“Hear with your ears, listen with your heart” can be dismissed as fortune cookie musing, but anybody who knows or has heard of Pauline Oliveros will say it’s the pioneering musician and composer’s guiding principle. Spark takes you into Oliveros’s world filled with improvisational jam sessions, accordions, frogs and extreme slow walking (she’ll explain).
Soul music comes in many forms, and nowhere is this taken to its most literal extreme than with Oliveros. The Oakland-based teacher, composer, performer and musical ambassador is deeply attuned to the meditative qualities of sound. Since the ’60s, she has pioneered the electronic and improvisational mediums, creating theories of “sonic meditation” and “deep listening” — accomplishments that have brought her and her Mills College program worldwide acclaim.
Born in Houston, Texas, in the early ’30s, Oliveros learned piano from her mother and grandmother before switching to accordion. After high school, Oliveros moved to San Francisco to attend college and discovered new methods of making music. In 1961, she joined up with like-minded composers at San Francisco Tape Music Center, which pioneered techniques of sound gathering and archiving in electronic music, which later became the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College. During the ’70s, she sought to strengthen the connection between music (and atmospheric sounds) and the soul leading her to begin a series of performances and practices called “sonic meditations” and “deep listening,” the most minute sound or unintentional noises are amplified in the composition’s importance.
Transmitting from Kingston, New York, Oliveros — now over 70 years old — still teaches music composition at Mills College and practices deep listening techniques with fellow musicians using her bandoneon (an accordion-like instrument). Her performances range from peaceful to restless, thoughtful to transcendent, and ultimately embody a spiritual freedom that defies borders and categorization. She often encourages her audience to not just listen but to participate at recitals. Through her work, Oliveros explores what music and sound means to each individual, something that goes back to the “listening versus hearing” thing — a dichotomy far removed from conventional (fortune) cookie cutter wisdom.
- Meridian Gallery: Meridian Music series
- Philip Gelb
- The Pauline Oliveros Foundation, Inc.
- Center for Contemporary Music
- Other Minds: Pauline Oliveros profile