Pauline Oliveros

“Hear with your ears, listen with your heart.” — Pauline Oliveros


The New York Times obituary for avant garde composer Pauline Oliveros, who passed away this past week at the age of eighty-four, is pretty inspiring. Writer Steve Smith succinctly describes one of the most universal aspects of Oliveros’ work:

“Deep Listening” signified Ms. Oliveros’s emerging aural discipline: a practice that compelled listening not just to the conventional details of a given musical performance — melody, harmony, rhythm, intonation — but also to sounds surrounding that performance, including acoustic space and extra-musical noise.

Although our introduction to her music was through the Minneapolis-based Roaratorio Records release of her orchestral work,To Valierie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation, we thought about her concept of “deep listening” while working on the release for the first album on our own label. Folk singer Ben Weaver chose to record that album in a barn, retaining the background sounds of breezes, birds and creaking floorboards, giving the album its unique atmosphere.

Ben Weaver’s I Would Rather Be a Buffalo is a world apart from Oliveros’ electronic compositions, but a quote from her writing in Smith’s obituary points to how they are similar: “All societies admit the power of music or sound. Attempts to control what is heard in the community are universal,” Ms. Oliveros wrote in a preface to the meditations. “Sonic Meditations are an attempt to return the control of sound to the individual alone, and within groups especially for humanitarian purposes; specifically healing.”

Another aspect of Oliveros’ music and writing was an examination of gender roles, and that was the subject of the piece released by Roaratorio Records. We posted about it a few years ago in a celebration of that label’s diverse catalog. Here’s what we wrote about it at the time:

The album collects two performances of the piece, its 1970 debut and a 1977 reproduction.

Shortly after it was published in 1968 the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas fell into my hands. Intrigued by the egalitarian feminist principles set forth in the Manifesto, I wanted to incorporate them into the structure of a new piece that I was composing. The women’s movement was surfacing and I felt the need to express my resonance with this energy. Marilyn Monroe had taken her own life. Valerie Solanas had attempted to take the life of Andy Warhol. Both women seemed to be desparate and caught in the traps of inequity …

In the score all players have a non-hierarchical role. The parts for the piece are the same for each player and within the given guidelines each individual interprets their part differently. If any player starts to dominate the musical texture, the community that is created by the piece absorbs the outstanding sounds back in to the collective.

You can read Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto here. It was received as a satire along the lines of Swift’s “Modest Proposal” until she shot Andy Warhol at his New York studio, the Factory, on June 3rd, 1968. You can, of course, find most of Marilyn Monroe’s films online and we’ll leave it up to you whether she deserves more recognition, as Olivaros has written, as an actress. We think she does, but we’re not big fans of her singing.

If you’re interested in Pauline Oliveros, you can find out more about her forty year (and going) career in music on her official website. She is a highly regarded accordionist, the author of five books about music, and a pioneer of electronic art music. Important Records recently compiled a twelve-disc collection of her experimental electronic music from the 60s (and it’s already sold out!).

paula oliveros

So there’s a short tour of Roaratorio Records. Most of these titles are still in print and we have them in stock at the shop — you can also buy them direct from the label if you’re reading this from outside the Twin Cities (check out their site here). They have just released a new Rodd Keith collection (their third) and will soon put out a Sun Ra album (Other Strange Worlds, which we are very excited about — hopefully it’s a sequel to the Strange Worlds collection of the BYG/Actuel albums and contains similar, awesome recordings from 1970-1).


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