Pauline Oliveros, 'deep listening' pioneer, dies aged 84

The influential improviser and experimental composer coined the ‘deep listening’ concept that preached active and thoughtful awareness of sound

US-born experimental composer and electronic music pioneer Pauline Oliveros died on Thursday, aged 84. She was best known for her philosophy of “deep listening”, an approach to music that she described as “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what one is doing”. Her work explored the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary, selective nature of listening. She coined the term deep listening in 1988, after descending four metres into an underground cistern to make a recording (enjoying the pun, that allowed her to joke about her “underground hits”). It led to a band and an institute where she made it her life’s work to “take care of each other individually and collectively”.

Pauline Oliveros at London’s St John’s Smith Square in summer 2016 for the Southbank’s Deep Minimalism festival.
Pauline Oliveros at London’s St John’s Smith Square in summer 2016 for the Southbank’s Deep Minimalism festival. Photograph: Alice Boagey

Her primary instrument was the accordion, and she continued to make music and experiment until the end of her life. The Guardian reviewed her last release in September 2016, writing: “She’s always a friend to her audience, always aware of how and where and why we might get something from a piece of improvisation. She’s also a restlessly alert collaborator.”

Tom Service’s profile of Oliveros was published in 2012 and is a superb introduction to her music. He cautioned that the deep listening concept is nothing about soft-focused meditation. “Her deep listening encompasses the whole world, it doesn’t separate you from it; the noise of politics, identity and representation is part of what she hears.” One of her works, a 1971 “sonic meditation” called Native, contains the instruction: “Walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears.”


Imogen Tilden

The GuardianTramp

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