Oliveros, Pauline

views updated Jun 11 2018

Oliveros, Pauline

Accordion player, composer

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 composing, 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 Metropolitan 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 University 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 French horn and accordion lessons and working as a file clerk. Eventually, she enrolled in San Francisco State College, completing her composition degree in 1957.

While at San Francisco State, where she studied with Robert Erickson, Oliveros began experimental improvisations with collaborators like Terry Riley, Stuart Dempster, and Loren Rush. In 1958 Oliveros had a creative epiphany when she placed a tape-recording microphone on a window ledge while listening intently to the sounds around her. Upon replaying the tape, she realized she had been unaware of a number of ambient sounds. Her lifelong interest in Deep Listening and recorded sound were born at this moment.

In 1959 Oliveros, Sender, and Subotnick set up a studio at the San Francisco Conservatory with Erickson's help. There they began using tape recorders to augment their improvisations, presenting the results in a 1960 concert called Sonics featuring Riley and Phil Windsor along with Oliveros and Sender. Oliveros's first tape piece, "Time Perspectives," grew out of these experiments.

In Talking Music, Oliveros described the potential she saw in the tape studio. "I fell in love with it," she said. "I was very, very happy with what I could do with tape. I had a Silvertone tape recorder from Sears Roebuck which I had to hand wind, so I had manual variable speed. I had fun imagining how things would sound if I dropped them an octave or if I speeded them up.... So I used all sorts of acoustic phenomena and milked it in various ways. I worked with that tape recorder in an improvisatory way."

The musicians left the conservatory in 1961 to form the San Francisoco Tape Music Center, where they continued their explorations in electronic improvisation. Oliveros began writing a nonelectronic piece, "Sound Systems," which won the Gaudeamus Foundation Contemporary Music Center Interpreters Competition that same year.

From 1961 to 1966, the Tape Music Center became an integral part of the San Francisco music scene, with a growing subscription audience for its monthly concerts and favorable reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1966 the center moved to Mills College in nearby Oakland, California, with Oliveros as its first director. The following year she accepted a teaching position at University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

While at UCSD, Oliveros began to develop her Sonic Meditations, an unconventional composition that issued written directives to musicians instead of using standard notation. The first meditation, "Teach Yourself to Fly," for instance, instructs the musician: "Gradually allow your breathing to become audible. Then gradually introduce your voice. Allow your vocal cords to vibrate in any mode which occurs naturally. Allow the intensity of the vibrations to increase very slowly. Continue as long as possible, naturally, and until all others are quiet, always observing your own breath cycle. Variation: translate voice to an instrument." A later meditation instructs simply, "Listen to a sound until you no longer recognize it." The meditations were greatly influenced by Oliveros's study of t'ai chi, a meditative Chinese martial art that she began to practice in 1969.

In 1971, noting a growing conservatism among her students, Oliveros left UCSD and moved to New York City and from there to upstate New York, where in 1985 she founded the Pauline Oliveros Foundation, an incubator for new and innovative musical works. She also continued to perfect her Expanded Instrument System (EIS), a complex electronic processing system that allows musicians to imbue their instruments with a variety of time- and sound-related effects. The recordings Crone Music (1989) and Roots of the Movement (1990) both rely heavily on EIS.

In 1988, along with trombonist Dempster and singer Panaiotis, Oliveros performed in the "cistern chapel" near Seattle. A buried, two-million-gallon water tank, the chapel was a unique sound environment for the trombone, didgeridoo, accordion, conch shells, and metal scraps that the musicians played. The performance launched an ongoing exploration of alternative sound environments for the group, which eventually became the Deep Listening Band. Additional performance sites have included a ceramic silo, a power plant cooling tower and Tarpaper Cave in Rosendale, New York, where Troglodyte's Delight was recorded. The group returned to the cistern chapel in 1990 to record the Ready Made Boomerang.

For the Record . . .

Born on May 30, 1932, in Houston, TX. Education: Attended University of Houston (194952); graduated from San Francisco State College, 1957.

Cofounded San Francisco Tape Music Center with Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender, 1961; director, San Francisco Tape Music Center, 1966-67; professor, University of California, San Diego, 1967-1981, director, Pauline Oliveros Foundation, 1985; professor, Mills College, 1996.

