November 2009: Conversation with Composer, Pauline Oliveros

I have faith in listening. Listening brings me to faith – faith that I can believe my ears as much as I can believe my eyes. Sound impacts my body and resonates within. Sounds keep returning to me as I listen. I think how limited our vocabulary is when it comes to discussing inner or mental sound and sounding. We have the word imagination. Imagination. refers to the visual sense even though it is used to refer to all senses – imaginative hearing, imaginative touching, imaginative tasting even imaginative smelling.

We need a word though that highlights the auditory cortex. This word was more recently coined by architect Mendell Kleiner. The word is auralization and is used to refer to acoustic modeling of spaces in buildings. I appropriated this usage to refer to mentally modeling sound in memory or creatively. We need to know that this is possible in dreams as well as daily life. We can project sound in space or the sounding of a composition. We can do this as an improvisation. We can auralize an improvisation. We can auralize a score with out sounding a note. The body can resonate with such auralizations.

Auralizations of beautiful natural sounds that one remembers can bring the feeling of healing – much as being in nature can and does bring to one. If one can’t be physically near a waterfall or brook or by tree leaves rustling in the breeze try remembering and auralizing some special moments of such awareness and let the feeling resonate throughout the body. Note the sensations that are self generated through remembering. inner hearing and listening.

We all have powerful resources as listeners and can bring healing to ourselves and others through the practice of positive remembering and auralizing.

“Through Pauline Oliveros and Deep Listening, I finally know what harmony is…It’s about the pleasure of making music.”
— John Cage, 1989

From Carol Becker, Dean, Columbia University School of the Arts:
“The School of the Arts is thrilled to present the William Schuman Award to Pauline Oliveros, a truly adventurous artist, who has contributed so much to redefining the boundaries and potentialities of contemporary music.” Columbia University School of the Arts honors composer PAULINE OLIVEROS with the WILLIAM SCHUMAN AWARD, a major recognition given periodically over the past twenty-eight years. Named for its first recipient William Schuman, the award, in the form of a direct, unrestricted grant of $50,000, is one of the largest to an American composer. In the language of the gift establishing the prize, the purpose of the William Schuman Award is “to recognize the lifetime achievement of an American composer whose works have been widely performed and generally acknowledged to be of lasting significance.” It is awarded by the Dean of the School of the Arts at Columbia University. The award was established in 1981 by a bequest from the Schuman family. Previous winners have included Schuman, David Diamond, Gunther Schuller, Milton Babbitt, Hugo Weisgall, Steve Reich, and, most recently in 2006, John Zorn. “I am delighted that Pauline Oliveros has been chosen to receive the Schuman Award for 2009,” says Professor Aaron A. Fox, Chair of the Department of Music at Columbia University. “Ms. Oliveros is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished and innovative American composers of her generation, and her music is both beautifully compelling and of lasting importance. On behalf of the Columbia University Department of Music, I extend warm congratulations to Ms. Oliveros for this well deserved recognition of her extraordinary career, and welcome her to Columbia, where she has many fans, for the celebratory performance at Miller Theatre.”

Pauline Oliveros—composer, performer, and humanitarian—is an important pioneer in American music. For four decades she has explored sound, forging new ground for herself and others, to international acclaim. Through improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching, and meditation, she has created a body of work with such breadth of vision that it profoundly affects those who experience it. Whether performing at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. in an underground cavern, or in the studios of West German Radio, Oliveros’s commitment to interaction with the moment is unchanged. Through Deep Listening Pieces and earlier Sonic Meditations, Oliveros introduced the concept of incorporating all environmental sounds into musical performance. To make a pleasurable experience of this requires focused concentration, skilled musicianship, and strong improvisational skills, which are the hallmarks of Oliveros’s form. She now serves as Distinguished Research Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Darius Milhaud Composer in Residence at Mills College.