Pauline Oliveros

Home / Artists

Years: 1932-2016

Place of birth: United States

Pauline Oliveros was a composer, performer, improviser, teacher and central figure in the development of experimentation and electronic music in American postwar.
We suggest listening to the antiphon "A Love Song" while you continue reading:

Born in 1932 in Houston (Texas), Pauline Oliveros recounts having lived a childhood in a world of sound still relatively little affected by industrialization. This landscape was dominated by the croaking of frogs, cicadas and the harmonious song of the nightingale that, in her memory, formed her first acoustic environment. Nowadays that ancient soundscape dissolves the bustle of the city and a technological and modern soundscape emerges. Her training as an instrumentalist focused on the accordion and the horn, but feeling a true love for sounds, Pauline was clear that composition was her passion. Under the recommendation of her composition teacher, the practice of improvisation first adopted to release compositional blockage, eventually became the way her ideas flowed.

Around 1970 Pauline was attracted to electronic music, in which she found the sounds that really interested her and most closely resembled her inner listening. Throughout her career of watching musicians perform, she noticed that hand-eye coordination was really good, but that listening was not necessarily part of her performance. The difference between hearing, a passive and permanent phenomenon, and listening, a conscious and directed act, is very different. According to Pauline Oliveros, listening, as a sine qua non communication, is one of the main bases of creativity and culture. But nevertheless, in our society, education to listen is neglected, when it is important, if not more, than learning to read. This observation led the composer to develop the concept of Deep listening which she would develop throughout her life. She began this research in the company of the accordion and her own voice, with which she developed a multitude of pieces. Throughout the life of Pauline Oliveros certain attitudes derived from the philosophies of the Far East: how concentration and meditation become fundamental. This way of life was gradually adopted by the study of Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, yoga, the Taoism. In her performances as an improvisation composer, the confluence between these practices is included and her musical is a journey towards escape.
But, what is deep listening?
In Pauline's words;

“The answer to this question is only obtained thanks to its practice, being aware that the complex wave formations that continually reach us from the outside world through the ear to the auditory cortex require an active commitment from the listener which turn implies attention. The experience and learning of deep listening encourages us to conceive common voluntary attitude listening ”.

Deep listening is a practice aimed at increasing and expanding awareness of the listening experience into as many dimensions of awareness and dynamics of attention as possible.

The origin of this concept and practice, which anyone can practice, stems from her own history, her personal experience and her development in the musical world as a composer of instrumental music and performer.

“Deep listening is born from my awareness of listening or listening to what I hear and discern its effects on the continuum thatform my body-mind; to listen to others, to listen to art and life “

Pauline Oliveros

In a summarized and concrete way, Deep Listening is a practice that consists in exercises and pieces of listening that Pauline Oliveros and others composed since 1970. The results are processed by group discussions in workshops and retreats. Deep listening is for both musicians and participants from other disciplines and interests.

Small Practical Guide to Deep Listening
Thanks to the insistence of the composer on the need for her practice for compression, below are some examples of Deep Listening different practices in a visual, auditory and written way:

The new Sound Meditation (1989) Guided audio:

Urban/Country Meditations (1988)


Pay attention to how a roud sounds – eyes closed – distinguishing the size, the shape, type or car model according to its sound – also the speed and engine conidtion.


Sit among the trees – what kind of tree make each kind of sound?

Sound Fishes (1992)

Listening is the base of sound fishing.
Listen to what has not been played yet – that is what a fisherman does when he waits for a fish to bite the hook.
Make a sound in the air like a fisherman who has caught a fish, feeling its size and strength.
When you hear a sound, let it out.
If you think that nothing is goint to << bite the bait >> in one place, change to another place.
There are sounds in the air as if they were in the water.
When the water is clear, you can see the fish.
When the air is clear, you can hear sounds.

November 1992
Fairbanks, Alaska
- Variations for Sextet (1960): For flute / flutin, clarinet, horn trumpet, cello, and piano. One of Pauline Oliveros' first "traditional" choir works. Her style resembles the composer Anton Webern, although in reality she created them improvising, and not applying a rigorously intellectual technique. This work for Flute / flutin, clarinet, horn trumpet, cello, and piano explores through the use of variations and the author's interest in the timbre of the sound through changes in texture.
- Trio for Flute, Piano and Page Turner (1961)
- Trio for Accordion, Trumpet and String Bass (1961)

- I of IV. Live recording.

