OK, 2016, are you done yet?
November 25, 2016 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Pauline Oliveros, great American Composer, May 30, 1932 – November 25, 2016 Oliveros coined the term deep listening, and defined it as a discipline.

She was a pioneer of ambient music, as well as a fearless experimentalist, proudly making some of the most beautiful and the most ugly music of the last century.

Her website.

She was out as a lesbian, though she did not want it to frame or define her musical work, and resisted being packaged as a "lesbian composer", or even as a "woman composer" by record labels.

Oliveros on Wikipedia

Also covered in pitchfork.

Pauline Oliveros, previously on Metafilter.
posted by idiopath (52 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
posted by roll truck roll at 5:19 PM on November 25, 2016

posted by remembrancer at 5:22 PM on November 25, 2016

posted by aworks at 5:28 PM on November 25, 2016

posted by brevator at 5:35 PM on November 25, 2016


I actually had a random online exchange with her about a decade ago. I was on LiveJournal, and discovered that this famous and influential composer was on LiveJournal too, and in fact, didn't live far from me. I mentioned it in my LiveJournal, adding, "although it appears she's getting on in years--no spring chicken!" I guess she had a google alert on her name or something and responded on my blog. Surprised, I edited my entry: "Ok, ok, Pauline Oliveros IS a spring chicken!"

It inspired me to put a few of her works on my iTunes rotation at the time.
posted by Schmucko at 5:38 PM on November 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

Motherfucker 2016. Bowie was bad enough, but this too?
posted by Chrischris at 5:41 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by sculpin at 5:44 PM on November 25, 2016

I have been in awe of her practice and the way she gave out her thought as a tool for others to grow and learn. The book Deep Listening: A Composer's Sound Practice has been such an invaluable part of my learning and teaching in the last few years, a gloriously open and unselfish experiment in technique and ways of working that really pushed me to consider why and how I make sound, and to consider ecologies and mindful practices within the sound worlds I make.

I am sad that she is gone, but her legacy is incredible. and I am grateful for it.
posted by prismatic7 at 5:44 PM on November 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

Here is a portion of my 2007 exchange with her:

My blog:

Locally interesting: there's a "Deep Listening" institute in nearby Kingston, NY (where I go dancing)... Its president is paulineo, the famous Pauline Oliveros, a composer sometimes compared favorably with Brian Eno in relation to "ambient" music... I haven't heard her stuff much, but her name's been known to me for a long time. She's no spring chicken, born in 1932, but as I have an interest in music composition and alternate tunings, perhaps this is a place for me to explore?

Her response:

Hi [Schmucko],

So what's with the spring chickens?

You never know who is reading your blog.

www.deeplistening.org/site check out the catalog and you can listen to some of my "stuff"



posted by Schmucko at 5:57 PM on November 25, 2016 [14 favorites]

posted by unknowncommand at 6:00 PM on November 25, 2016

Keyboard Magazine posted an overview of her work. Surely one of many overviews, tributes, compositions, and performances to come in her honor.
posted by idiopath at 6:03 PM on November 25, 2016

"Bye Bye Butterfly" (1967)

Still sounds like future music.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:46 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by the sobsister at 7:15 PM on November 25, 2016


posted by philip-random at 7:21 PM on November 25, 2016

some call her the first harsh noise artist
posted by idiopath at 7:31 PM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by interrupt at 7:34 PM on November 25, 2016

I only discovered this genre of music last year via musicForProgramming() and explored it further with an Apple Music subscription, but I hadn't heard of Oliveros until today. The Deep Listening album is astonishingly fresh and vibrant, and I can now hear her influence on the musicians I've been listening to. I can't wait to hear the rest of her work.

