Pauline Oliveros, Composer Who Promoted “Deep Listening”

“The Difference Between Hearing and Listening” at TEDxIndianapolis–Watch on YouTube

I was in the shower this morning and took some time to take in the sounds: the hum of the water in the pipe, the spray of the showerhead and percussive clap of droplets hitting the tile floor.

I suppose I was practicing a form of “deep listening,” the practice and philosophy developed by sonic experimentalist Pauline Oliveros over the course of her long musical career.

As a child in Houston, Oliveros (May 30, 1932-November 24, 2016) was keenly aware of the sound of her surroundings: crickets, frogs, mocking birds. When she headed to San Francisco in 1952 to study music, she took this attentiveness with her and applied it to the emerging art of electronic music.

Her breakthrough piece was “Bye Bye Butterfly,” a composition built off of a recorded sample of Verdi’s Madame Butterfly and modified dramatically through the use of oscillators, tape delays and other effects. In an excellent post on frieze.com, critic and journalist Geeta Dayal quotes Oliveros as saying the piece “bids farewell  not only to the music of the 19th century but also to the system of polite morality of that age and to its attendant oppression of the female sex.”

Oliveros’s ideas on deep listening formed the basis of a book, Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice,  and a band, The Deep Listening Band, which she formed with Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis after they recorded in an underground cistern in Washington state.

“Bye Bye Butterfly” on Spotify