The idea for Pauline Oliveros—Still Listening was born in the afterglow of a joyful concert at the 2015 Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival. Two old friends, Pauline Oliveros and Alvin Lucier, both icons of experimental music, shared the double bill, meeting for the first time in many years. Musicians and audience members alike were transfixed by the power of intense shared listening. The next day, we walked through Jeanne-Mance Park in Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood, musing about Pauline’s immense generosity and openness. We knew her best as the leader of an international research team developing freely available adaptive use musical instruments for people with disabilities, a project that she embarked on in her mid-seventies. Pauline was always reaching out to new people and exploring new sound worlds.
That’s when inspiration hit – we should do something big to celebrate Pauline’s 85th birthday on May 30, 2017. It should be as diverse, creative and inclusive as Pauline and it should be a surprise. She had touched the lives of so many creative people! Why not ask 85 composers to write 85 pieces to be performed in 85 seconds each to celebrate her 85th birthday?
What began half as a joke quickly took hold. First, we brought Pauline’s wife and long-time collaborator IONE into our secret and worked with her to develop a list of people who had worked with Pauline in some way. Spanning well over half a century, Pauline’s musical collaborations include early improvisations in 1950s San Francisco with Terry Riley and Loren Rush, working with Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick to found the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s, mentoring legions of students at UCSD, Mills, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and her most provocative work: founding the Deep Listening Institute and developing an influential new creative and philosophical practice with interdisciplinary artists like IONE and Heloise Gold. The list quickly grew to include eminent composers, Deep Listening certificate holders, students past and present, and friends (some of them dancers or artists rather than musicians). By May 2016 we were ready to start sending out invitations. Never has a project brought more satisfaction to its organizers. We received a flood of responses, overwhelmingly positive, excited and containing the message “anything for Pauline.” Many more composers than those represented in this exhibit wished to contribute but were unable to, for a variety of logistical reasons. Amazingly, we did indeed manage to keep the whole thing a secret.
Her sudden death on November 24, 2016 (American Thanksgiving), was devastating to everyone who knew Pauline and her work. Our birthday surprise has become a tribute, one of several worldwide that have marked the passing of a truly remarkable person. We are very grateful to IONE and to all the composers who so generously participated. Between June 1 and 3, 2017 we will celebrate Pauline’s life in a number of ways. First, the launch of an exhibition of scores (comprising a diverse array of media, including notation, text, image, audio, video, sculpture, and varied combinations of these). Second, a concert by the versatile musicians of the Novarumori ensemble performing the collection of works in a single evening. Finally, a conference exploring the impact of Pauline’s work on improvisation and listening, which, in keeping with Pauline’s own academic and creative practices, will include traditional talks, workshops, concerts, meditations, and participatory activities. The world is a sadder place without Pauline – we need her positive energy and creativity now more than ever. As we pay tribute to our dear friend and colleague, we are sure of one thing: wherever she is, Pauline Oliveros is still listening.
— Eric Lewis and Ellen Waterman
About the Exhibit
When we began working on the Still Listening project in September of 2016, we knew instantly that its execution would be a formidable task. Though we had never met Pauline Oliveros, we were well aware of her diverse compositional output, and the fact that any celebration of her legacy would surely reflect that diversity. We were not wrong; after inviting more than eighty-five composers to contribute their scores to this project, we received works composed in every imaginable medium and notation, from sculpture to audio file, from traditional tablature to graphic notation.
As curators, then, we faced a few challenges. First, the sheer volume of incoming work necessitated a major organizational effort to keep track of all the material. Second, unlike many exhibits that encompass a narrower scope, this exhibit was to display a very large body of work in a way that had to be accessible and engaging both for viewers who specialized in contemporary composition, and for those who approached the work with less familiarity. We also wanted to use the exhibit as a catalyst for making links between the various contributors, all of whom share a deep connection to the life and work of Pauline Oliveros. Finally, we wanted to ensure that the spirit of Oliveros’ philosophy of Deep Listening—as well as her work in breaking down the rigid taxonomies between musical genres—could be clearly felt throughout the exhibit.
Through our experience of mounting this exhibit, we all feel that we have come to know a great deal about the life and work of Pauline Oliveros through the loving contributions of those who knew her. It has been a pleasure to spend the past months helping to facilitate that community’s collective expression of gratitude and affection for their dear friend. We would like to thank all of the contributors for their scores, and for the opportunity to experience Pauline Oliveros in this beautiful and unique way. Ultimately, we hope that this exhibit does for its viewers what creating it did for us, changing the way we experience the world by changing the way we listen.
— Katherine Horgan, Dancy Mason, and Landon Morrison
As a companion to the exhibit, Amy Horvey and Elysha Poirier organized a concert performance of a selection of the scores. Below is a video with more information on the concert: