Pauline Oliveros, the composer whose concept of “deep listening” had a profound impact on the trajectory of 20th century experimental music, has died aged 84.
The news was reported by flutist Claire Chase on Instagram and confirmed by friends of the composer on her Facebook page.
As a founding member of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s, Oliveros collaborated with Terry Riley, playing in the first performance of Riley’s ‘In C’, and modular synthesist Morton Subotnick. She later became director of the Center, where she developed a philosophy of listening as a ritual and healing process, an approach she described through her coinage “deep listening”. Her Deep Listening Band specialized in performing recording in resonant or reverberant spaces, and her touchstone album Deep Listening was recorded in 1989 in a disused cistern 14 feet beneath the ground.
Her practice emphasized the difference between hearing and listening, as she told an interviewer in 2003. “In hearing, the ears take in all the sound waves and particles and deliver them to the audio cortex where the listening takes place. We cannot turn off our ears–the ears are always taking in sound information–but we can turn off our listening. I feel that listening is the basis of creativity and culture. How you’re listening, is how you develop a culture and how a community of people listens, is what creates their culture.”
From the 1980s onwards Oliveros focused on improvisation, particularly as an accordionist. She continued to teach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Mills College, publishing five books and becoming the recipient of several awards, until the end of her life.
In 2013 she spoke to FACT’s Robert Barry about her life of listening and improvisation, including her early tape experiments and her signature “sonic meditations”.
Hear Oliveros improvising on accordion in the video below and watch her TED talk about the difference between listening and hearing.