Pauline Oliveros

Once upon a time, a million years ago, when lizards flew and dinosaurs walked the earth….well, sometimes it feels that way. College has become something of a blur for me.  Undergrad and later grad school, I can’t really tell which is which, but way back then I met an extraordinary woman named Pauline Oliveros

At the time I was working with Allen Strange in the School of Music and Dance, he made a point of announcing  she would be doing a talk and seminar in the coming days.

I don’t recall to much about her, only that she was older and reminded me of another professor I had even more in the way back.

The first exercise we did in a room of many people was vocal.  It was based on breath and tone.  Everyone was to take a breath and then exhale singing a tone (even loud humming).  So, everyone starts together, but quickly it moves into a strange flowing chaos as people have different rates of breathing.  What was cool and not especially intuitive was how occasionally everyone would come back into sync.  Like two loops running at slightly different speeds going in and out of sync over time.

Deepish Birds 2017

Example of stereo loop of a forward and reversed snippet of a bird song going in and out of register.  You can here it when the two little “hoots” sound simultaneously.

Here is a clearer example, though harsh:

Chirp Sound made of two loops going in and out of sync or phase

The effect of Oliveros’s demonstration was profound.  The room would go out of “phase” and then return, giving the effect of order rising from chaos.   She mentioned doing this with instrumentation though I never got to see or hear a presentation of this aspect.

The other thing she mentioned, which stuck with me, was the notion of “bandwidth” in humans (my word not hers).  Maybe I had heard it before, but never in a manner so testable.  In this case she was referring to the human ability to listen and hear.  She asserted that most people can attend to only a few sounds at a time.  She also mentioned that even acutely sensitive persons can only attend to about seven sounds simultaneously.  I have on occasion tested this.  Walking across campus or most anywhere.  Making a conscious decision to listen and make note of what I can hear before something drops out of my awareness.  Cause that’s what happens, the sound doesn’t necessarily stop, it drops out of your consciousness. It is when you are attending to all that you can hear at a given time.  She spoke of her, “Deep Listening” project/seminars which I see are still going on despite her passing.

Regardless, one of those chance meeting that continue to color my experience of the world.