Deep Listening: The Story of Pauline Oliveros


I will not even pretend to any objectivity about this film: I contributed to the fundraising and to my considerable surprise, I am ever-so-briefly in it during one of the Deep Listening workshops at RPI. Discovering Oliveros and her concept of Deep Listening transformed my life-long fascination with sound into something completely new. Ione, Oliveros longtime partner and collaborator, and director Daniel Weintraub presented the film in Rosendale this weekend to receptive crowd, many of whom it became apparent, also had a connection to this amazing artist.

As the names at the bottom of the poster suggest, Oliveros was part of so many communities, collaborating with ground-breaking artists of all kinds: musicians, poets, dancers, filmmakers. From her happy musical childhood in Houston, to San Francisco’s wild freedom, and the founding of the SF Tape Music Center, the outcome of many avant-garde performances that tried to go in the completely opposite direction from what mainstream classical music was headed (I haven’t written up the magnificent Tár yet but in so many ways Olliveros is the antithesis of Lydia Tár’s attempt to reach the pinnacle of the rigid classical hierarchy). Interviews with folks like Terry Riley, Anna Halprin, and Morton Subotnik make clear the sheer exuberance of this time.

In the Q&A after, Weintraub spoke longingly of the depths of the cutting floor and agreed that it could easily become several episodes of a television series. YES PLEASE!

The Tape Center led to an invitation to the college drop-out to teach at UCSD. But the hierarchical world of academia wasn’t something she would relish long. Over and over the message from her story is the power of collaboration. The sounds beyond the notes: a strong childhood memory listening to the voices of her parents modulated by the car engine as they drove along, as well as the sounds between the channels when her father would turn the knobs on the radio searching for a signal.

The amazing concert played in a cistern with Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis, released as Deep Listening — a pun! — resulted in giving a name to the process that increasingly obsessed Oliveros and led to her book of the same name, and later the practice and organisation that carry on her work.

The key to multi-level existence is Deep Listening – listening in as many ways as possible to everything that can possibly be heard all of the time. Deep Listening is exploring the relationships among any and all sounds whether natural or technological, intended or unintended, real, remembered or imaginary. Thought is included. Deep Listening includes all sounds expanding the boundaries of perception.

It’s a challenge to keep such a fascinating life into a marketable two-hour time slot, and Weintraub confessed how difficult it had been and enumerated many tantalising pieces of the story left out. The last part of the film deals with her continuing technological breakthroughs in virtual space, like the concert with deaf performers in Norway. I remember her still bouncing with excitement at the concert at Bard telling the audience about the experience. There’s also the development of AUMI, Adaptive Use Musical Instruments, free software for creating music even with extremely limited abilities.

I urge you to see this film, try Deep Listening, and experience the creations of Pauline Oliveros. And play! ‘Play is the greatest research tool that the human race has.’