Posts Tagged ‘music’

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.

Sunday, June 21, 2015 – 12:00pm – 10:00pm
The Winter Garden at Brookfield Place

“Portland, Oregon phenomenons Third Angle New Music bring new reverberations from young innovators including the New York premiere of Quartz by Australian composer Julian Day and a world premiere by LJ White”

Oregon New Music lovers… Non-Oregon New Music lovers… Fans of Matthew Dickman… Fans of Michael Dickman… Have you ever thought it would be cool to go to New York for the annual Bang On A Can Marathon? Well… the time has come!

Now you have the chance to join some really amazing Oregonian musicians, poets, and new music groupies as Lisa Volle, Ron Blessinger, and the awesome folks from Third Angle New Music head to The Big Apple for Third Angle’s first ever opportunity to play the marathon!

But wait! There’s more! The piece that we have commissioned for the event is based on poems by Matthew and Michael Dickman and we’re takin’ the lads with us. This is an AMAZING OPPORTUNITY to support Third Angle, BOAC, and the Dickman twins all at once. For information on how you can join Team 3A in NYC, send me an email.

Can’t go to NY but still want to make some Oregonian dreams come true? Just want to help a couple wonderful poets get to THE CITY? Fear not! There are myriad opportunities to help financially.Email and I’ll hook you up with a lovely lady who’d love to find a way for you to help.

Seriously… come with us or help how you can. The Third Angle New Music Ensemble Board will love ya for it!

THANK YOU, THANK YOU THIRD ANGLE! The “Made in Italy” concert, in conjunction with the Portland Art Museum is one of my top 3 favorite shows you have ever done. For the record, the other two were Rothko Chapel (also with PAM), and China Music Now (with the Portland Chinese Garden). This time, though, I learned a lot as well as listening to what I already love.

The evening began with one of several pieces I’ve never heard, Dallapiccola’s 1951 piece for violin and piano called “Tartiniana II,”  , The piece is a tribute to Baroque composer Giuseppe Tartini. It was programmed first as a sort of bridge between the 20th century and the long history of Italian art music. Personally, this was the piece I found least interesting but I’m not sure i could have selected a better piece to bridge the centuries and I totally get why Ron chose it.

For me, the evening just got more and more interesting as the show continued.

I was most excited to hear the 3rd piece, Berio’s lovely tribute to Martin Luther King, “O King”. It seems to me that Berio is terribly under-performed since his passing in 2003. I’m biased about this piece for 2 reasons. First, it is a chamber setting of music that also serves as the second movement of Berio’s “Synphonia” which I think is one of most beautiful things to ever come out of the late 20th century. Second, Berio is one of the few 20th century composers who I deeply admire but who I was never able to meet. I came close once, when my uncle Mel and aunt Joey took me to see the LA Philharmonic perform several of his works, including my favorite Berio piece “Linea”, conducted by Berio himself. So, basically, I went into the evening expecting to grin for 5 minutes while “O King” was performed; and grin I did.

Backing up a step, I’ll also mention a really amazing piece that I’ve not heard since my college days in the B304 electronic music studio: Luigi Nono’s “La Fabbrica Illuminata,” This is a piece for tape and voice that comes out the electro-acoustic and musicque concrete movements of the 50’s and 60’s. It was realized in 1964 as a protest against Italian factory working conditions. Nono is one of the guys we got to study, moment by moment in Barry Schrader’s electronic music classes because Nono was one of the first composers to create electronic music. Before there was such a thing as 5.1 and 7.2 multichannel audio systems, we used to create music for 4 track tape. Nono’s tape was made from the sounds of factory worked workers that were electronically processed. The recorded material was played back through a very solid 4-channel sound system that reminded me exactly of the old Quad recordings that we used to make. If enough time has now passed that one can call electro-acoustic music “authentic” then this performance surely was.

Even though I was excited to again hear Berio and Nono performed live, it was the 3 final pieces that really made this an extra special evening for me. This is because I found something to adore in each of 3 works whose composers I knew noting at all about. The 3 pieces were “Ganimede”, a 1986 solo viola piece by Fausto Romitelli; Salvatore Sciarrino’s “Ultime Rose”, for voice, cello, and piano, from 1981; and a 2010 piece called “Gr…” for solo bass flute by Oscar Bianchi. Each of these compositions demonstrated the extraordinary innovation that only Third Angle has to guts to include in it’s programming. Romitelli gave Charles Noble a chance to use almost every extended string technique in existence. Bianchi did much the same for the bass flute. And, Sciarrino, surprised me with an extremely beautiful use of cello, some really well timed vocal cues from the piano, and a third reason to respect any vocalist with the guts to tackle contemporary music.

I especially want to send our some kudos with respect to my last statement. In the cases of the Nono piece, the Berio piece, and the Sciarrino piece, I was tremendously impressed by Soprano Catherine Olson. Although a soprano, not a mezzo like the genius I’m about to mention, Ms. Olson’s body language, and to some extent her vocal technique, reminded me of the great interpreter of Berio and Maderna, the wonderful Cathy Berberian. This might be my imagination since Berberian died when I was just out of college, but I could see Ms. Olson singing Berio’s “Circles” and I’d go to hear her do so in a nanosecond!

Mentioning Berio’s great muse, Cathy Berberian, brings me to one last thought. You have perhaps noticed that I have said nothing but positive things about this concert. There is really nothing bad to say. So, I’ll leave you with my one issue. Noticeably absent from this program was the music of Bruno Maderna. I always feel like Maderna is noticeably absent whenever Berio stands alone as Italy’s preeminent contemporary composer. So, if I could add anything to a nearly perfect concert, it would be one extra piece representing the work of Maderna. But, there is only so much one can handle of cool contemporary chamber music. So…. I’m letting it slide and just going to say….

Bravissimo 3A!

I remember once telling my old tabla teacher, Taranath Rao, that I had wrestled in high school. I recall being quite surprised to find out that he too was a youth wrestler! I’ll never know whether I could have out-wrestled guruji; but I surely know that it would take me another hundred lifetimes to become even one thousandth the tabla player that he was.

I also surely know that I was very blessed that a man in the direct lineage of the Farukkhabad Gharana of tabla masters would be willing to take, as a student, a 20-year-old composer of electro-acoustic music who had neither the tenacity nor the aptitude to become an accomplished hand-drummer. The fact is, I began studying with Taranath because I “wanted to learn something non-Western” and because my friend Amy (who was an accomplished percussionist) was going to study tabla – and I thought Amy was cute.

Over the years that I knew Taranath, he became far more that just a path to “something non-Western” and a reason to hang out with Amy. He became one of the great influences on my life. This is not because I would ever become a particularly good drummer but, rather, because knowing him led me to both my interests in India and to a realization about what a truly joyful human being could be and how precious it was to know one.

Taranath Rao was born one hundred years ago today, March 6, 1915, in Mangalore India. His uncle, A. K. Rao, was an accomplished Indian violinist and his own father, Ramarao Hattiangady, was a percussionist and an actor. Because of these family members, Taranath received some very early exposure to musical genius. Taranath first studied tabla with Vishnu Goakar. He learned mridangam from his own father.  Ultimately Taranath studied with Shamshuddin Khan, who he first met while on tour with the great master Abdul Kareem Khan. There is an old story about Shamshuddin Khan that says his hands were so light, and his drumming so effortless, that anyone sitting behind him could not even tell when his hands were moving and when not. Clearly my guru learned this lesson well; sadly, I did not.

Taranath moved to Bombay around 1932 to study art. Shamshuddin Kahn didn’t have time to take on new students so, first, Taranath studied with pakawaj master Subbarao Ankolekar who also player tabla in the style of Delhi gharana. It was not until almost 7 years later that, in 1939, Shamshuddin Khan could make time for Taranath. He had found his guru.

Though having begun to master the Delhi gharana, his discipleship under Shamshuddin led him to another stylistic lineage. Through a history that I honestly do not know well, my guru Taranath, is directly in the discipleship lineage of the fathers of the Farukkhabad and Lucknow Gharanas.

I studied with Taranath from 1979 or 1980 through 1982. He taught me a tremendous amount about drumming and about the theory of North Indian rhythm. He also taught me about joy, love, and humor.

We used to joke with Taranath because he had difficulty pronouncing the letters W and V in English. He once told us how important rhythm is to Indian music by saying that “Music contains rhythm like the waves are in the ocean.” We kept asking him to repeat the word “waves” as if we did not understand. Finally he said” “WAVES! WAVES!… V-A-V-E-S!” He was just awesome!

Taranath had some physical problems by the time I knew him. That is actually what brought him to the US. He could no longer play 5 or 6 hour-long concerts. He could still, however, perform at a world-class level for our American-style 2 hours shows. Because he did not drive, one of his students would typically pick him up and bring him to school. Of course, that left us open to a variety of alternative plans. One of these was to show up, as a group, to pick him up. This could result in quite a wonderful dining experience when we would, just by the stroke of luck, be invited to dinner.

