much bigger movement, encompassing most of minimalism and medita- tive new age? Maybe a whole new trend in modern music?
"It probably is. Even outside of music. There is a great deal of interest in the world about consciousness and unconsciousness, different modes of perception, and, partly because of the interest in creating computers that can think, both in the scientific and the artistic community there is increasingly a natural interest in what thinking is."

What music do you listen to today?
"Music that is sincere in it's message."

You also wrote books. Why?
"They are both for musicians and listeners. They cover a wide range: philosophical, educational, technical subjects. I am interested in trasmitting how I hear, hoping that by modeling that in my performance it will inspire others to find more ways of listening. There is more than one way of listening. Deep listening is one way, it implies depth and detail- going below the surface."

What are your interests besides music?
"I am spending a lot of time in administering my foundation. I am also researching African and Brasilian music because of the theatre piece that I am working on which involves an international cast. Njinga, The Queen King, will be presented at the Brookyln Academy Of Music December 1-4 1993. Njinga ruled Ndongo (present day Angola), in the sixteenth century, a sort of ante-litteram feminist who asked people to call her "king" and surrounded herself of male concubines dressed like women..."

Where is the avantgarde going today?
"Towards community, network and support. It exists, but it needs to be stronger because we live in much more conserva- tive times. People in different parts of the world who understand creative art have got to support each other or they will be wiped out. I blame this situation on the meanness of spirits, but most of it comes out of fear, out of fear that there is not going to be enough material goods. Affluent people, like us in the Western world, get mean when they think they are not going to have what they are used to having."

If you had to choose one piece of your music, and only one, to pass on to the future generations, which one would it be?
"Tuning Meditation for the Seventies and New Sound Meditation for the eighties. I choose these because they might be the best ones to exemplify the use of attention to make music."

Extended Voices (Odyssey, 1967) includes Sound Patterns
New Sounds of Electronic Music (Odyssey, 1967) includes I Of IV
Electronic Essays (Marathon Music, 1968) includes Jar Piece
The Contemporary Contrabass (Nonesuch, 1969) includes Outline
20th Century Choral Music ((Ars Nova, 1969) includes Sound Patterns
New Music for Woodwinds (Advanced Recordings, 1973) includes
Trio for flute, piano and page turner
New Music for Electronic and Recorded Media (Arch, 1977) includes
Bye Bye Butterfly
Music For Accordion And Voice: Horse/Rattlesnake (Lovely, 1982)
Wanderer (Lovely, 1984)
Vor der Flut (Eigelstein, 1985) includes The Gentle e A Love Song
Sleepers (Finnadar, 1985) includes Lullaby For Daisy Pauline
The Well And The Gentle (hat Art, 1986)
Sounding Way (Oliveros, 1986) tape includes Tuning Meditation
Blue Window (Zoar, 1986) tape includes The Receptive
Roots Of The Moment (hat Art, 1988) with Panaiotis
Fritz Hauser Zwei (hat Art, 1988) includes
La Chambre Obscure e Deep Sea Rendezvous
Deep Listening (New Albion, 1989)
Deep Listening Band: Troglodyte's Delight (What's Next, 1990)
Tara's Room (Oliveros, 1987) tape
Sounding the New Violin (What's Next, 1987) includes Portrait of Malcolm
Crone Music (Lovely Music, 1990) with Panaiotis
Lion's Tale (CDCM Computer Music Series, 1990)
CDCM Computer Music Series vol.7 (Centaur, 1990) includes Lion's Tale
Deep Listening Band: The Ready Made Boomerang (New Albion, 1991)

Oliveros P.: Pualine's Proverbs (Unpublished Editions, 1976)
Oliveros P.: Initiation Dream (Astro Artz, 1982)
Von Gunden H.: The Music of Pauline Oliveros (Scarecrow Press, 1983)
Oliveros P.: Software for People (Smith, 1984)

Pauline Oliveros Foundation
156 Hunter St
Kingston NY 12401