June 12, 2009

Pauline Oliveros & Stuart Dempster & Panaiotis - Deep Listening (1989, New Albion)

Pauline Oliveros has been composing and performing experimental electronic music since the '60s, and has long been considered a pioneer and innovator in the field. In the '80s she began releasing albums featuring her accordion improvisations, and experimented with digital processing and spatial environment recording, moving in a more free-form ambient, meditative direction. '89s "Deep Listening" documented her collaborations with trombonist Stuart Dempster and vocalist Peter Ward (aka Panaiotis). The group had discovered a vast underground cistern which had previously held 2 million gallons of water. Now empty, the space was found to produce a massive, sustaining reverberation of sound. The group improvised and recorded long textural drones in the space, four pieces of which are collected on "Deep Listening". The sound is other-worldly and enveloping, yet the instrumentation is entirely organic, consisting of Pauline on accordion, conch shell and voice, Stuart on trombone, didgeridoo, garden hose, conch shell and voice, and Panaiotis providing voice as well as found-object metal scraping on the fantastic fourth piece "Nike". The natural reverb obscures and washes out the sharp edges of the sound, while accentuating certain harmonics as they slowly decay over a period of nearly 45 seconds. Even percussive sounds are rendered into distant washes of soft noise. The tone of the music is at times haunting and mysterious, such as on the etherial "Suiren", as well as soothing and meditative, such as the long passages in "Ione". This album stands as one of the all-time classics of ambient music, and required listening for anyone interested in drones. Pauline Oliveros produced several more CDs throughout the '90s with her Deep Listening Band, while also writing and holding workshops on the practice of Deep Listening, a meditation practice centered on the focused observation of sound in one's environment. I had the privelege of attending a short workshop and concert Pauline held in North Carolina back in '02, and was inspired to attend Mills college, where Pauline had studied and currently teaches, to focus on studying the applications of sound for meditation and healing. Pauline is still touring and composing actively with her accordion and Extended Instrument System digital processing software. She also runs her own Deep Listening recod label, which has released a variety of excellent ambient and improvisation-based CDs over the past decade.