Oliveros, Pauline (1932—)

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Oliveros, Pauline (1932—)

American composer who established her reputation in avant-garde, electronic, theatrical, and meditation music. Born in Houston, Texas, on May 30, 1932; daughter of Edith Gutierrez; studied with Paul Koepke, Robert Erickson and William Palmer.

Received grants to develop a voltage-controlled audio mixer for use in electronic music composition and performance as well as an electronic environment which also included design sound and light control devices; received a Guggenheim fellowship (1973–74), resulting in the composition of Crow Two: A Ceremonial Opera; received the prestigious Beethoven Prize (1977) for her piece Bonn Feier.

Known mainly for her contributions to electronic music and mixed media as well as for being a pioneer in the exploration in meditative states as they relate to music, Pauline Oliveros was born in Houston, Texas, in 1932. From childhood, she was receptive to sounds from electrical systems and remembered listening to her grandfather's crystal radio and wind-up Victrola. Her interest in composition was the result of a high school English class that was devoted to creative projects. From this, Variations was composed, a mixed instrumental sextet, which was later featured in the San Francisco Modern Music Festival. When her mother gave her a tape recorder in the late 1950s, Oliveros recorded hundreds of sounds, then transformed them with changes in speed. She felt musicians must expand their sound vocabulary into the new field of electronic music.

In 1962, she received a prize for Best Foreign Work from the Foundation Gaudeamus in Bilthoven, Holland, for Sound Patterns, which was composed for mixed chorus. Oliveros founded the San Francisco Tape Music Center which concentrated on electronic music in the early 1960s. In 1967, she received an appointment as a faculty member at the University of California at San Diego where she eventually became a full professor. A prodigious composer, Oliveros was extremely creative. She once used an array of garden hoses and lawn sprinklers as part of a musical ensemble that was accompanied by alarm clocks and various domestic utensils. Jugglers, fortune-tellers, piano movers, and floor sweepers were sometimes part of her performances. As her talent developed, Oliveros moved into mixed media, combining electronic music with theater. Pauline Oliveros received many national and international prizes for her work in recognition of her status as one of the 20th century's most innovative composers.


Cohen, Aaron I. International Encyclopedia of Women Composers. 2 vols. NY: Books & Music (USA), 1987.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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