Once, on his birthday, Taranath received from his students, a 1/2 gallon bottle (I think) of Chevas Regal. This was an extra entertaining evening because we had not only the joy of Tabla lessons and dinner, but also the great Joy of watching Taranath’s wife (who we all called “Mami”) walk around offering up whiskey from that big bottle. What do I remember that made that so entertaining? Well… Guess what LETTER the word “Whisky” starts with? That right! “W“! Mami, like guruji, couldn’t pronounce the letter W! So, she walked around the room offering us “‘Ski?” “‘Ski?”, “‘Ski?”

Those were some fun times. But there is one memory that cemented the memory or Taranath in my mind, for life. Not long before guruji died I was in Los Angeles and went to visit CalArts, where I had studied with Taranath. This was either 1990 or 1991. I was walking the halls, giving my wife a tour, when I met Taranath with one of his newer (younger) students. I had not seen him in something like 7 or 8 years. When he saw me, he got the most priceless smile on his face. He nearly ran up to me and embraced me. He turned to his student and then back to me. With one of the most genuine smiles I have ever seen, the great Pandit Taranath Rao, direct descendant of the the leaders of the Farukkhabad and Lucknow Gharanas, looked at me and said “Look at you!” and turned to his student and said of me “HE was one of MY STUDENTS TOO!!!” Rarely in my life have I been so warmly embraced.

And so… on this 100th birthday of one of my favorite men of CalArts, I think of Taranath Rao with the same warmth and love that he last embraced me, those many years ago.

Jai Guru!

I think it’s a great day in the music world when a recording of Byzantine Chant makes it into the Billboard top-10. So, first I want to congratulate my pals at Cappella Romana for hitting #8 today on the classical chart with their recording “Good Friday in Jerusalem“! Perhaps it’s funny that a Jewish dude is happy about a recording of music for Good Friday. After all, the story from whence it came is not particularly kind to my people. Still, gorgeous music is gorgeous music no matter what tradition spawns it,

Good Friday in Jerusalem” is a magnificent recording. It is acoustically stunning and has a very solid foundation in scholarship. Singing early music is not simply a matter of reproducing pitches. It is very much the product of study and research, at least when done well. This I say because the techniques, intonation, vocal style, and performance practice is variable and subject to much speculation. You can’t just grab a page of neumes and chant away. Eastern Orthodox, more than most early music, takes a lot of research.

I remember being in music history classes in the 70s and the pride i felt in understanding the parts of the early Catholic Mass and the divine offices. But, the fact is, everyone with a degree in music has to study that. We think we know a lot about early Christian music but, guess what? We are not as smart as we may think. Indeed, we do study a lot of church music… WESTERN Church music! But, when I look back at my old music history text books, I see not more than a few pages on the other half of the early Christian world… EASTERN church music.

It is important to remember that, just like we Jews have both a European Ashkenazi Jewish civilization and a different but equally compelling Middle Eastern Sephardi tradition, the history of Christianity includes both Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. They are not the same and the Eastern tradition is not as well-known. But Eastern Orthodox music, with its microtonal tunings, sometimes less consonant interval relationships, foundations in both rhythmic and melodic “modes”. and characteristic drones, or “isons”, is at least as interesting as (arguably more interesting than) its western counterpart.

Cappella Romana’s “Good Friday in Jerusalem” is a superb example of just how lovely this music can be. It was recorded in a Church at Stanford and engineered by some clearly acoustically savvy members of Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). It was created, structured, and directed by UBC Musicologist and CR Artistic Director Alexander Lingas, And it was sung by a very talented subset of a very talented and multifaceted vocal ensemble. In short, it is one of the best recordings of Byzantine church music you’ll find.

Definitely worth a listen. Personally, I want to see them get their Grammy! Check it out.

One thing that sucks about getting older AND being a “people person” is that I care so much about so many people who are also getting older. I also pride myself on my relationships with amazing people. It’s a blessing and a curse; knowing amazing people who get older, and older, and like all of us, eventually die. Today, I’m tired.  I have to admit it: I’m getting tired of writing memorials to great men and women who pass away. But, I have to do this because something in me wants to help keep memory alive. It’s sort of my “thing”, I guess.

In the Autumn of 1978 I sat on the floor of the Main Gallery at the California Institute of the Arts. I was a surprisingly unworldly 18-year-old.

