The Free-Reed Journal
Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers

E-Mail Interview with Pauline Oliveros

Doktorski: Hi Pauline!

Oliveros: Hi Henry!

Doktorski: I thought your CD "Deep Listening" was tremendous; a really fabulous experience, actually.

Oliveros: Glad you liked it!

Doktorski: In your own words, how would you describe your style of music? Is it "New Age" music or something else?

Oliveros: New Age is a marketing term which has lost it's meaning to the market. My music comes from an inner place - the style changes as I change. Sometimes it's raucous, sometimes it's quiet, it does not rely on imposed forms - it forms as I listen.

Doktorski: It is extremely rare to hear contemporary composers play the accordion as a principal instrument. Even if a composer began learning music on the accordion, it seems that all of them later switched to the piano as their instrument of choice. You, however, seem to have stayed with the accordion. Why?

Oliveros: The accordion is my primary instrument. It's an old friend - comfortable and expressive. Symbolically it is aligned with *the people* - working people. It is also a challenge to play an instrument that grew up after the period of classical music. The piano is centered in that period. The accordion has a life of it's own.

Doktorski: Tell us about your background. Where are you from? Was accordion your first instrument? When did you start learning it? I heard you graduated from the University of Houston with a masters degree in accordion, under the tutelage of Dr. Willard Palmer. At the time, what did you hope to do with your training & degree?

Oliveros: I am from Houston. Accordion was my third instrument. (Piano and Violin were first). My first instruction was from my mother and grandmother - both piano teachers. I began my lessons with Bill Palmer in 1945 and continued till 1952. I was one of the first students at the University of Houston to major in accordion. I was interested in performing however it was composition that caught me and I left for San Francisco to pursue that interest. I graduated from San Francisco State College in 1957 with a BA in composition. I dropped a Master's program as it was interfering with my composing.

Doktorski: When and why did you decide to devote your time to composing?

Oliveros: I decided to be a composer at age 16 because I heard music in my imagination. The experience of hearing my own music was the most satisfying to me aesthetically.

Doktorski: Please tell us about your work in consciousness raising.

Oliveros: My Deep Listening Retreats are devoted to the exploration of different forms of listening and sounding. Being aware of sound inside and outside of oneself as a practice can be growth producing as it is a connecting force. When we hear we are not necessarily listening. Listening takes attention and direction.

Doktorski: Where did you get the idea to record an album in a cistern?

Oliveros: I have always been interested in unusual acoustic spaces. I recorded in a cistern in Germany in 1984. The Well and The Gentle was a double album produced by Hat Hut Records. My friend and colleague Stuart Dempster shares my interest and invited me to record with him in the cistern in Washington State at Fort Worden.

Doktorski: In "Deep Listening" there are some incredible bass drones. Is that the didjeridu? Exactly what is a didjeridu? Please describe it.

Oliveros: The drones are produced by didjeridu combined with my bass pedal tones. Didjeridu is an Australian Aboriginal drone instrument. Typically it is a Eucalyptus branch hollowed by termites. It is a buzz lip instrument and is played in Aboriginal rituals and ceremonies. Stuart studied with Aboriginals in Australia. He plays the American didjeridu made of PVC pipe.

Doktorski: Do you have any forthcoming projects that you would like to tell us about?

Oliveros: I will be doing a distance concert with Accordionists Warren Burt of Australia and Caroline Wilkins of Cologne. We will each perform from our own geographical location via ISDN lines and PictureTel. We will be able to see and hear one another as will the audiences. One live player and two virtual players at each location.

Doktorski: What is ISDN & Picturetel?

Oliveros: ISDN is a high speed and large bandwidth telephone line which can transmit audio and video simultaneously. PictureTel is a video conferencing system run through telephone lines

Doktorski: Do you have any special message for our readers?

Oliveros: After a life time of playing the accordion I wonder what the life of the accordion will become. I would like to know why others continue to play the instrument and what transformations they would enjoy. I would love to be able to change the tuning at will from one piece to the next. (My accordion is tuned in just intonation).

Doktorski: Briefly tell us what is just intonation and why you use it.

Oliveros: Just Intonation is a sytem of tuning based on pure fifths and thirds. I use it because it makes the instrument very resonant and the unequal intervals are very colorful.

Doktorski: It was really nice chatting with you, Pauline. Bye now!

Oliveros: Bye, Henry!

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