Pauline Oliveros

Sometime in the 1980s, composer/performer Pauline Oliveros and I had overlapping residencies at Art Park, in upstate New York. Although mainly designed to assist and showcase visual artists and their work, Art Park also has a couple of small performance spaces and occasionally presents music as well.

Pauline’s stage was a small concrete platform at the end of a meandering path in the woods, and she was joined in her performance by a dancer as well as a visual artist drawing throughout the performance.

Pauline started the performance by simply lifting her accordion to her lap, tilting her head to her side and listening.

r3poAfter about five minutes she started to play one very high note, held it for a long time, and then slowly added another, then another. As the music progressed, Pauline began punctuating the these long tones by ever increasing short rapid passages of flurried notes.

Listening carefully, I was gently being lulled into the music, when suddenly something changed. It was as if someone had just focused my ears. Everything that I was hearing was interacting in a clearly organized manner. I don’t just mean Pauline’s music, but all the sounds: the wind in the trees, the birds, peoples voices in the distance, everything made musically sense! When the birds sang, they sang in perfect tune with Pauline, entering at exactly the right moment, and sometimes paralleling Pauline in long intricate passages. In the same manner, the wind in the trees would shift and rustle, dogs would bark, squirrels would chatter, all in perfect time to Pauline’s music!

I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. Somehow whatever Pauline was doing had such a perfect foundation, that every other sound fit together with it as if finely orchestrated by a master composer. Even the cars passing by sounded like finely tuned instruments rather than their usual obnoxious clamor.

I was so stunned that I held my breath, fearing that this would be only a momentary occurrence, but it wasn’t. It lasted for the twenty or thirty minutes that Pauline played. I had plenty of time to revel in this amazing experience. I had of course philosophically believed that “all sounds are part of the symphony of life”, but this was the first time that I was actually experiencing it! Every time I started to doubt the experience another group of random sounds would occur in perfect order! It was like a dream come true, I was filled with a an overwhelming sense of the order of life.

As the piece came to a close, the sounds of the birds and wind progressively became more random again. I tried to hold on to the experience, to somehow keep this way of hearing, but the more I tried, the faster it slipped away. It was replaced instead by the excited sounds of the audience: “Did you hear that?”, “That was amazing!”, “Everything was in tune!”, “Was that real?”, “Amazing how everything was in synch, what do you want for lunch?”

Amazed and excited by this experience, I went up to the stage as Pauline was packing up to leave, and told her of my experience. She listened politely, smiled and then said “Good…it worked……that’s the way it should be”.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

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