For the past 40 years, accordionist and visionary Pauline Oliveros has been creating music utterly her own. Oliveros’ band and label are called Deep Listening, and for Oliveros this is not just a name, but a philosophy and lifestyle; according to Oliveros, “We listen in order to interpret ourselves and our world and to experience meaning.” This deep-seated imperative has led Oliveros to produce a body of work of enormous variety, as well as tremendous depth.
The latest offering from the Deep Listening Label is Unquenchable Fire, which was inspired by Rachel Pollack’s science fiction novel of the same name. The Deep Listening Band—Oliveros (accordion), Stuart Dempster (trombone, didjeridu), and David Gamper (keyboard, flutes, electronics)—meets up with the Joe McPhee Quartet: McPhee (sax, clarinet, Casio digital horn), Joe Giardullo (flutes, clarinet), Monica Wilson (cello), and Karen Jurgens (drums).
Unquenchable Fire is composed of an introduction and four movements; with so many horns and such powerful players, one might expect the adventure of an avant-garde free-for-all. The CD does feature this side of the musicians’ talent, but for the most part the musicians play with space and delicacy. This is the sound of science fiction: haunting, searching, with a reach beyond human intelligence. It’s full of squiggles, interesting pitches and leaps, with the cello adding a rich sense of mystery. The music is also an intriquing combination of acoustic and electronic, a seamless blend exactly suited to Oliveros’ purposes. Rachel Pollack appears as well reading sections of her book, which gives the music greater depth and offers an example of how to integrate such different art forms.
One never knows what Pauline Oliveros will do next, but whatever it is, she is sure to go beyond boundaries and categories. She is sui generis, an artist whose wide open creativity is both inspiring and challenging. On Unquenchable Fire, the musicians have brought the full force of their intelligence and sensitivity to Oliveros’ vision, creating a listening experience both memorable and evocative.