I had just started college, working toward my degree in music. I had managed to take solfeggio placement tests that confirmed I did not even need to take ear training classes. I was hard at work with Theory, composition lessons, music history, and critical studies. I had yet to meet John Cage or Morty Feldman. Aaron Copland had been (or was about to be – I forget) my first “guest composer” experience. I had a good ear, I knew a lot about the “new” discipline of electronic music, and I was studying my way through the annals of Western music theory. About anything “non-western” I knew absolutely nothing.

Sitting before me, on risers, at one end of the Gallery were 4 men. Amiya Dasgupta on Sitar, 2 students on Tambura, and a short bearded white guy on Tabla. I grew up in California in the 60s and 70s but I had never heard real Indian music. I’m almost embarrassed to say this but the problem with a Alap and 22 shrutis for a guy who did not know what the hell I was listening to is that I did not even know when they stopped tuning up and started playing the “real” music. Still I was mesmerized. The Sitar was a million times more amazing in the hands of Amiya that in the intro to “Norwegian Wood”, that was certain. It was astonishing. But even more amazing was the bearded white dude. He did not get to play much at the beginning. But by the end, his fingers moved so fast I could barely see them. His name was John Bergamo.


It goes without saying that I was changed that day. I knew that I needed to learn about things that did not come from the west and did not have voltage controlled oscillators on them. I knew that I had to know the bearded white guy and to learn at least a little of what he knew. John Bergamo was the reason that I spent 3 years studying tabla with Pandit Taranath Rao, the reason I wrote a solo percussion piece for Amy Knoles, the reason I could get 3 absolute percussion masters (the “Antenna Repairmen”) to play my percussion trio, the reason I got to take “independent study in percussion” with one of the greatest living percussionists, and the reason I fell in love both with India and with percussion.


John Bergamo was also the owner of the coolest percussion instrument I ever got to play. David Tudor was supposed to come to town and we were going to get to study with him. But something happened and Tudor could not come out. I was honored, however, to be able to work with a really amazing group of fellow students to create an homage to Tudor which we called something really creative like “An Environment for David Tudor”.  John loaned us some instruments, one of which was the front cowling from a 747 jet engine! I remember exactly where we hung that thing, although I have not got a clue how we did it.

In case you did not know John personally, you may not know why I call him a Renaissance Man of percussion. So, consider this: In his long career, John Bergamo worked with some of the most diverse composers and performers in the known universe, Just to name a few: Lukas Foss, Gunther Schuller, John Cage, Ringo Starr, Charles Wourinen, Lou Harrison, Ali Akbar Khan, John McLaughlin, Morton Feldman, Herb Albert, Percy Heath, Robert Shaw, Max Roach, and Frank Zappa. He played with several other friends of mine (and my beloved mentor Lucky Mosko) in the Repercussion Unit and he played on the soundtracks of 18+ Hollywood films. He did a lot of percussion overdub work for ‘The Mothers of Invention” and, after studying with him I know I’ll never listen to Zappa’s “The Black Page” without thinking of him. Finally, after all of that, in 2012 John’s dedication to percussion and to education earned him election to the prestigious Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.

I suppose I need not really say this but I’m very sad that the world of percussion, the CalArts community, and my personal circle of friends has lost the great John Bergamo. I’ll miss him.

John Bergamo was born in Englewood, New Jersey, May 28, 1940 and passed away on October 19th 2013.

The words below are not mine. They come from a friend that I’ve known for over 35 years. A man who made possible my first ever public performance of electronic music, who shared in the friendship of my most influential high school teacher, John Waddell, and who has remained a friend for all these three and a half decades. It is a very beautiful post, originating on Facebook, by my old Encino neighbor, mentor, and friend Peter Grenader. Here it is, verbatim. Thanks Peter…. We can dedicate this one to the “Great Harmonic Set”.


To all of my friends you successfully and sometimes painfully survive the process of composing music of any ilk:

If, when in the throws of writing, we cannot experience moments when other composers contributions to our art moves us to tears, then it’s time to pack it up and move on.

I’ve asked myself a thousand times why I do this. When I do – often I begin the process by listening to the second movement of Beethoven’s 5th, the Andante. The intention being a benchmark of what should be, yet it often only reminds me of that which I am incapable of creating… so why do it? Why make another film after Cinima Paradiso, or sculpt another portrait after the The Virgin and Child with St. Anne? It seems the answer comes from the very emotion stirred by the works which effect us, that once one stops trying to impress their audience by a flexing of creative muscles and instead relies on that fundamental emotion as the transmitter – then and only then can we consider what we’ve created art. At that point it has the same right to be as any other and fit to be seen, or heard or most importantly – felt by others.

