Pauline Oliveros

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pauline Oliveros
Pauline Oliveros at a dinner concert in Oakland
Oliveros in 2010
Born(1932-05-30)May 30, 1932
DiedNovember 24, 2016(2016-11-24) (aged 84)
Known forDeep Listening Band
SpouseCarole Ione Lewis
Oliveros (right) playing in Mexico City in 2006

Pauline Oliveros (May 30, 1932 – November 24, 2016)[2] was an American composer, accordionist and a central figure in the development of post-war experimental and electronic music.

She was a founding member of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s, and served as its director. She taught music at Mills College, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Oliveros authored books, formulated new music theories, and investigated new ways to focus attention on music including her concepts of "deep listening" and "sonic awareness", drawing on metaphors from cybernetics.[3][4] She was an Eyebeam resident.

Early life and career[edit]

Oliveros was born in Houston, Texas.[5] She started to play music as early as kindergarten,[6] and at nine years of age she began to play the accordion, received from her mother, a pianist, because of its popularity in the 1940s.[6] She later went on to learn violin, piano, tuba and French horn for grade school and college music. At the age of sixteen she resolved to become a composer.[7]

Oliveros arrived in California and supported herself with a day job, and supplemented this by giving accordion lessons.[6] From there Oliveros went on to attend Moores School of Music at the University of Houston, studying with Willard A. Palmer, and earned a BFA degree in composition from San Francisco State College, where her teachers included composer Robert Erickson, with whom she had private lessons and who mentored her for six to seven years. This is also where she met artists Terry Riley, Stuart Dempster and Loren Rush.[6][8]

When Oliveros turned 21, she obtained her first tape recording deck, which led to her creating her own pieces and future projects in this field.[8] Oliveros was one of the original members of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, which was an important resource for electronic music on the U.S. West Coast during the 1960s.[9] The Center later moved to Mills College, with Oliveros serving as its first director; it was renamed the Center for Contemporary Music.[10]

Oliveros often improvised with the Expanded Instrument System, an electronic signal processing system she designed, in her performances and recordings.[11] Oliveros held Honorary Doctorates in Music from the University of Maryland (Baltimore County), Mills College (Oakland, California), and De Montfort University (Leicester, England, UK).


In 1967, Oliveros left Mills to take a faculty music department position at the University of California, San Diego.[6] There, Oliveros met theoretical physicist and karate master Lester Ingber, with whom she collaborated in defining the attentional process as applied to music listening.[12] She also studied karate under Ingber, achieving black belt level. In 1973, Oliveros conducted studies at the university's one-year-old Center for Music Experiment; she served as the center's director from 1976 to 1979. In 1981, to escape creative constriction,[13] she left her tenured position as full Professor of Music at University of California, San Diego[14] and relocated to upstate New York to become an independent composer, performer, and consultant.[14]

Deep listening[edit]

Oliveros at Other Minds 20 in San Francisco in 2015

In 1988, as a result of descending 14 feet into the Dan Harpole underground cistern in Port Townsend, Washington, to make a recording, Oliveros coined the term "deep listening"[6]—a pun that has blossomed into "an aesthetic based upon principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation. This aesthetic is designed to inspire both trained and untrained performers to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions in solo and ensemble situations".[15] Dempster, Oliveros and Panaiotis then formed the Deep Listening Band, and deep listening became a program of the Pauline Oliveros Foundation, founded in 1985. The Deep Listening program includes annual listening retreats in Europe, New Mexico and in upstate New York, as well as apprenticeship and certification programs. The Pauline Oliveros Foundation changed its name to Deep Listening Institute, Ltd., in 2005. The Deep Listening Band, which included Oliveros, David Gamper (1947–2011) and Stuart Dempster, specializes in performing and recording in resonant or reverberant spaces such as caves, cathedrals and huge underground cisterns. They have collaborated with Ellen Fullman and her long-string instrument, as well as countless other musicians, dancers and performers. The Center for Deep Listening at Rensselaer (CDL@RPI), initially under the direction of Tomie Hahn, is now established and is the steward of the former Deep Listening Institute. A celebratory concert was held on March 11, 2015, at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.[16] Stephanie Loveless is the current director of the CDL@RPI.[17]

Sonic awareness[edit]