- Bye Bye butterfly: For two channel tape. This composition was composed in 1967 and says goodbye not only to the music of the 19th century but also to the system of moral decency of that time and the institutionalized oppressive treatment of the female sex. The title, which is a clear reference to Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, is due to the fact that it was at hand at the time of recording and was incorporated into the mix that ended up forming the entire composition.
- Double Basses at Twenty Paces (1968): For two basses, their seconds, referee and tape.
- Sonic meditations (1971): It was composed in 1971, it is composed of 25 meditations for a group that works together and holds meetings assiduously, not specialists or musicians. In it, a serie of oral reflections is collected in writing that anyone can enjoy in different ways; read them as poetry, perform them alone or for an audience. It is based on attention patterns, that is, they are ways of listening and reacting. These pieces constitute the fundamentals of Deep Listening.
- Deep Listening Pieces - 1971-1990: Fifteen pieces some including audience participation.
- Willowbrook Generations and Reflections – 1976: For winds, brass and chorus.
- Bonn Feier (1977): An intermedia piece for indeterminate numbers of performers.
- Rose Moon (1978): For choral ensemble.
- (Spiral) Mandala (1979): For Bass Drum (four players), four Clarinets, four Glass players and Vocalist.
- The Witness – 1980: For soloist and an imaginary partner or ensemble of up to 100.
- Traveling Companions – 1980: For 3 percussionists and 3 dancers
- Earth Ears: A Sonic Ritual - 1982-85: For any ensemble
- The Wanderer -1983: for twenty two accordions and percussion.
- Wings of Dove -1983: for double wind quintet and two pianos
- Gathering Together – 1984: for one piano eight hands
- Tree/Peace - 1984: For violin, cello and piano
- The Wheel of Time -1984: for String Quartet and Tape
- Lion's Eye -1985: for Gamelan
- Thirteen Changes -1986: for Violin
- Portraits – 1988: Unique score computer generated for each performer encouraging creative interaction with the material, for soloist or any ensemble
- Music for Stacked Deck -1989: for mixed Ensemble
- The Lightning Box -1990: for Accordion, Voice, Keyboard, Marimba and EIS
- Wind Horse -1990: for Chorus
- Illegal Harmony -1992: for two players

- Pauline’s Solo -1992: for Accordion
- Pebble Music -1992: for mixed ensemble
- Sound Fishes -1992: for solo or ensemble
- Inside outside Space -1992: for Chamber Orchestra, Vocalist and Expanded Instrument System
- Njinga the Queen King: The Return of a Warrior – 1993: Music Theater
- Epigraphs in the Time of Aids – 1994: for Accordion, Trombone, Keyboard, Long String Instrument and Expanded Instrument System
- mirrorrorrim -1994: for Saxophone and Piano
- Ear Rings -1995: for any ensemble
- Beyond the Mysterious Silence: Approaches and Departures – 1995: Appearances and Disappearances for an ensemble and singers
- Breaking Boundaries -1996: for piano solo or ensemble
- Saxual Orientation -1997: for Saxophone Quartet
- Four Meditations -1997: for Orchestra
- Out of the Dark -1998: for String Orchestra
- Primordial/Lift -1998: for Accordion, Cello, Electric Cello, Harmonium, Violin, Sampler and Oscillator
- The Space of Spirit -1999: for Vocalists, Organ and Carillon
- The Heart of Tones – 1999: for solo Trombone and electronics
- The Heart of Tones -1999: for ensemble
- Six for New Time -1999: for four Electric Guitars and two Percussion
- Quintessential – 1999: for String Quartet
- Red Shifts -2000: for Trombone, oscillators and noise
- Lunar Opera Deep Listening -2000: For tunes
- Elemental Gallop -2000: for Flute, Piano Cello and Voice
- Sound Patterns and Tropes -2001: for Mixed Chorus and Percussion
- Io and Her and the Trouble with Him – an opera -2001
- The Library of Maps -2002: An Opera in Many Parts
- Spirit Light – 2003: For solo accordion and Expanded Instrument System
- Quantum Flirts and Fits -2003: For solo accordion
- 70 Chords for Terry: A Meditation on String Theory -2005: For string quartet
- The Gender of Now: There But Not There -2005: For trombone and piano
- Murphy Mixuo – 2006: for laptop orchestra
- Dissolving Your Earplugs -2006: for classically trained musicians
- Blue Heron:In Memory of James Tenney -2006: for piano and string bass
- One Hundred Meeting Places: In Memory of Ron George -2006: For violin, cello and percussion
- One Hundred Meeting Places -2006: For flexible orchestra
- For the Memory of Christine – 2006: For percussion and voices

- Inner/Outer Matrix -2007: for mixed ensemble
- Drifiting Depths: sound track -2008
- The Eyes of Taxes Are Upon You: sound track -2008
- The Heart of Tones – Mixed realities version -2008: for
-rombones/ voices & Avatars
- Urban Echo: Circle Told -2008: for large chorus and dance
- Sudpphonia -2008: For sudophone orchestra
- A New Indigo Peace -2008: For piano and chorus
- Waking the Noise – 2009: For Intoners (Intonarumoi)
- Oracle Bones -2009: For spoken word, accordion, koto, electronics and light.
- DroniPhonia -2009: for sis iPhones and multi-instrumentalists
- Tower Ring -2011: For gong, chorus, mixed instruments and the Ann Hamilton Tower. In this piece, the audience listening from their positions on the double helix stairs will intimately experience vibrating sensations emanating from a traditional ascending and descending orchestral gong. Didjeridu, choral voices, an eight-story-long wire instrument and gleaming bells will add to a tapestry of sounds that can only be experienced in this structure. Oliveros' historical composition, commissioned by the Oliver Ranch Foundation, is linked to the Tower's eight floors by an ascending and descending gong and small bells played by members of the audience.

Discover more
Talk by composer Pauline Oliveros for TeD talk:

Pauline Oliveros, live concert form a record one:

Example of 'Sonic Meditation I':

Available on: