Pauline Oliveros (US)

Bye Bye Butterfly (1965) 8’
I of IV (1966) 20’

ph. Vinciane Verguethen


Born in 1932 in Houston, Texas, she was introduced to instrumental music at an early age. In the 1950s she moved to San Francisco, where she began her first experiments with tape recorders and multimedia tools applied to electronic music. The tape recorders, which, as she recounts, she initially used to track the sounds of the city from her window sill, started tape music-literally, “music on tape.” Hence the suggestion in 1961 to found a proper center dedicated to the genre: the San Francisco Music Tape Center, the result of a creative partnership with composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender. By the late 1960s Oliveros was already a name, a signature of experimental music. Her profession also developed in academia, where she was called to teach at the University of California at San Diego. Experimentation and research led her in 1974 to the formulation of Sound Meditations, sound compositions consisting of verbal instructions designed to focus the listener’s attention on the depth of sound. The Sound Meditations are the first basis of her Deep Listening practice. To borrow Oliveros’ words, the method consists of “listening in every possible way all you can, no matter what you are doing.” Simplifying the concept, Oliveros believes that to truly and properly listen one must not limit oneself to conventional elements such as melody, rhythm and harmony. One’s ear and thought must go beyond that to the elements surrounding the performance, such as the sounds of space or the musician’s breath. The practice requires knowing how to meditate with thought and perceive sounds with the body in order to assume full awareness of the sound environment, both internally and externally. Beginning as an accordionist, then applying herself to the violin, piano and tuba, to the most unusual instrumentation, Oliveros thus arrives at an analysis of sound that traverses every one of its smallest particles.