Pauline Oliveros

An EMPAC Retrospective

December 1, 2016

Composer, musician, and Deep Listening pioneer Pauline Oliveros shared a very close collaborative relationship with EMPAC from the time she joined Rensselaer until she died at the age of 84 on November 24, 2016.

In 2001 Pauline joined the Rensselaer Department of the Arts as Distinguished Research Professor of Music; EMPAC was also initialized in 2001 and opened its new building in the fall of 2008.

Johannes Goebel, the founding director of EMPAC, met Pauline for the first time in 1977 at the second International Computer Music Conference at the University of California San Diego. In the mid-'80s he invited her to the University of Hildesheim, Germany, for a one-week workshop with his students. They lost sight of each other for a time after that. When Johannes came to the Rensselaer campus to interview for the position of EMPAC director, he was surprised and pleased to meet Pauline again as part of the faculty of the Department of the Arts.

San Francisco Tape Music Center and Wow & Flutter, 2004

In her early career, Pauline had been one of the founding members of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, a seminal west-coast studio for electronic music and intermedia art productions between 1961 and 1966. The first festival EMPAC ever programmed took place in 2004 with Pauline and some original members of the center—Morton Subotnick, Ramon Sender, and Tony Martin—performing pieces from back then and from today.

A result of this two-day festival, dubbed Wow & Flutter, was the publication of the authoritative book on this era of 20th-century music history, The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde, edited by David Bernstein and co-published by EMPAC and the University of California Press. The first-edition of the hardcover book includes a DVD documenting the performances at Wow & Flutter.

In the Summer of 2004, prior to the Wow & Flutter festival, Pauline undertook an archeo-acoustic research project supported by EMPAC collecting acoustic “thumb prints” of sacred spaces in Italy and Sicily through impulse-response measurements.

EMPAC's Opening — Pauline Oliveros and Cecil Taylor, 2008

At EMPAC’s opening in October 2008, Pauline performed with free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor as part of the opening festival. Each one performed a solo set and both joined for a duo.

That same year, Pauline and collaborators Jonas Braasch and Doug Van Nort received an NSF grant for A Robust Distributed Intelligent System for Telematic Music Applications, to develop intelligent agents for improvisational music collaborations over the Internet. Over the years, Pauline, her collaborators, and her classes used the capabilities of EMPAC for telematic music performances with students from Rensselaer together with other researchers and students from other universities in the US and Canada.

Oliveros at 80, 2012

In May 2012, EMPAC celebrated Pauline’s 80th birthday with a concert featuring Tibetan dungchen, didgeridoo, accordion, meditative percussion, and an electronic recreation of the Fort Worden Cistern—a two-million gallon underground water tank made famous by her 1988 Deep Listening album.

Pauline and Laurie Anderson, 2013

In May 2013, Pauline joined artist Laurie Anderson to perform a live improvisation during an evening of screenings of Anderson’s film work. And in August of that year, she took part in Before the Music Starts, a colloquium on time-based arts with Susanna Bolle, Benjamin Nelson, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Miki Kaneda, Lawrence Kumpf, Mark Lewis, Robert AA Lowe, Justin Luke, Jessica Rylan, Frank Smigiel, and Robert Snowden.

Pauline and Tarek Atoui, 2015–16

In the fall of 2015, Pauline and one of her classes collaborated with EMPAC artist in residence Tarek Atoui on newly designed instruments capable of performing both sonic and tactile music for the hearing and hearing-impaired. In May 2016 she joined Tarek in a performance of his Within project in the lobby spaces of EMPAC.

Throughout her time at Rensselear, Pauline was active in advancing her practice of deep listening through the Center for Deep Listening, which she had described as learning to:

“listen to everything all the time and remind yourself when you are not listening.”
—Pauline Oliveros

As Pauline moves on to what one friend called “a position of total presence without being here,” her legacy will live on at EMPAC and Rensselaer.