Today is the birthday of female composer and accordionist, Pauline Oliveros.
Pauline recently presented a paper entitled “Archiving the Future: The Embodiment Music of Women”, followed by a performance of her 1970 score To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. This was part of the ‘Her Noise symposium‘.
Pauline Oliveros is one of the foremost composers of the 20th (and 21st) centuries as well as a pioneer, alongside forerunners like Morton Subotnick, Terry Riley, and Ramon Sender, of electronic music. In addition to performing, teaching, and compos ing, she has promoted her concept of Deep Listening, a means of becoming attuned to the multitude of sounds in the environment and connecting those sounds to the body.
Oliveros was raised in a musical family; both her mother and grandmother taught piano and she regularly attended concerts by the Houston Symphony. In addition to the classical music she heard at the symphony and on weekly radio broadcasts from the M etropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the NBC Orchestra, she was exposed to country and western, Cajun, and swing music.
When Oliveros was a young girl, her mother brought home an accordion intended for her brother. Oliveros became enamored of the instrument, however, and her mother allowed her to keep it. Unable to play accordion in the school band, though she picked up the tuba and the French horn instead. Her first love remained the accordion, though, and she often transcribed her horn pieces to play them on it. By age 16, she knew she wanted to be a composer. After graduating from high school she went to the Unive rsity of Houston, which offered an accordion major. Seeking greater independence and immersion in a vibrant arts scene, Oliveros left the University of Houston after three years and moved to San Francisco, where she supported herself by teaching private F rench horn and accordion lessons and working as a file clerk. Eventually, she enrolled in San Francisco State College, completing her composition degree in 1957.
Oliveros has continued to perfect and promote her Deep Listening concept through annual retreats in New Mexico and classes at Mills College (where she returned to teaching in 1996, often via video relay from New York), and at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, as well. On her Deep Listening website, Oliveros describes the concept: “Listening is noticing and directing attention and interpreting what is heard. Deep Listening is exploring the relationship among any and all sounds . Hearing is passive. We can hear without listening. This is the state of being tuned out — unaware of our acoustic ecology — unaware that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings has profound effect near and in the far reaches of the universe. We ca n hear sounds inwardly from memory or imagination or outwardly from nature, or from civilization. Listening is actively directing one’s attention to what is heard, noticing and directing the interaction and relationships of sounds and modes of attention…. Babies are the best deep listeners.”