Awards: Gaudeamus Foundation Contemporary Music Center Interpreters Competition Prize for "Sound Systems," 1962; Guggenheim Fellowship, 1973; Dance Theater Workshop Bessie Award for "Contenders," 1991; Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) Lifetime Achievement Award, 1999.

Addresses: Office Pauline Oliveros Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 1956, 7375 Broadway, Kingston, NY 12402, phone: (845) 338-5984, fax: (845) 338-5986, e-mail: [email protected], website: http://www.pofinc.org.

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 outunaware of our acoustic ecologyunaware that the fluttering of a butterfly's wings has profound effect near and in the far reaches of the universe. We can 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."

Oliveros has enjoyed even greater recognition for her contributions to contemporary music in the new millennium. Two of her important but previously unavailable early works, Electronics IIV and Alien Bog and Beautiful Soop were released by the Pogus label in 1997. In addition, a variety of younger musicians are recognizing their indebtedness to her works. Sonic Youth commissioned Oliveros to write "Six in New Time (for Sonic Youth)," which appears on their 1999 album Goodbye 20th Century. Oliveros has also performed with DJ Spooky.

She continues to utilize new technologies as well, often performing collaborative concerts using simulcasting and other linking devices with musicians in disparate locations. Yet Oliveros remains known for music that comes not from machines, but from the body. As Marc Weidenbaum noted in the Music Now newsletter, quoted on the Disquiet Ambient/Electronica website, "Pauline Oliveros has done more to humanize technology than virtually any other living musician in the classical tradition." In 1999 Oliveros was honored with a lifetime achievement award for her work from the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS).

Selected discography

Accordion and Voice, Lovely Music, 1982.

Wanderer, Lovely Musc, 1984.

Well and the Gentle, hatArt, 1985.

Roots of the Movement, hatArt, 1988.

Crone Music, Lovely Music, 1989.

Deep Listening, New Albion, 1989.

Ready Made Boomerang, New Albion, 1989.

Troglodyte's Delight, What Next?, 1990.

Pauline Oliveros and American Voices, Mode, 1994.

Sanctuary, Mode, 1995.

(With Deep Listening Band) Tosca Salad, self-released, 1995.

Non Stop Flight, self-released, 1996.

Alien Bog and Beautiful Soop, Pogus, 1997.

Electronic Works I-IV, Pogus, 1997.

Suspended Music, Periplum, 1997.

Between/Waves, Sparkling Beatnik, 1998.

Carrier, Deep Listening, 1998.

Live at the Meridian, Sparkling Beatnik, 1999.

Timeless Pulse, Deep Listening, 2002.

Selected writings

Sonic Meditations (score), Smith Publications, 1974.

To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation, for any group or groups of instrumentalists (6 to large orchestra), September 28, 1970, Holland, Michigan, Smith Publications, 1977.

Lullaby for Daisy Pauline: A meditation for Daisy Pauline Oliveros, Smith Publications, 1984.

Software for people: collected writings, 196380, Smith Publications, 1984.

Deep Listening Pieces, Deep Listening Publications, 1990.

The Roots of the Movement (book and CD), Drogue Press, 1998.



Duckworth, William, Talking Music: Conversations with John Cage, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, and Five Generations of American Experimental Composers, Da Capo, 1999.


San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 2001.


"Creating, Performing and Listening," New Music Box, http://www.newmusicbox.org/first-person/dec00/2.html (February 8, 2004).

"Deep Listening," Disquiet Ambient/Electronica, http://www.disquiet.com/oliveros.html (April 1, 2004).

"Pauline Oliveros," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 1, 2004).

"Pauline Oliveros," ESTweb Index, http://media.hyperreal.org/zines/est/intervs/oliveros.html (February 8, 2004).

"Pauline Oliveros," Grove Dictionary of Music, http://www.grovemusic.com (February 1, 2004).

Pauline Oliveros Foundation Website, http://www.deeplistening.org/pauline (January 28, 2004).

Kristin Palm

Oliveros, Pauline

views updated May 14 2018


OLIVEROS, Pauline (b. 30 May 1932), composer, musician.

Pauline Oliveros is an out lesbian and avant-garde U.S. composer. She uses her musical compositions to challenge the prevailing stereotypes of sexuality that support the belief that only men can make music.