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:08 PM on November 25, 2016

Oh man, that sucks so much. She was one of my biggest artistic, intellectual, art-of-being-a human heroes. I've been shoe horning bits of her Deep Listening ideas/practice into my teaching wherever I can for the last couple of years. Thank you Pauline for everything you gave the arts of making and listening to sound.

posted by threecheesetrees at 8:12 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Alien Bog (1967)

posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 8:36 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

It would be nice if the "." could resound in a deep, huge cavern where it fades away in the darkness to a long long whisper.

posted by njohnson23 at 9:07 PM on November 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

I first heard "Sound Patterns" when I had access to my music school library and was checking out the max number of CDs per week and just digging into composers like Cornelius Cardew and Earle Brown instead of going to class. Well before I ever knew a damn thing about electronic music and its influences on that piece it really stuck with me, and then well after I did become familiar with electronic music that "(1961)" next to its title kept jumping out and reminding me that the shit I thought sounded futuristic had been old hat to her for two-plus decades before I was even born. What a mind, and what an idol. Thanks for everything you made, Pauline.
posted by invitapriore at 9:10 PM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was immensely fortunate to work closely with Pauline for a number of years as her personal software developer & sometime collaborator. It would be hard to overstate the profound impact she's had on me both as a musician and as a human being. She was real.

One of my favorite memories is of a time we played a small show in a museum: they had a two-player game of Mindball, a neurofeedback game where you control a ball using EEG headbands - the more alpha/theta waves you produce, the faster the ball moves towards the opposing player's goal, & there were little display screens where you could watch each other's brainwaves. I played against a few people, the displays showing our waves in long arcs. I had had a fairly serious meditation practice for about a decade at that point, so I was holding my own pretty well... Then Pauline sat down across from me, slipped on the headband, smiled mysteriously, and she just flatlined her display and bulldozed the ball into my goal. I laughed in astonishment, she just smiled again and walked away.

We'd been out of touch for a few years, until she contacted me just a few weeks ago...I'm so grateful I had a chance to reconnect briefly & tell her I missed & loved her.

I've been listening to The Beauty of Sorrow a lot today, it's always been one of the most gorgeous recordings I've ever heard. And there's this poem of hers, The Earth Worm Also Sings:

The process of dying
also sound
sound of becoming another kind of being
living dying
pulsing dying
listening to death
returning to home in the earth
where the earth worm also sings
Shedding physical body
like the earless snake shedding skin
allowing spirit body to soar
at home in the universe
Gathering learning through hearing what is
inside / outside space
Learning zero vibration is not absolute
Learning there is always living dying sound leading me deeper
Learning I was born here to hear all my cells through my cells
Each cell singing the song of its structure
Space dance of creation in an architecture of sound

posted by funeralcult at 9:22 PM on November 25, 2016 [35 favorites]

posted by L E M M at 9:24 PM on November 25, 2016

posted by cushie at 9:37 PM on November 25, 2016

I was just thinking, "At least 2016 has spared Pauline Oliveros."

Fuck this. Fuck this hard.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:39 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also: If 2016 takes Stuart Dempster too, I am going to completely fucking lose it.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:46 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well damn.

I too considered Pauline Oliveros a hero as a young composer in the 80s, and a few years ago. I served on a selection committee for a major composition prize (I'm no longer a composer, it's a long story) and we awarded the prize for lifetime achievement in composition to Pauline Oliveros, the first time it had ever gone to a woman in its decades-long history. (Emphasis on the "his," there are few art worlds more blatantly sexist and misogynistic than contemporary art music, especially in the academic setting.)

I remain proud that I suggested her name as a corrective to the usual all-male list of initial nominees.

Oliveros was a real artist, who lived a full and wonderful life.

posted by spitbull at 10:49 PM on November 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was lucky enough to see her live a couple times. Both of them were times where I felt truly outside of myself, or very deep inside, not sure which. I'm recalling the way the accordion seemed like a kind of lung -- she sighed and breathed in and out and it made the most mystifying and compelling sounds. She created something so profound and transpersonal and immediate. There was nothing but the now and the breathing and the auditory hallucination that was her music. I'm so grateful for those experiences.

posted by treepour at 10:50 PM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

posted by juv3nal at 11:49 PM on November 25, 2016

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was unaware at the time of how legendary she was, but enjoyed getting to hang out with her a bit at an international improv music conference we both attended at the University of Michigan 10 years ago. She came all the way up north to the University of Maine IMRC Center last November, but I didn’t get it together enough to make the 120-mile round trip and see her again. My mistake...
posted by LeLiLo at 11:55 PM on November 25, 2016

posted by quazichimp at 1:18 AM on November 26, 2016

posted by Joeruckus at 1:50 AM on November 26, 2016

One of the absolute greats.