Oliveros at the Sonic Acts festival in 2012

Heidi Von Gunden[18] names a new musical theory developed by Oliveros, "sonic awareness", and describes it as "the ability to consciously focus attention upon environmental and musical sound", requiring "continual alertness and an inclination to be always listening" and which she describes as comparable to John Berger's concept of visual consciousness (as in his Ways of Seeing).[19] Oliveros discusses this theory in the "Introductions" to her Sonic Meditations and in articles. Von Gunden describes sonic awareness as "a synthesis of the psychology of consciousness, the physiology of the martial arts, and the sociology of the feminist movement",[20] and describes two ways of processing information, "attention and awareness",[20] or focal attention and global attention, which may be represented by a dot and circle, respectively, a symbol Oliveros commonly employs in compositions such as Rose Moon (1977) and El Rilicario de los Animales (1979).[20] (The titles of Oliveros' pieces Rose Moon and Rose Mountain refer to her romantic partner Linda Montano having gone by Rose Mountain at one time.[21]) Later this representation was expanded, with the symbol quartered and the quarters representing "actively making sound", "actually imagining sound", "listening to present sound" and "remembering past sound", with this model used in Sonic Meditations.[22] Practice of the theory creates "complex sound masses possessing a strong tonal center".[23]


Oliveros taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Mills College. She was born in Houston, Texas in 1932, and died in 2016 in Kingston, New York.[5]

While attending the University of Houston, she was a member of the band program and helped form the Tau chapter of Tau Beta Sigma Honorary Band Sorority.

She was openly lesbian.[24] In 1975 Oliveros met her eventual partner, performance artist Linda Montano.[25] The titles of Oliveros' pieces Rose Moon and Rose Mountain refer to Montano having gone by Rose Mountain at one time.[21] In her later years, Oliveros developed a 32-year romantic partnership and creative collaboration with sound artist IONE (Carole Lewis).[26] The couple worked together on several major musical theatre productions, dance operas, and films.[27] They were influential figures in their community. Sound artist and experimental turntablist Maria Chavez, a friend and mentee of Pauline, describes Pauline and Ione: "when you saw them together, you saw love."[28] Annie Sprinkle’s 1992 production The Sluts and Goddesses Video Workshop – Or How To Be A Sex Goddess in 101 Easy Steps, which was co-produced and co-directed with videographer Maria Beatty, featured music by Oliveros.

Oliveros received a 1994 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists award.[29]

In 2007, Oliveros received the Resounding Vision Award from Nameless Sound.

She contributed a chapter to Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture (The MIT Press, 2008) edited by Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky.

She was the 2009 recipient of the William Schuman Award, from Columbia University School of the Arts.

Oliveros was the author of five books, Sounding the Margins: Collected Writings 1992–2009, Initiation Dream, Software for People, The Roots of the Moment, and Deep Listening: A Composer's Sound Practice.

In 2012, Oliveros received the John Cage Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.[29]

Some of her music was featured in the 2014 French video game NaissanceE.[30]

Oliveros' work Deep Listening Room was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.[31]

Oliveros was a member of Avatar Orchestra Metaverse, a global collaboration of composers, artists and musicians that approaches the virtual reality platform Second Life as an instrument itself.[32]

She was also a patron of Soundart Radio in Dartington, Devon.

Notable works[edit]

  • Sonic Meditations: "Teach Yourself to Fly", etc.
  • Sound Patterns for mixed chorus (1961), awarded the Gaudeamus International Composers Award in 1962, available on Extended Voices (Odyssey 32 16) 0156 and 20th Century Choral Music (Ars Nova AN-1005)
  • I of IV, included in the collection New Sounds in Electronic Music, published by Odyssey Records, 1967
  • Music for Annie Sprinkle's The Sluts and Goddesses Video Workshop—Or How To Be A Sex Goddess in 101 Easy Steps (1992)
  • Theater of Substitution series (1975–?). Oliveros was photographed as different characters, including a Spanish señora, a polyester clad suburban housewife, and a professor in robes. Jackson Mac Low played Oliveros at the New York Philharmonic's "A Celebration of Women composers" concert on November 10, 1975, and Oliveros has played Mac Low (see Mac Low's "being Pauline: narrative of a substitution", Big Deal, Fall 1976). (ibid,[clarification needed] p. 141)
  • Crone Music (1989)
  • Six for New Time (1999), music score for Sonic Youth
  • "the Space Between with Matthew Sperry", (2003) 482Music[29]


  • Oliveros, Pauline (2013). Sam Golter and Lawton Hall (ed.). Anthology of Text Scores by Pauline Oliveros 1971–2013. Kingston, New York: Deep Listening Publications. ISBN 9781889471228.
  • — (2010). Lawton Hall (ed.). Sounding the Margins: Collected Writings 1992–2009. Kingston, New York: Deep Listening Publications. ISBN 978-1-889471-16-7.
  • — (2005). Deep Listening: A Composer's Sound Practice. New York: iUniverse, Inc. ISBN 978-0-595-34365-2.
  • — (1998). Roots of the Moment. New York: Drogue Press. ISBN 978-0-9628456-4-2.
  • — (1984). Software for People: Collected Writings 1963–80. Baltimore: Printed Editions. ISBN 978-0-914162-59-9.
  • — (1982). Initiation Dream. Los Angeles: Astro Artz. ISBN 978-0-937122-07-5.