Born in Houston, Texas, into a musical family, Oliveros and her older brother grew up with two strong role models of women in music. Her father, John B. Oliveros Jr., abandoned the family in 1941. To make ends meet, Oliveros's mother and her maternal grandmother gave piano lessons. Her mother, Edith Oliveros Gutierrez, later became a composer of some note.

In light of her family background, it is not surprising that Oliveros displayed an early interest in music. She spent her childhood years mastering piano, French horn, and the accordion. The last instrument became Oliveros's lifelong passion, and it introduced her to a man who helped to shape her pioneering compositions.

Oliveros's accordion teacher taught the budding musician to listen to combination tones, the added sounds that are sometimes heard when two or more tones are played together. Both combination tones and the very act of listening later served as important elements of Oliveros's musical pioneering.

Oliveros's interest in the concept of deep listening, the practice of hearing everything possible as well as the sounds of music, grew out of a childhood experience.

In the 1940s, the teenage Oliveros played accordion in a polka band to earn extra income. One day, the group attempted to play German polkas in a Polish hall. Unfortunately for the band, the German invasion of Poland during World War II did not make German music a particularly popular choice among the Poles, and an angry audience forced the musicians to abandon the stage. The experience alerted Oliveros to the many ways in which music can affect people.

Determined to make a career as a musician, Oliveros entered the University of Houston as an accordion major in 1949. She became interested in composition and, dissatisfied with the conservative approach at Houston, decided to leave the university in 1952 for a more innovative program. Packing her accordion, Oliveros headed to San Francisco. From 1952 to 1960, she supported herself there as a composer and performer. In 1957, San Francisco State College awarded Oliveros a B.A in composition studies, an unusual achievement for a woman.

Few women composers existed in the 1950s and 1960s, making Oliveros acutely aware of sex-based discrimination within the field. Such prejudice limited her career trajectory and led her to design compositions that act as feminist statements about artistic freedom and self-expression. She subsequently listed the advancement of women in music alongside composition as her chief areas of professional focus.

In 1958, Oliveros began experimenting with digital delay and the expanded accordion, part of a form of music known as electronic music that subsequently became commonplace in academic and industrial circles. In the late 1960s, the faculty of the Music Department at the University of California at San Diego decided to establish a graduate course in electronic music, and Oliveros was one of the few people on the West Coast qualified to teach it. In 1967 she joined the department as a non-tenure-track lecturer. Her credentials included service at the San Francisco Tape Music Center as cofounder and codirector from 1961 to 1966 and work at the Mills College Tape Music Center in Oakland as inaugural director in 1966 and 1967. She eventually won tenure at San Diego but resigned her professorship in 1981. Exhausted by dealing with the politics of academia and frustrated by the academic preference for baroque and classical music, she decided to resume freelance composing and performing.

Of the more than one hundred diverse compositions Oliveros has produced, the most important include To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation (1970) and Sonic Meditations (1971). The first piece is one of the earliest attempts to relate music to feminism. Oliveros came out publicly as a lesbian upon releasing Sonic, a collection of twenty-five short guides for improvisation that require no formal musical training to perform. Like Sonic, many of Oliveros's works are developed collaboratively with lesbian and bisexual women artists. Her musical recordings include The Roots of the Moment (1988), Deep Listening (1989), and Crone Music (1989).

In 1985, Oliveros established in Kingston, New York, the Pauline Oliveros Foundation for research in art and technology. She remained with this organization while frequently accepting academic appointments as a composer in residence and visiting professor.


Gagne, Cole. Soundpieces 2: Interviews with American Composers. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1993.

Oliveros, Pauline. Software for People: Collected Writings 1963–80. Baltimore: Smith Publications, 1984.

Taylor, Timothy D. "The Gendered Construction of the Musical Self: The Music of Pauline Oliveros." Musical Quarterly 77 (1993): 385–396.

Von Gunden, Heidi. The Music of Pauline Oliveros. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1983.

Caryn E. Neumann

see alsomusic: classical.

