A Pauline Oliveros Walkabout

December 6, 2016 at 8:19 am Leave a comment

It wasn’t until days after the fact that I learned Pauline Oliveros had passed. So, I spent part of the past week absorbing random samples of her work.

Oliveros will be remembered as a pioneer of electronic music, a director of the San Francisco Tape Music Center (now succeeded by the New SFTMC and sfSound’s annual tape music festival), an improviser who crafted the philosophy of Deep Listening, and a female composer and crusader against sexism in classical and new music.

NPR had a nice obituary covering those points. The New York Times ran a good piece as well, penned by Steve Smith, a longtime arts writer with deep roots in jazz, classical, and metal.

I started my Oliveros walkabout by listening to “Bye Bye Butterfly,” her seminal 1965 electronics work, for the first time. Its source material includes a recording of Madama Butterfly, the opera, spun on a turntable and run through “oscillators and a tape delay,” as Smith describes it.

 
For a dose of Oliveros’ accordion playing, Roulette TV has a 20-minute performance followed by a brief interview. The music is a droney sheen, drawing you in to hear the buzzing harmonies.

 
Here’s something out of the ordinary: Circa 1993, Oliveros scored a dance-performance piece called “Ghostdance.” Created by Paula Josa-Jones, it’s meant to be performed in an area such as a park, so that the location becomes part of the piece. Oliveros’ score is as ethereal as you’d expect. There’s a lot more info on Josa-Jones’ website.

 
I also picked up The Roots of the Moment, the 1988 Hatology album, rereleased in 2006, that situates Oliveros’ accordian in the “interactive electronic environment” created by Peter Ward. He adds electronic touches, turning the accordion’s sound into endless shimmering planes of music. At first, I assumed Ward’s contributions were pre-recorded — tape music to guide Oliveros — but it blends together so nicely, I wonder if he was recording and playing back samples, like Robert Fripp does with Frippertronics.

 
For a deeper “deep listening” experience, I devoted some time to the album that’s actually titled Deep Listening (New Albion, 1989). Oliveros, trombonist Stuart Dempster, and vocalist Panaiotis, along with engineerAlbert Swanson and a didjeridu that one of them played, recorded it in an army cistern 186 feet in diameter, letting the reverberations layer over one another. Gentle waves of sound overlap and dissolve; it’s a different kind of “ambient” music.

Entry filed under: Bay Area music, news. Tags: .

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