Internet collaboration may seem contemporary, but it is established. One of the artists at the forefront of this movement was pioneering composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros, who began working with the internet in the 90s and 2000s. She saw technology as something that could open the door to new avenues of musical creation and something that could expand musical partnerships across borders. “It is comforting to think that I can connect with my many friends around the world and strengthen our relationship with global culture,” she wrote in a 2009 essay in the Leonardo’s Music Diary #19. “Making music together makes friends.”
The current projects highlight both the origins and current achievements of Oliveros’ virtual collaboration and how the composer bridged art and technology and forged relationships on the internet. With Half a Dove in New York, Half a Dove in Buenos Aires (Smalltown Supersound), an archival version of a 1999 improvisation between Argentinian experimental band Reynols, Oliveros and others, the sound and process of early telematic music-making – music created over the Internet, simultaneously, in different places – come to life. Other programs like The Center for Deep Listening’s A year of deep listening bring Oliveros’ scores of texts into a virtual, global and interdisciplinary sphere. Projects like these illuminate Oliveros’ early interests in technology and how they continue to manifest today.
Oliveros, who would have turned ninety this year, is best known for codifying the term “deep listening,” which is a practice that encourages active listening to our surroundings. “To listen is to direct attention to what is heard, to gather meaning, to interpret and to decide on action,” Oliveros once said. Deep listening can be practiced through a variety of methods: sound meditations, for example, often originate from simple text scores that ask participants to interact with the sounds around them; all pathways of deep listening encourage creativity and interaction with self and others.
One of the tools Oliveros used to promote collaboration and experiment with new methods of creating art was technology. She was an early adopter of the virtual world, often using it to encourage artists from many different places to perform together. In her Leonardo’s Music Diary essay, she noted that her first collaboration on the Internet was in 1991, when she worked with artists from six cities in the United States, using a video telephone bridge. These early technologies introduced a lot of latency and lag, but instead of looking at issues as obstacles, they became part of the experience and gave color to the music.
While Oliveros began working with telematic music before 1999 with artists across the United States, Half a Dove in New York, Half a Dove in Buenos Aires marks his first international collaboration. To create this two-sided album, Reynols, Oliveros, trombonist Monique Buzzarté and artist Kevin McCoy improvised together via the Internet – Reynols logged in from Buenos Aires, while the others logged in from New York. This technology showed artists that they could play music together while living in different countries and opened doors for later performances, such as a 2009 live concert that Alan Courtis of Reynols and Oliveros gave during of his life and work partner at the 14th annual Ione Dream Festival.
The album was born out of a long musical partnership and friendship between Oliveros and Reynols. They first met during Oliveros’ trip to Argentina in 1994. On that trip, Oliveros heard the band improvising on horns they had never played before, and she was intrigued by their creativity. “It was clear that they understood and negotiated the element of risk in the type of improvisation that I enjoy,” she wrote in a short August 1999 essay accompanying the album. Although the two were often distant from each other – Oliveros in Kingston, New York, and Reynols in Buenos Aires – the artists still found ways to connect, often by sending faxes to each other. Of their ongoing relationship and long-distance collaborations, Courtis and fellow Reynols member Roberto Conlazo said, “We felt Pauline very close to us despite the distance. And to this day, although she is no longer physically on this planet, we feel that Pauline’s soul still resonates in our hearts.
Their common experimental impulse will continue to bind them and serve as a common thread for many of their projects. works like Half a Dove in New York, Half a Dove in Buenos Aires still feel futuristic listening to them today. Much of the album’s movement is sustained, suspended in an eerie stillness as siren sounds bristle around each instrument. Accordion snippets fall into a bed of high-pitched whistles, deep buzzes echo below. Courtis and Conlazo recall that the recording experience was “a little chaotic” due to the quality of 1999’s streaming, but it was a “very inspiring experience”. Its sound certainly reflects the beginnings of the Internet; a little gritty, a little foreign. But decades later, in an age where the internet is an integral part of our lives, it still evokes an otherworldly feeling.
At the Center for Deep Listening, an institute founded by Oliveros and based at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, a year-long virtual celebration marks Oliveros’ ninetieth year. A year of deep listening features daily text scores that artists around the world and from various disciplines have contributed and can access. The scores all take different forms: that of Ione memory today opened the project with a meditation on time, memory and the present, while scores like Stephen Chase’s Syrinxing of the ear asks participants to improvise to the sound of poster tubes.
The project was born both to celebrate the work of Oliveros and to unite people interested in the practice of deep listening. It’s for everyone, from people who have been involved in Oliveros’ work for years to those new to him, professional artists and amateurs alike. Stephanie Loveless, director of the Center for Deep Listening, describes it as “a way to build community.” The ratings were chosen by a panel of judges and were selected through open calls using tools such as social media.
For Loveless, inviting people to contribute text scores to celebrate Oliveros’ life and work was a way to engage a plurality of voices in a core process of Oliveros’ teachings. Sonic Meditations have always been central to his practice and deep listening experience.
The way I teach deep listening – and my own works – centers around truly accessible scores that are almost like teaching tools, or entry points, for musicians and non-musicians alike to deepen their own listening experience and their connection to the world. around them.
With these scores available online at The Deep Listening Center websiteeveryone can access it and begin to explore their own relationship to listening.
Other deep listening projects have also recently adopted a virtual approach. In April 2020, a weekly Zoom performance by Oliveros Tuning Meditation, conducted by Ione, flautist Claire Chase and Raquel Acevedo Klein, has touched thousands of people on seven continents. The piece guides participants to make a variety of vocalizations and sounds based on directions and what they hear around them. Along the same lines, Lawrence University Conservatory – a campus affiliate of the Center for Deep Listening – and Fifth House Ensemble have teamed up to offer weekly Deep Listening jams on Facebook Live throughout 2020 and 2021 to foster community .
Zoom meditations continue today through programs like Michael Reiley’s weekly Sound Sangha, which he started hosting to connect with his community after moving to Europe. For Reiley, who is a member of The Center for Deep Listening community, hosting Zoom meditations allows her to see the differences in soundscape between a variety of locations. Everyone calls from home, from Philadelphia to the Arizona desert. “We meditate on the sound of our surroundings,” he said. “People have different seasons, urban environments, rural environments, and we can imagine these different worlds of sound together.”
While these projects provide multiple access points to Oliveros past work and legacy, they are all bound together by a similar desire to unite a global community through music and the principles of deep listening. We didn’t know in the 90s how the technology would develop, but Oliveros had a vision. “I am interested in contributing to the evolution of the INTERNET as an international place where diverse collaborators can interact with each other,” she wrote in 1999. That dream has grown steadily.