Pauline Oliveros, a pioneering electronic composer and accordionist, developed the theory and practice of “deep listening,” merging music, art, meditation, and technology.
Time Perspectives was my first tape piece, made in 1961 in my home studio for four-channel playback.1 Until then I had used the tape recorder only for recording. I pushed the stereo medium to quadraphonic; at the time that meant that two tapes had to be synchronized by hand and played back on two stereo tape machines with the outputs distributed to four speakers in the performance space.
The word media had not occurred to me yet. Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” was not stated until 1964.2 But to me stereo was already an old medium.
A community of friends in the 1960s that included Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Ramon Sender, Morton Subotnick, La Monte Young, myself, and others began repurposing devices like tape machines, oscillators, patch bays (mixers were not available), amplifiers, and so on to make tape and electronic music. None of these devices were originally intended to be instruments for making music. Art and music practices constantly redefine devices and ways of using them to create new mediums.
Our work in the new mediums of tape and electronic music needed a place where we could pool resources and work together. First there were donated spaces and equipment; then, in 1963, a rented former labor hall became the San Francisco Tape Music Center (SFTMC).3 By this time we were combining live projected visuals with our electronic music in shows presented there. The visual artist Tony Martin combined inks and oils in a petri dish on an overhead projector to create abstract images that flowed with the music.4 He also combined slide and film projections with live images. Additionally he used gobos or cutouts to direct light and image in specific ways to create foreground and background.5 He too was pushing the medium.
Tony was invited to present his work at the Fillmore Auditorium by the rock music promoter Bill Graham. Few know that Tony Martin had such a strong influence on the popular visual language that persists now in the age of digital media.
The arts scene in San Francisco found us living the transition from acoustic to electronic music. There was a great cultural division. There was no place to experiment with the then new medium of electronic music. Rather than working individually, it was necessary to collaborate. A community effort produced new uses of media and new makers of devices for artistic purposes.
Rock musicians from such bands as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and others visited the SFTMC to learn more about electronic music and to incorporate processing into their music.
It takes a great community of effort to produce art in a new medium. I consider myself an analog native and a digital immigrant. Immigration is not so easy. Code is the new medium. Today I work with expert programmers to translate and implement the data structures that I conceptualize for my music.
From the SFTMC days in the 1960s I have evolved a system called Expanded Instrument System (EIS) that I use for performing as well as composing and recording.6 Since 1965 EIS has been under continual development from analog beginnings to digital technology (1991) and continuing on today (2014) to become a smart system using artificial intelligence.
Another medium for my work is space. From Time Perspectives, my first tape piece, to the present, distribution of sound and movement in space is a principal concern.7 The EIS technology allows for live and algorithmic performing of spatial movement and distribution in real time.
Currently programming is under way that will make EIS smarter. From the beginning I knew that as a soloist I would like to handle more musical information than a single acoustic instrument allows. With delay processing, sounds performed in the present can return in the future and layer into the present from the past! The returning sounds can be exactly as played or modified. The time delays can be shorter or longer; modifications can be slight or exaggerated.
EIS is an improvisational environment for solo or group work. It is like an improvisational digital partner. As it gets smarter, it makes its own decisions in response to its human partner(s). So we are now dealing with intelligent media—smart media—as we go forward into the posthuman era.
Pauline Oliveros, Reverberations: Tape and Electronic Music, 1961–1970, Important Records, 2012, CD (box set). ↩
Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964). ↩
David W. Bernstein, ed., The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008). ↩
Camilla Padgitt Coles and Nicky Mao, eds., Tony Martin: The Variable Place (n.p.: Ab-sens, 2012). ↩
Pauline Oliveros, “Memoirs of a Community Enterprise,” in Bernstein, San Francisco Tape Music Center, 85. ↩
Deep Listening Institute, “Expanded Instrument System Artistic Statement,” http://deeplistening.org/site/content/expandedmusicalinstruments. ↩
Pauline Oliveros, “Acoustic and Virtual Space as a Dynamic Element of Music,” in Women, Art, and Technology, ed. Judy Malloy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 212–23. ↩
Pauline Oliveros, “Time Perspectives,” 1959. Included on Four Electronic Pieces 1959–1966 (Sub Rosa), 2009.
Morton Subotnick, Silver Apples of the Moon (Nonesuch), 1967.
Terry Riley, A Rainbow in Curved Air (CBS Records), 1969.
Ramon Sender, “Desert Ambulance,” 1964. Included on Desert Ambulance (Locust Music), 2006.
La Monte Young, “The Second Dream of the High Tension Line Stepdown Transformer” from “The Four Dreams of China,” 1962. Released on Gramavision, 1991.
Steve Reich, “Come Out,” 1966. Included on Steve Reich: Works 1965–1995 (Nonesuch), 1997.
Tony Conrad, The Flicker (1966).
James Tenney, “Collage #1 (Blue Suede),” 1961. Included on James Tenney: Selected Works 1961–69 (New World Records), 2003.
The ONCE Group, formed late 1950s–early 1960s.
Stanley Shaff, AUDIUM, concept for a spatial/theatrical experience of electronic music, late 1950s–. The first AUDIUM theater was co-founded with Douglas McEachern in 1967.
Lou Reed et al., The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967).
The Beatles, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).