Pauline Oliveros (1932–2016)

Over a decade ago I used to set a practical assignment for students: to write an obituary of a person who was quite happily alive, as if they were writing for a newspaper to hold “just in case.” The composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros was the subject I set one year, and the most successful. No matter what musical tastes the students had, they were fascinated by Oliveros the person, of her ideas about music, and of the implications that her life had for feminism and lesbian rights, of her spouse, Ione, who has been her collaborator, representative, and rock for many years. I had never thought about Pauline Oliveros’ mortality, any more than I considered the mortality of any other subject in that assignment. Therefore, I was very stunned to read on Friday that Oliveros had died. It shouldn’t be unexpected that someone should die at 84, but given that she had been performing only days before, it was a shock. There are pictures of her this year, holding that enormous accordion and playing it with such ease, the only sign of advancing age being a walking stick that she carried with style.

For those who followed her, Pauline Oliveros was amazing. While most women have been shunted into performance rather than composition, or moved their compositional style to match the current thinking of academia, recreating rather than creating, Oliveros took the hardest route. She was a central figure in the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s. Even in the 1970s, electronic studios were male-dominated, hard for any but the most talented and most determined woman to push through. She used the medium of text notation for her Sonic Meditations, became a professor at the University of California at San Diego, and founded her Deep Listening projects. And she came out as lesbian at a time when it was career suicide; in fact, at a time when just being a woman, any woman, brought up brick walls, never mind glass ceilings.

At the moment, I’m editing some interviews with American composers in the early 1970s and am constantly confronted by the masculine pronoun used exclusively for composers (one, in particular, only mentioned one female: his wife, whom he referred to as “mein frau”). Even though I was a university student at that time, I’ve been shocked when looking back at the pictures of all-male composer parties, of the unknown student being “he” and “him”, when the “guys” in class were not a colloquialism like “folk”, but real boys and men. And when I briefly considered studying composition—and needed an experimental composer as a model, not a historical figure like Amy Beach, or concert composer like Ruth Crawford (or Mrs HHA Beach or Ruth Crawford Seeger as was)—Pauline Oliveros was pretty much the only one that anyone mentioned. (Knowledge of Alison Knowles, Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Carla Bley, and the others came later…). And yet, and yet… When these composers were asked who else should be interviewed, most of them said “you should ask Pauline”. There was respect. And, according to most of her contemporaries, her students, and, in my limited contact with her, me, she was extraordinarily nice to people, and very, very kind.

There are a lot of great tributes to Oliveros out there, but I was really taken with an article based on Houston Library archives from 1999, which someone shared on Facebook, and which deals with the epistolary exchanges between Oliveros and her mother. It’s yet more evidence of Texas as the birthplace of creative, independent musicians: . And although there are many examples of Pauline’s more austere, meditative, Deep Listening music about, this piece, “A Love Song”, recorded in a drained reservoir in Germany, is more beautiful and poignant than any other piece by her that I’ve heard.

That’s not an end; it’s a start. Pauline Oliveros is, quite rightly, the subject of books: biographies, articles, analysis… I wish I had thought to write a proper, professional obituary when I set the assignment for the students. The literature on her, her music writings and recordings, and the politics of her life and work is rich—too rich to clarify just now.

Announcing the return of the EMC Rhythmic Anthology

New on the EMC:

The re-release of the original EMC Rhythmic Anthology, originally from 1973.

OEMC0040. Hugh Shrapnel/Gavin Bryars/Jon Gibson/Christopher Hobbs/Michael Nyman/Michael Parsons. Rhythmic Anthology.

Pdf facsimile of the original document. 40 pp. £8.50.

One of the great Anthologies from the Experimental Music Catalogue’s first incarnation. Rhythmic Anthology includes Bells, by Hugh Shrapnel (a large page that formed the inside cover of the original),  The Squirrel and the Ricketty-Racketty Bridge and Pre-Mediaeval Metrics by Gavin Bryars, 30’s by Jon Gibson, Exercises for Percussionists by Christopher Hobbs, Bell Set 1 by Michael Nyman, and Rhythm Studies I and II for piano and Rhythm Studies for percussion by Michael Parsons. This Anthology includes important—indeed, essential—scores in experimental and minimalist music history (including the must-have works by Bryars, Gibson, Nyman, and Parsons). All produced with the full permission of all composers and their publishers, with a facsimile of the original cover, an iconic design by Angela Bryars.

For how to order, go here, and punch the link to the Classic EMC Anthologies page:

About Found Properties

The “Found Properties” category of the EMC Blog refers to a collection of posts that I have written, including reviews, interviews, other writings, and musings. Some posts are merely links to sites that I have found important; others are full articles in what has been called “Public Musicology,” although I am not that happy with much that has been published under that banner.

It is called “found”, in the sense of Duchamp’s found art, objets trouvés, or “readymades” (this last, a term also used by the Promenade Theatre Orchestra for existing music worked through a systems or other process). “Properties” refers to the use of the term in science, in terms of being a property that is measurable.

“Found Properties” is also the equivalent of a lost and found office. The posts, consisting of whole information and snippets, only shares the fact that they have to do with experimental music and the fact that it is wholly my opinion, not the Experimental Music Catalogue’s. Like a found properties office, some properties might be of great value to a reader, like the recovery of heirloom jewellery; other readers may just find broken umbrellas.

Virginia Anderson
November 7, 2016

South Leicestershire Improvisors Ensemble on Bandcamp

L-R: Trevor Lines, bass; Virginia Anderson, clarinets; Chris Hobbs, piano; Rick Nance, flugelhorn; Lee Allatson, drums; Bruce Coates, saxes

The monthly meeting of the South Leicestershire Improvisors Ensemble, affectionately known as SLIE, at Quad Studios, Leicester, on 3 November 2016, was very special. Normally each session features a guest artist, but this core-group session came up with some lovely sounds. Rick Nance recorded the session using some high-quality portable recording equipment and has released it on his bandcamp page, the wonderfully titled “The Avant God”. There’s a track called From Arrival, which shows the slow movement from friends greeting each other verbally to greeting each other musically, and then three tracks, including some chamber SLIE, in which members sat out to watch others perform.

For the moment you can download SLIE from The Avant God and name your price, including nothing! But, as we say with the EMC Bandcamp page, do think about a donation above and beyond the price if you can manage it: donations will keep Rick’s webpage afloat so he can bring you these wonderfully recorded snapshots.

On Bandcamp: Hobbs goes “spacey”!



New Release: Christopher Hobbs’ Sudoku 126 (2009), one of his Sudoku series, in which Sudoku mega puzzles determine sounds made using the Apple Garageband program. Hobbs tells it like this:

Sudoku 126 dates from 2009. It is one of a series in which long held notes, encountering each other on the same track, interact in unpredictable ways, causing wild fluctuations of pitch. In this Sudoku there are eight tracks, each containing eight notes which diminuendo over a period of four minutes. The choice of pitch and time of initiation within the track were determined by chance. The accompanying image is meant to suggest the “spacey” nature of the piece.

This Sudoku is scheduled to appear as an installation at an upcoming study day at Coventry University (more on that when we know more).

In the meantime, listen for free or download to have throughout the space-time continuum for £3 (or more if you like) for just under 40 minutes of outer-space goodness. You can find it here: