Posts Tagged ‘Deep Listening’

I first met Pauline Oliveros over 35 years ago in the Main Gallery at CalArts in Valencia, California. The occasion was a performance of her piece “El Relecario de los Animals”. I was in undergraduate composition students in the school of music; she was an iconic, accordion playing, deep listening, female icon of new music.

I never became a huge fan of Pauline’s music. But, with respect to Pauline as a human being, I am a great admirer. 

First of all, as to her musicianship, Pauline was a consummate musician of the highest order. She was simply a fantastic accordionist. The thing, though, is not so much about her playing but about her listening. Pauline’s deep reverence for the simple act of listening was breathtaking. Her “Deep Listening” workshops change the lives of men and women around the world. Her tiny little book on that subject is full of exercises and practices that have tremendously enhanced my ability, not only to hear music but, to hear the world around me. I am profoundly grateful to Pauline for teaching me to listen. Although my wife, some of my friends, and my boss may well not understand that because I have a tendency to speak before listening, when it comes to hearing subtly I am extremly adept and I owe it all to Pauline. To the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I want to express my gratitude and thanks.

Pauline’s will to help others did not stop with listening. Her project to use computer technology for the betterment of human beings led to the creation of the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (AUMI). AUMI uses sound generation tools and a webcam to allowing users with very limited mobility to create music both alone and in groups. This project was not about ego, not about listening, and not about Financial gain. It was purely a selfless project to make better the lives of disabled people. It was, quite simply, a beautiful deeply moving humanitarian gesture. So, to the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I also want to express my admiration for your selfless love of people.

Pauline was born in 1932. She was a performer and composer as well as an accomplished philosopher. In the ‘60s, Pauline was among many of the most innovative musicians, like my mentor Mort Subotnick, at  San Francisco Tape Music Center. In the  ‘80s, she began her “Deep Listening” practice to which I am so indebted. 

Pauline was a constant collaborator with Stuart Dempster and many other amazing musicians. We sometimes think of Brian Eno as the guy who created ambient music.  But Pauline and Stuart are really the ones to create the first landmark recordings. 

Pauline has most recently been a Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was the Milhaud Artist-in-Residence at Mills College. In my time, her work at UCSD and her visits to CalArts gave me a remarkable exposure to a remarkable woman. So, to the, now bygone, spirit of Pauline Oliveros I finally want to express my thanks for your willingness to share your aesthetic with all of us whose lives you touched.

It’s funny, you know, that I never really got to know Pauline well when I was actively involved in the  new music composition community. My real “friendship” with her came later in my life, believe it or not, through Facebook. Pauline took time from her busy schedule to actually interact with me about my listening practice, to discuss AUMI, and to teach me much, probably, without even knowing it. 

That’s the way Pauline was. She gave so much to other people, even me. She will always have my gratitude and she will always be in my heart. I will miss her joy, her selfless devotion to humanity, and, her generosity in teaching us all the art of listening to the subtle beauty of our world.

Rest In Peace o’deepest of listeners.

Have you ever had a friend with ALS or with a spinal injury, who has lost very close to all of their mobility? Have you ever seen a child who was born deformed, with limited mobility? I’ve seen both. We probably all have. One thing you know, if you have spent time with folks like this, is that what happens inside their mind is typically thousands of times more advanced than what their body can express. In other words, they may not have mobility but they probably do have intellectual capacity, a wish to express themselves, and creativity. The problem is to figure out how to help them express what’s inside, despite their limited muscle function.

Among the most well-known examples of a guy with almost no mobility, but with an intellectual capacity that far exceeds most normal mortals, is Stephen Hawking. We’ve all seen Dr. Hawking, in his wheelchair, with his computer, discussing black holes and astrophysics. And… we are amazed.

But it is not only scientists who deserve the ability to express their innermost thoughts. Everyone should have that ability – if they want it. So, let’s take an example from the visual arts. Chuck Close is an amazing painter. You’ve probably seen his self-portraits or his famous portrait of Phil Glass. Well, Chuck has very limited mobility and often even paints with a brush in his mouth. He too is an example of how one overcomes mobility issues.

These are amazing people who are astonishingly inspiring. Both of them show that mobility need not be an impediment to creative intellectual functioning.

But, what happens if you have never had the chance to learn a skill or a discipline before you lose your mobility. What if you are born with limitations? How can you learn to express yourself? There are many people working on many ways of enabling these folks to function. Among the coolest, and most exciting, possibilities comes from the world of music. How? Enter the world of “adaptive use”.

Adaptive Use Musical Instruments are pieces of computer software that allow students with limited – even minimal – voluntary mobility to create sequences of electronic sounds using little or almost no motion. Essentially, relatively simple camera tracking technology is used to profoundly enhance the creative lives of people who otherwise would be unable to create.  In the hands of a great composer and improviser like Pauline Oliveros, these young people can perform both solo and in ensembles. Students with mobility so limited that they can do nothing more than turn their heads, who are wheelchair-bound, and who even have no speaking ability can generate pattern and rhythm in such a way that they are able to engage in amazing feats of improvisation. These young people can enjoy the act of creation in a way that their limited mobility does not interfere with their mind’s creative processes. They are free to create and to interact with others! That is nothing short of glorious. It is a profound gift – without question.

Now, I mentioned Pauline Oliveros earlier. You may well not know who she is unless you have a background in contemporary art music.  I doubt that Pauline actually remembers me other than via our connection on Facebook. That’s okay, because teachers often meet far more students than students meet teachers. I don’t feel any worse about that than I do about admiring Bill Viola in a world where Bill Viola doesn’t even remember me sitting in his classes. It’s just a fact of life. But, I remember the very day I met Pauline. I was a student at CalArt and she was a guest composer. Many of us helped to prepare the “main gallery” for her performance of “El Relecario de los Animals” and I thought she was amazing. Well, years later, Pauline started an organization called the “Deep Listening Institute” where she continues to work on improvisation and in various meditative forms of listening skills and interaction. It’s been 30 years now and I still think she’s amazing. And, it is the “Deep Listening Institute” that is the mastermind behind Adaptive Use Musical Instruments. I like Pauline and I love the project. So, I want you all to know about it and to consider supporting it.

How, exactly, can you support this project? First, of course,  they will happily take your money. Second, though, is that PepsiCo is offering a $50,000 grant and you can help this project to get that money by voting for it here:

The deal is this: If you have ever known the frustration that comes from the inability to communicate and you have seen the pure, utter, joy that comes from overcoming that limitation, you know what a blessing can come from a project like this; especially one focused on providing creative experiences for children. It’s simply a beautiful thing. All I’m asking is that you consider helping its beauty continue to grow!