When this milestone occurs is often times evasive. For me personally it was when I realized that listening to works by other composers could predictably move me to tears. That’s when I knew I got it. The free reception of their emotion afforded me the conduit in which to transmit my own. I’m not talking perfect fifths here, or the ‘love chord’. I’m talking about representation of many emotions – love, anger, pride even sexual angst through an equally varied pallet of sonic possibilities: pitch, amplitude timbre or rhythm. Many parts of Le Sacre du Printemps and almost none of Subotnick’s Until Spring could be called pretty – but they are both highly emotional works. Masterpieces in that regard.

Something to think about as we struggle….

I’ll say this unequivocally: I just came back from the most enjoyable performance of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” that I’ve ever attended. It was part of the “Reich-analia” presented by Portland’s stellar Third Angle new music ensemble. It was breathtaking.

I have to admit that I’m sort of “past my minimalism phase”. There was a time when I’d go to every Philip Glass performance and every Steve Reich concert; I’d seek out other minimalists like John Adams and even the coolest, but less well know, LeMonte Young. I used to make a pretty long trip to Mills College to see Ingram Marshall, too. But, honestly, even though I’d never miss seeing these guys if they came to town, I just don’t dig incessant pulses and arpeggios like I used to.

Tonight was different though. Tonight I was enthralled. This is partly because of the acoustics in the performance space. It was not held in a theater but, rather, in the atrium of the Montgomery Park building in Portland. I expected it to sound odd. After all, the space was designed to be an atrium, not a theater. But, I have to tell you, the clarity blew me away. This is certainly partly attributable to the transient response of the room and the location of the ensemble. But it’s also largely attributable to the crystal clear articulation of each one of the eighteen. Simply put, it was a crisp performance in a surprisingly perfect space.

Music for 18 Musicians” is a special piece to me. It is arguably the clearest example of Reich’s aesthetic. It’s hundreds of time more complex than early work like “It’s Gonna Rain” or “Come Out”. Yet, it does not stray far from the pulses, mallet instrument cues, instrumentation, and sectionalism that characterizes much of Steve’s music. But that does not explain why it is special to me. It’s “special-ness” comes from the great memories it brings me of my youth spent running around Telegraph Avenue record stores on my frequent visits to Berkeley. You see, I bought my first copy of “18” at Moe’s Records as a used vinyl album. I remember bringing it home to my Cousin Mark’s house and listening to it immediately so as to check for scratches. That way I could make sure I was able to return it if necessary, before heading home to LA. It brings back great images. But, it was also the day that I decided that, for myself, Reich was the greatest minimalist. Sorry Phil, but pulses beat arpeggios and marimbas trump Farfisa Organs any day, in my book.

As it happens, “Music for 18 Musicians” is a special piece to Third Angle as well. They are the first ensemble, aside from “Steve Reich and Musicians“, to be allowed to perform the piece. They worked on it with Steve himself and they have obviously mastered it. So, Bravissimo to 3A!

Two other pieces were part of the program. One was “Electric Counterpoint” for guitar and tape. The second was “Vermont Counterpoint” for 11 flutes. I won’t address the guitar piece because this is the first time I’ve heard it. But I do want to mention the “Vermont Counterpoint” performance. You might not know this, but the flute is about as close to a sine wave as an instrument can get. It’s a very pure timbre with very limited harmonics. It can be either a gorgeous solo instrument or a overtone-free complement to more timbre-rich woodwinds. But, take 11 of them and put them all together and, unless they are really good flutists, you can end up with a big puddle of sine wave mud. Well, that is NOT what happened here. The “Vermont Counterpoint” performance was well-defined and articulate; and, surprisingly, the space contributed to the clarity rather than muddying the instruments. Surprisingly lovely. This demonstrates something I love about Portland. For a city this size we are unquestionably blessed with great musicians. How else could one find 11 flutists, all of whom can play Reich in a buildings atrium, without becoming muddy. Again, Bravissimo.

So, was there a downside to the show tonight. Well… yes. I’m not sure whether there were too many audio cables running parallel to each other, an issue with lighting, or what. But, I have only one little tiny complaint. What the hell was that buzzing in the background?

Aside from that, a fabulous night!

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!