Sound American has posted a nice tribute here.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 1:51 AM on November 26, 2016

posted by peterkins at 2:45 AM on November 26, 2016

posted by ants at 6:49 AM on November 26, 2016

posted by box at 7:07 AM on November 26, 2016


Oliveros on the difference between hearing and listening; what an extraordinarily gifted person she was.
posted by On the Corner at 7:48 AM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

A Love Song

posted by scruss at 9:35 AM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Very early in my composition studies (early '90s), before we could just find any music we wanted on this thing called the "internet", so-called, I made a mixed tape of modernist/postmodernist composers I recorded off the local NPR station.

It had all the usual suspects (Cage, Stockhausen, Boulez, Xenakis, Cowell, etc) along with, of course, Oliveros. I have no idea what piece of hers was on that tape but I did listen to that tape, and thus her piece, religiously for months on end. She, along with the others, is in no small part responsible for the composer I am today.

She will be missed.

(With her passing I don't think there's anyone left alive from that original tape.)
posted by bfootdav at 10:27 AM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Very sad - people who truly engage with the processes of composition and listening are uncommon, and she was a most uncommon mind. I still enjoy and engage with such good contemporary experimental music as I find, and there are interesting people here, but she had no peer during her life and I don't expect there to be another during mine.
posted by Devonian at 10:48 AM on November 26, 2016

posted by droplet at 11:03 AM on November 26, 2016

posted by klausness at 11:56 AM on November 26, 2016

Why did she have to pass away before I knew that I wanted to know of her? wow, where has she and her work been my entire life?
posted by yueliang at 12:38 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by drowsy at 2:30 PM on November 26, 2016

I worked with some people who had, I think, studied briefly under her.

posted by Alterscape at 3:15 PM on November 26, 2016

She led a workshop / performance with a bunch of students at my college years ago. She had a wonderfully inclusive attitude about it, working with a broad range of abilities and experiences. A brilliant composer and a gifted teacher.

posted by Surely This at 3:19 PM on November 26, 2016

posted by dogstoevski at 7:44 PM on November 26, 2016

All-day tribute to Pauline Oliveros on WKCR radio - you can stream it from their web site.
posted by moonmilk at 11:37 AM on November 27, 2016

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posted by evilDoug at 9:45 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

My ex took a class from her at Mills a decade ago. I sat in one day just to learn about her. She had a weird thing about Valerie Solanis, which I don't exactly get, but maybe would make sense to me if I had been a radical lesbian and feminist outside of the acceptable pathways of those identities 20 years before I was actually born.

I feel lucky to have shared a room with her and to have heard her give a talk. Her music is weird and compelling. So sad to lose another great one in this horrific year. 2016 you don't deserve to take her.
posted by latkes at 10:17 PM on November 27, 2016

Pauline Oliveros' work in the Dan Harpole cistern, utilizing the 45-second reverb time and the reflections of sound off the pillars in the cistern, has been an inspiration for me as a dark ambient music aficionado who is planning to design and set up a subterranean deep-listening space.

I love the way she brought greater attention to the importance of the performance space. From her TED talk about the difference between hearing and listening:
“In order to play in a cistern environment, we had to learn to listen in a new way. We had no plan, no written score, and had no discussion beforehand. We simply improvised, played, and learned that the cistern was playing with us.”

“To hear is the physical means that enables perception. To listen is to give attention to what is perceived, both acoustically and psychologically.”

“Performance space is as important as voices and instruments.”
RIP Pauline.
posted by velvet winter at 11:38 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by marlys at 6:34 AM on November 28, 2016

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