"Through Pauline Oliveros and Deep Listening I finally know what harmony is.... It's about the pleasure of making music." John Cage 1989
Paulina Oliveros is a senior figure in contemporary American music. She is an artist, a composer, performer, organizer, educator, and the list goes on. Her presence is twofold: historic and lively. She has been practicing art for over seventy years, experimenting with improvisation, sound, and electronic music without losing curiosity as he practice grew. She recently came to the University of Illinois as a George A. Miller Visiting Artist, running her Deep Listening workshops, performing at the Krannert Art Museums Sudden Sound series and a lecture titled "Telematics: An Expanded Venue for Performance and Education."
As Paulina was introduced, the audience sat around her in a circle in the main gallery space of the Krannert Art Museum. In odd seating arrangement, there were speakers hidden throughout the gallery space inviting the audience to wander. As Paulina entered, her cherry-red accordion sat among a computer running custom MAX/MSP software called the Expanded Instrument System. She invited the audience to wonder the museum and lay on the floor as she performed her hour-long composition, which has been growing over the past twenty years. Her sound is both harmonic and chaotic. At times she surrenders control of her instrument, others it feels like a narrative journey. The structure of the piece felt familiar: an introduction, a deeply harmonic crescendo, and an abrupt, satisfying end. However, Paulinas formation (and reduction) of time itself felt completely new to me, and unusually rewarding.
At her lecture, it became apparent that Paulinas intention, as an artist, is deeply indebted to transmission and reception. She invented a technique called Deep Listening, which focuses on actively making sound, imagining sound, listening to present sound, and remembering past sound. Her and other artist (John Cage, Alvin Lucier, and Iannis Xenakis) examine the differences between listening and hearing, particularly how listening allows music to be for everyone, everywhere. Paulina has recently been working on a project called The Telematic Circle, an interest group that uses and develops applications for telepresent music performances. The group supports the creation of new art that specifically addresses broadband transmission systems as a new medium. In the project, she performs within an orchestra formed in Second Life. Her orchestra performs improvisational music without an intended duration. Due to the inconsistency of Internet connections, each performer will eventually begin to drop in and out of time measures, creating a sound that is more harmonic than musical. The predictable rhythms of music, the rigid structures of time, are eventually expected to break apart.
Paulina claims these moments produce "complex sound masses possessing a strong tonal center." She describes this visually as a circled dot, long used to symbolize cosmic activity and Devine order. Within this harmonic system it feels like Paulina uses intention and focus to explore (and disturb) the purity of sound, time, pitch, and music. I soon realized that when I left her performance the unease I felt was her intension. Her performance included me, in some way, without asking me. I felt like I was listening without hearing, and that my conscious lagged behind my body. In her ending remarks, Paulina told the audience something profound: "we are all made of Time Delays."