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INTERVAL (Journal of Music Research and Development) Volume V Number 1, Fall-Winter 1985-1986 ISSN 0276-3052 PO Box 8027, San Diego, CA 92102 1159w

-page 16, 17, 18, 20- excerpts from: Toward a Rolling Sky Some Pearls on Pauline Oliveros by Ron Drummond

...Pauline left home at twenty and moved to San Francisco where she majored in music at San Francisco State University and supported herself by teaching accordion and French horn privately. It was here that her musical world really exploded. She was beginning to realize just how limited her exposure to human music had been. "I had not the slightest notion of the existence of so many manifestations of music." Her scope had been limited to Western European classical and romantic music, popular music, jazz, Dixieland, and Country Western, and she only vaguely understood that there was other music. As she puts it, "Mozart's Turkish Rondo and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies were only faint clues."

And so, as she threw herself into her studies in composition at State, she began what would become a huge collection of recordings of music from diverse and often obscure cultures around the world, in addition to attending the occasional concert where these musics were featured. She also had her first exposure to the "avant-garde" here.

In Wendell Otey's composition workshops at State, Pauline began discovering others who thought along the same lines as she, and together they experimented with different forms of improvisation. This process of discovery was a bit unusual, considering that every time Pauline would perform one of her compositions in class, all of the students would leave. For even then she was trying to transform the accepted boundaries of musical expression, by inventing new and additional ways of organizing sound in a coherent, albeit unusual, manner. Soon up to three students were sticking around for Pauline's performances, and, as it turned out, these same students were remarkably efficient at emptying classrooms with their music too. Pauline had found her crowd.

...She became interested in dwelling on single pitches in her music, and how the ambiguity of a long, sustained note increased against a shifting background. A tone in and of itself became of interest, instead of where it might lead. She began tuning in to the various drones that were present in the environment. "The mantra of the electronic age is hum rather that Om." Now, only one thing remained to finally establish the range of influences that would serve as a life-long well-spring of inspiration for her considerable compositional aspirations.

After receiving her bachelor's degree in composition in 1957, Pauline conducted the experiment that would change her life completely. She had begun working with electronic means, and the whole field of time and sound became her material, as John Cage predicted for composers in 1937. Sitting in her little apartment on Presidio Avenue one day, Pauline pointed a microphone out an open window and recorded the sound environment until the tape ran off the reel. "What shall I record next?" had been her impetus.

While the recorder ran she sat and listened carefully, and discovered upon replaying the tape that she had not heard all of the sounds found there. "I discovered for the first time how selectively I listened and that the microphone discriminated much differently from that which I did." From that moment she became determined to expand her awareness of the entire sound field. To do this, she gave herself a seemingly impossible task: To literally listen to everything all the time. Why? "If nothing else, music in any of its multitudinous manifestations," including the songs of nature, "is a sign of life. Sound is intelligence. If I don't listen I don't learn, I don't expand, I don't change." Through this exercise, which by now has become a life-long process, Pauline began to hear the sound environment as a Grand Composition. The rhythms and relationships that occurred began to enter her work consciously.

But her listening assignment proved painful at times. Whenever she found herself not doing it, she realized this caused gaps in the Grand Composition, at least for her. And the artificial environment and its wastes were snuffing out what must have been a world symphony of natural sounds. Anyone can attest to how distasteful industrial noise pollution can be. But her work with electronic music provided a channel for that and allowed her to experiment further with tonal composites, splintering overtones and partials, and what she calls "the delightful ambiguity between pitch and sounds." But doing her assignment soon made it clear that it was possible to give equal attention to all that entered the sound field.

This awareness is very general, open, and non-judgmental, as compared to concentrated attention which is narrow, clear, and selective but limited in capacity. What is amazing is that Pauline discovered she could use both modes at the same time, that listening to everything generally did not distract at all from her ability to concentrate on specific things. ... In the 1960's, after her experimental forays into electronic music (consisting in one case of subjecting the Beatles' version of "Roll Over Beethoven" to increasing electronic distortion and feedback), her interests again widened, and soon she was including visual, kinetic, and dramatic elements in her music. She began to perceive rhythms in the way sonic elements, colors, and motions were juxtaposed.

An excellent example of how these were incorporated into a composition is Pauline's Duo for Accordion and Bandoneon with Possible Mynah Bird Obbligato, which was commissioned by avant-garde pianist David Tudor in 1964. (A bandoneon is an old German instrument, a cousin of the concertina, which is all but out of use today.) A friend of Pauline's, the dancer, Elizabeth Harris, choreographed the piece. Harris designed and built a special see-saw for the performance, which, besides going up and down, turned around on a Lazy Susan and was fitted with swivel chairs. The mynah bird was in a mobile, suspended above the axis of this contraption, and was invited to make any contributions to the proceedings it felt like making. Pauline and David then took their places and were off! This arrangement provided for shifting stereo effects as they played. ... Pauline told me that her biggest obstacle in starting out "was finding those things that were compatible for me to do."She scrounged her living for the first fifteen years she was on her own, but usually managed to get jobs that were music-related. Besides teaching privately, "I did copywork, orchestration, all sorts of things." ... In 1969 Pauline began doing Tai Ch'i and other body work as a prelude to entering into the "meditational" phase of her career. Writing in the New York Times in 1970, she said: "It does not matter that not all composers are great composers. It matters that this activity be encouraged among all the population, that we communicate with each other in non-destructive ways."

-page 16, 17, 18, 20-

Typed by Cheryl Vega 3-21-95


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