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Pauline Oliveros: The Roots of the Moment

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The music of Pauline Oliveros invites a consideration of her philosophical perspective, as the former is an outgrowth of the latter. Having established herself in the 1960s as one of the first composers to utilize electronics, Oliveros has since replaced the tape and oscillator experiments of her early work with performances that employ her interactive methodology of "Deep Listening."

This technique encourages a participatory approach to musical improvisation, eliminating the distinctions between composer, performer and listener. The Roots of the Moment, originally released in 1988 and reissued by Hatology in 2006, is one of the earliest documented Deep Listening performances, and it finds Oliveros' solo accordion responding to an "interactive electronic environment" created by computer programmer Peter Ward.

For Oliveros, traditional modes of composition are products of cultural conditioning that must be abandoned if people are to continue to evolve. She anticipates nothing less than a merging of human beings with computers, which will enhance the ability to perceive sound on multiple levels at once. Her faith in technology is reflected in the music on The Roots of the Moment: her specially designed "extended accordion," tuned in just intonation, is equipped with electronic switches that allow her to bend pitch, modulate, and layer sound.

Too rarely utilized in improvisatory new music, the accordion is an instrument that "breathes," making it an apt choice for a composer whose work reflects the desire to hybridize humans with machines. Operating a digital delay pedal, Oliveros produces a succession of spacious drones, giving the listener ample time to thoroughly scrutinize each sonic landscape. An occasional barrage of skittering notes may cut through the haze, but for the most part, the microtonal textures are developmentally protracted.

The Deep Listening approach, with its emphasis on reaching new levels of sound perception, is a valuable contribution to musical thought. However, its tenets are applicable not only to Oliveros' output, but to music in all its forms, including the ones which are most rigidly compliant with traditions.

If Oliveros strives to achieve a unity of consciousness by commanding the attention of listeners, then presenting them with a series of slowly evolving drones is a peculiar means of doing so. The Roots of the Moment is no more conducive to Deep Listening than any other piece of music, and without an explanation of Oliveros' intent to serve as a reference point, it will teach very little to newcomers.


Track Listing: Crossing the Sands; Traces; "Blow Winds"; Striations; Slipping Away; Grains.

Personnel: Pauline Oliveros: accordion in just intonation; Peter Ward: interactive electronic environment.

Title: The Roots of the Moment | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Hatology


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