Meditative music mines the depths of listening

Date published: 06/08/2007
Publication: Albany Times Union

by Joseph Dalton

Albany Times Union
June 8, 2007

In 1988, accordionist and composer Pauline Oliveros made a recording with a trombone player and a percussionist inside a 2 million-gallon empty cistern buried 14 feet below ground at Fort Worden, near Port Townsend, Wash. The resulting CD on New Albion Records was titled “Deep Listening,” a play on the unusual location and also an apt description of the trio’s meditative and reverberant improvisations.

Pauline Oliveros: Conducting Zena's Circle at Rose MountainPauline Oliveros: Conducting Zena’s Circle at Rose Mountain
Soon thereafter, Oliveros realized “Deep Listening” more broadly described the aesthetic approach to contemporary music she had been pursuing for 30 years. While it can seem abstract, deep listening might be described as “musical mindfulness,” in which the composer or other artist approaches the work from a position of deep awareness.
Oliveros began using the term in her myriad activities as a performer and teacher, and started offering training and certification in deep listening techniques. A few years ago, she renamed her Kingston-based organization the Deep Listening Institute.

Deep listening is no longer underground. This weekend, three Hudson Valley locations will host concerts that mark the culmination of the Deep Listening Convergence, a coming-together of 45 musicians from across North America and Europe that began in January with online dialogues and rehearsals.

Yes, online rehearsals. Since the 1950s, when she experimented with the then-new medium of electronic tape, Oliveros, 74, has remained at the forefront of technology, and the Internet has long been one of her tools. Participants in the Deep Listening Convergence used the networking program Skype to improvise and rehearse new compositions. Like a telephone conference call, Skype allows up to 10 computers to give and receive audio and video information in real time.

“I was sitting here in my kitchen and hearing four people from different cities in Switzerland and four from Canada and others from the U.S.,” said Oliveros last week from her home in Kingston. “It was great. They did a long and goofy improvisation.”

Whether they are goofy or serious or a bit of both, a lot of deep listening compositions are in store this weekend. Each of the three concerts, at venues in Troy, Hudson and High Falls, will have a different program of new works, from solos to large ensemble pieces. The instruments at hand are also diverse, and will include traditional Western instruments, drums and folk instruments, plus electronics. Vocalizing and some movement will be part of the mix as well.
Among the new works is “Spiral Tap,” by Sarah Weaver, 29, a trombonist and composer from Chicago. She composed the new work using deep listening techniques to explore the number sequences represented in the spirals of a seashell. It will be performed by six musicians playing conch shells.

“Everyone using the (Deep Listening) system is more in touch with their authentic selves and a new level of communication is available that’s not there in other compositional systems,” says Weaver, who’s in the process of moving to New Paltz. She plans to become Oliveros’ apprentice in Kingston and also start an ensemble in Manhattan.
Like most of the participants in the convergence, Weaver has completed a three-year training to become certified in deep listening. Over the years, Oliveros has spread the word — and the sound — of deep listening far and wide. Her institute offers a variety of special workshops and summer retreats, and Oliveros has been teaching deep listening at RPI for the past six years.

One method Oliveros uses to track the reach of deep listening is a “Google Alert,” in which the search engine sends her a message every time it spots a new Web site using the term.

“I get alerts every day,” says Oliveros. “The usage includes all kinds of musicians and it includes religious and spiritual groups. It’s becoming very common.”

By Joseph Dalton

Deep Listening Convergence

What: Bringing together 45 composers/performers from across the United States and Europe to three days of music-making and listening.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, The Sanctuary for Independent Media, 3361 Sixth Ave., Troy; 8 p.m. Saturday, Time & Space Limited, 434 Columbia St., Hudson; 3 p.m. Sunday, LifeBridge Sanctuary, 333 Mountain Road, High Falls

Tickets: $8-$10 per concert

Info: (845) 338-5984; http://www.deeplistening.org/site/convergence

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