In her book Deep Listening: A Composers Handbook, US composer Pauline Oliveros describes Deep Listening as “learning to expand the perception of sounds to include the whole space/time continuum of sound— encountering the vastness and complexities as much as possible. Simultaneously one ought to be able to target a sound or sequence of sounds as a focus within the space/time continuum and to perceive the detail or trajectory of the sound or sequence of sounds.” It was about being aware of the voluntary and involuntary nature of sound.
Oliveros was an accordionist, composer, performer, improviser and teacher who was intent on heightening and expanding the consciousness of sound with her work, and with her listening. She encouraged others to do the same. She was a pioneer in the deep listening movement, but also electro acoustic music as a whole.
She embraced the healing properties of sound, the healing properties of actively listening to and hearing sound. She was quoted as saying “hear with your ears, listen with your heart.”
The album Deep Listening is a warm embrace, drifting sonic waves that gently increase in volume, swell into earshot then recede. It’s a sonic meditation, where a thought appears, is observed, then retreats only to be replaced with another.
Recorded in a large underground cistern (water tank) in Washington State, the reverbed sounds blur out the attack of individual instruments, even their timbre. What we’re left with are these hazy shimmering frequencies that swell and gently decay. The trio improvised drone pieces, mixing live electronics with vocals, trombone and accordion, though it’s only with knowledge of the instrumentation that you can begin to discern separate instruments.
This is music to calm, to centre.
This is the 30th Anniversary release of Deep Listening, which combines the original 1989 release with some pieces from the follow up, the 1991 Deep Listening Band’s The Readymade Boomerang.
It probably goes without saying that in 2020, this music is medicine. In a difficult year when existential dread meets real physical risk, Deep Listening feels more important, relevant and useful than ever.