Pauline Oliveros ‘A Love Song’: A Deep Sound Experience

Hello readers! Here we are at day 7 of my Female Fortnight Challenge 2.0 – the halfway point! Today’s blog is about the late composers Pauline Oliveros, who we sadly lost in November 2016. Amongst the extensive catalogue of her works I have decided to talk about her work for accordion and voice, A Love Song – enjoy!

Born in May 1932 in San Francisco, Oliveros began participating in music at a very young age. In the 1940s she received her mother’s accordion, as they were fairly popular at that time. Whilst at school she also learnt the tuba and french horn, but after the age of 16, Oliveros decided she wanted to focus on composition. She studied at the Moores School of Music at The University of Hudson, where she read for a degree in composition. Oliveros is known for her extensive use of electronics and tapes, and she was one of the original members of the San Francisco Tape Music Centre. She was a pioneer of electronic music on the US West Coast during the 1960s, and her music has been incredibly influential for a lot of musicians.

Oliveros worked in a variety of universities throughout her lifetime, holding positions at University of California and The University of San Francisco. Oliveros is perhaps most well-known for coining the term ‘deep listening’, for which she composed a wealth of music under this umbrella term. The aesthetic here is to train anybody to listen and respond in musical situations. It is something that is based on the principles that improvisation, teaching, ritual and electronic music can all coexist effectively in a singular musical entity (i.e a composition). Furthermore, Oliveros is also associated with the phrase ‘sonic awareness’ which is the ability to focus consciously upon musical sound in a given environment. This state of consciousness requires the listener to be alert and concentrated at all times. The music that Oliveros composes has a strong tonal centre, which is surrounded by complex sound masses. In performance, Oliveros used her accordion and re-tuned it into two different systems of intonation, so that the addition of electronics would alter the sound of the instrument and would effectively explore the individual characteristics of any given room.

As well as composition, Oliveros has also written books, alongside teaching. In 2009, she won the William Schuman award and then in 2012 she won the very prestigious John Cage Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Her resounding success is reflected in the amount of artists she has worked with, the amount of awards she has won, and the popularity she has gained across the globe. Her composition for voice and accordion A Love Song was composed in   1985 and was part of her album, The Well and the Gentle. 

The composition itself is something that I urge you all to listen to whilst in a quiet space so you can take in every aspect of what Oliveros is trying to achieve with sounds. Her mantra was simply this:

“Listen all the time and remind yourself when yourself when you are not listening.”

This creative work is other-worldly in sound, and is concerned with finding the meditations within the earth. This is represented by the droning accordion and the sultry voice. The work is reflective, pensive with dark undertones through the use of harmonics and electronics. Oliveros’ ambivalent attitude towards technology in general is somehow calming and when listening to a work such as A Love Song, it is clear that her techniques lie within environmental improvisation. With no boundaries or limits, her works are free within the world and when listening to them you can feel whatever you want (which is actually really nice!). Using instruments such as bass trombones and the human voice, Oliveros was able to experiment and find new sounds to apply to her compositions. To present art that aids in imagining sound and remembering past sounds whilst thinking about future sounds is incredibly clever and one of the many reasons why I absolutely love Oliveros and the work she offered into society.

Whilst listening to A Love Song, listen with intent, with meaning and literally deeply listen to it, otherwise the full effect may not be reached. This is a fantastic example of how sounds can be manipulated in a range of different ways to create a new and vibrant way to experience music. An incredibly sad loss, R.I.P. Pauline Oliveros – thank you for your sounds and wisdom.

Many thanks for reading this blog – I hope you have enjoyed it. We have hit the halfway point, so entering the second half of the challenge tomorrow…who could it be? If you have any comments about this challenge or my blogs so far feel free to contact me – details are on the home page!

Happy Reading!

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