Notable students[edit]



  1. ^ Smith, Steve (2016-11-28). "Pauline Oliveros, Composer Who Championed 'Deep Listening,' Dies at 84". The New York Times. Retrieved 2021-01-30.
  2. ^ Wagner, Laura, "Pauline Oliveros, Pioneer Of 'Deep Listening,' Dies At 84". Cited an Instagram post by flautist Claire Chase and confirmation by friends on Oliveros' Facebook page. Retrieved 2016-11-26.
  3. ^ Theodore Gordon (2021) ‘Androgynous Music’: Pauline Oliveros’s Early Cybernetic Improvisation, Contemporary Music Review, 40:4, 386-408, DOI: 10.1080/07494467.2021.2001939
  4. ^ Taylor, Timothy (Autumn 1993). "The Gendered Construction of the Musical Self: The Music of Pauline Oliveros". The Musical Quarterly. 77 (3). Oxford University Press: 385–396. doi:10.1093/mq/77.3.385. JSTOR 742386.
  5. ^ a b "Pauline Oliveros – American musician and composer". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-08-05.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Baker, Alan. "An interview with Pauline Oliveros". January 2003. American Mavericks American Public Media. Archived 2008-05-17 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Service, Tom. "A guide to Pauline Oliveros's music". The Guardian.
  8. ^ a b Smith, Steve. "Strange Sounds Led a Composer to a Long Career". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Amirkhanian, Charles. "Women in Electronic Music – 1977". Liner note essay. New World Records.
  10. ^ Thomas B. Holmes; Thom Holmes (2002). Electronic and Experimental Music: Pioneers in Technology and Composition. Psychology Press. pp. 192–. ISBN 978-0-415-93644-6.
  11. ^ Paul Sanden (2013). Liveness in Modern Music: Musicians, Technology, and the Perception of Performance. Routledge. pp. 110–. ISBN 978-0-415-89540-8.
  12. ^ Pauline Oliveros. Deep Listening: A Bridge To Collaboration. (1998) Archived 2009-05-30 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Sitsky, Larry (2002), Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook, Greenwood Press, p. 346, ISBN 0-313-29689-8
  14. ^ a b Pauline Oliveros. Curriculum Vitae Archived 2009-01-25 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Pauline Oliveros Biography". Archived 2014-10-26 at the Wayback Machine 98.5 Kiss FM.
  16. ^ "Center for Deep Listening at Rensselaer Opening Celebration March 11 at EMPAC – School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)". Archived from the original on 27 November 2016. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  17. ^ "About Us – The Center For Deep Listening". Retrieved 2022-01-24.
  18. ^ Von Gunden, Heidi (1983). The Music of Pauline Oliveros, p. 105. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-1600-8. Foreword by Ben Johnston.
  19. ^ Von Gunden, Heidi (Autumn 1980 – Summer 1981). "The Theory of Sonic Awareness in The Greeting by Pauline Oliveros", Perspectives of New Music, vol. 19, no. 1/2, p. 409.
  20. ^ a b c Von Gunden (1980), p. 410.
  21. ^ a b Von Gunden (1983), pp. 128–129.
  22. ^ Von Gunden (1980), p. 412.
  23. ^ Von Gunden (1980), p. 411.
  24. ^ Ulrich, Allan (May 26, 1998), "Lesbian American Composers", The Advocate, archived from the original on May 21, 2005
  25. ^ Mockus, Martha (2007). Sounding Out: Pauline Oliveros and Lesbian Musicality, p. 96. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-97376-2 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-415-97375-5 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-203-93559-0 (electronic).
  26. ^ IONE. "Pauline Oliveros". BOMB Magazine. Retrieved 20 January 2024.
  27. ^ Hogg, Rhona. "IONE - Bio". Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Retrieved 20 January 2024.
  28. ^ Skolnick, Sara. "A Tribute to Pauline Oliveros, the Queer Tejana Who Revolutionized Experimental Music". Remezcla. Retrieved 20 January 2024.
  29. ^ a b c "Pauline Oliveros". Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Retrieved 28 October 2021.
  30. ^ "About". Limasse Five. Archived from the original on 5 September 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014. [self-published source]
  31. ^ Whitney Museum of American Art. "103 Participants Selected for 2014 Whitney Biennial, To Take Place March 7 – May 25, 2014". N.p., 14 November 2013. Web.[clarification needed] 1 February 2014.
  32. ^ "Avatar Orchestra Metaverse".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]