Pauline Oliveros: Sonic Trailblazer and Mother of Deep Listening

“One of my major accomplishments in life was going beyond fear through music.” – Pauline Oliveros

photo credit: Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College

Oliveros was on the front lines of electronic music and analog synthesis, co-founding the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the early 60s, along with artists like Morton Subotnick and Terry Riley, and stepping in as director when it merged with the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music. Oliveros was not only one of the first women to figure prominently in the electronic music world; she was one of the pioneers of the genre, lighting the way for future humans.

photo credit: Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College

Pauline Oliveros wasn’t just technically accomplished; she also placed great value on the experiential component of music, art, and life. Oliveros established herself early on as a talented composer but never stopped championing and practicing live improvisation. In the late 80s, she developed the practice of “deep listening,” which she described as “listening in every possibly way to everything possible to hear no matter what one is doing” (an idea that developed into the Deep Listening Band, a series of sonic meditations, and the Deep Listening Institute).

Pauline Oliveros was a model for living a life dedicated to a higher vision. In the early 1980s, she left a tenured university professorship in order to devote herself to art full-time. Not content to just create, she consistently gave back through lecturing, writing, and teaching. Speaking and performing up through the last years of her life (she just played in New York earlier this month), Oliveros never stopped exploring and experimenting.

We’re grateful for Oliveros’s example, as our landscape would not be what it is today without her pioneering, radically present influence.

“Take a walk at night. Walk so silently that your feet become ears.” – Sonic Meditation, Pauline Oliveros

Learn more about Moog synthesizers and theremins.

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