Oliveros, Pauline

views updated May 23 2018

Oliveros, Pauline

Oliveros, Pauline, American composer, performer, teacher, author, and philosopher; b. Houston, May 30, 1932. She received rudimentary instruction in music from her mother and grandmother, and then had lessons with William Sydler (violin), Marjorie Harrigan (accordion), and J.M. Brandsetter (horn). Following studies in composition with Paul Koepke and in accordion with William Palmer at the Univ. of Houston (1949–52), she studied with Robert Erickson (1954–60) and at San Francisco State Coll. (B.A. in composition, 1957). In 1966–67 she was director of the Mills Coll. Tape Music Center in Oakland, Calif. From 1967 to 1981 she was a prof. of music at the Univ. of Calif. at San Diego, where she also was director of its Center for Music Experiment (1976–79). In 1985 she was a prof. at the Theater School for New Dance in Amsterdam. In 1985 she founded and became president and co-artistic director of the Pauline Oliveros Foundation, Inc. Among her writings are Pauline’s Proverbs (1976), Initiation Dream (1982), and Software for Peoples (1984). In 1973 she held a Guggenheim fellowship. She received annual ASCAP awards from 1982 to 1994. In 1984, 1988, and 1990 she held NE A composer’s fellowships. In 1994 she was awarded the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts grant. In her life and work, Oliveros has been absorbed by the potentialities of meditation, ritual, and myth. In her music, she has extended the boundaries of her art by an innovative approach to the sound and non-sound worlds, from the use of improvisation to electronics and beyond.


3 Songs for Soprano and Piano (1957); Variations for Sextet for Flute, Clarinet, Trumpet, Horn, Cello, and Piano (1959); Sound Patterns for Chorus (1961); Trio for Flute, Piano, and Page Turner (1961); Outline for Flute, Percussion, and String Bass (1963); Trio for Accordion, Trumpet, and String Bass (1963); Pieces of 8, theater piece for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Trumpet, Horn, and Trombone (1965); Aeolian Partitions, theater piece for Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano (1968); Double Basses at 20 Paces, theater piece for 2 Basses, Their Seconds, and a Referee with Slide and Tape (1968); Meditation on the Points of the Compass for Chorus (1970); To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation for Ensemble or Orch. (1970); Deep Listening Pieces for Voices and Instruments (1970–90); Bonn Feier, environmental theater piece with knowing and unknowing performers (1971); Sonic Meditations for Voices and Instruments (1971); Rose Moon, ritual theater piece for Chorus (1977); Spiral Mandala for Clarinets, Tuned Crystal Glasses, and Bass Drum with 4 Players and Chant (1978); Music for Stacked Deck for 4 Players (1979); El Relicario de los Animales for Singer and 20 Players (1979); The Witness for Solo or Duo or Any Ensemble (1979); Traveling Companions for Percussion and Dancers (1980); Tashi Gomang for Orch. (1981); The Wanderer for Accordion Ensemble and Percussion (1982); Earth Ears for Any Ensemble (1983); Gathering Together for Piano, 8-Hands (1983); Tree/Peace for Violin, Cello, and Piano (1983); The Well and the Gentle for Ensemble (1983); The Wheel of Time for String Quartet (1983); Wings of Dove for Double Wind Quintet and 2 Pianos (1984); Lion’s Eye for Javanese Gamelan and Sampler (1985); Portraits for Solo or Any Ensemble (1987); Dream Horse Spiel for Voices and Sound Effects (1988); Dream Gates for Solo or Ensemble (1989); Wind Horse for Chorus (1989); All Fours for the Drum Bum for Solo Drum Set (1990); Contenders, dance piece (1991); Njinga the Queen King, theater piece (1993); Hommage a Serafina, dance piece (1996); Ghost Dance, dance piece (1996).


H. von Gunden, The Music of P. O. (Metuchen, N.J., 1983).

—Nicolas Slominsky/Laura Kaun/Dennis McIntire

Oliveros, Pauline

views updated Jun 11 2018

Oliveros, Pauline (b Houston, 1932). Amer. composer. Worked at S. Francisco Tape Centre 1961–6. Worked with David Tudor, pianist, and Elizabeth Harris, dancer-choreog., 1963–6. Dir., tape mus. centre, Mills Coll., 1961–7; teacher of elec. mus., Univ. of California, San Diego, from 1967 (prof. 1970–81). After 1963 her works used mixed media and she prefers live elec. perf. to prepared tape. Has written a trio for fl., pf., and page-turner (1961) and a work for orch., ch., elecs., and lights called To Valerie Solonis and Marilyn Monroe in recognition of their desperation (1970).