Listening to Deep Listening.

                Reflection on the 1988 Recording and the Lifework of                                                                Pauline Oliveros 

                                                       Sharon Stewart

Deep Listening

This writing(2) was seeded by the simple desire to share a musical sounding with you, from a CD called Deep Listening,(3) released in 1989 by New Albion Records. I chose this recording both for personal as well as historical reasons: the opening sounds of this recording formed my initial, audible, “contact” with the music of Pauline Oliveros, and this recording also marked the founding of the Deep Listening Band.


Furthermore, Deep Listening, the title of the CD, which refers both to the process by which the music was performed as well as the fact that the music was recorded underground,(4) became Deep Listening®, a name used to refer (back) to the style/practice of composer, performer, philosopher and writer Pauline Oliveros as well as an organization, a (non)site(5) devoted to cultivating the praxis of Deep Listening.(6) Thus, I also write because of my engagement with Deep Listening. Deep Listening, being a practice, remains fluid. Like every multiflorous movement, way of doing, or system of thought, it does not exist outside of the dialogues, the performances, the individual and collective doings, thus mutating, transforming and incarnating itself ad infinitum.(7) And, it “did” before it was named. In this writing, I draw upon my “doing with” Deep Listening, my connection of the last seven years, as well as gesture toward its history and emergences in order to give some insight into the practice. 


The practice of Deep Listening is notable for its commitment to cultivating receptivity, with an emphasis on inclusiveness while performing music. This ability to receive and include is founded upon a remarkable devotion to opening the body, through developing a regular, personal, movement practice that helps free the body (of tension) while at the same time stimulating awareness of the energy (flows) of the body. This receptive listening, with attention for the energy flows of the body, I term “somatic listening,” which encompasses both a listening inwardly to the sensations and movements of the body as well as a listening with the entire body, which becomes highly sensitive and responsive to the kinetic energy (movement) of the sound it engages with. For me, this type of listening, with its embracing of corporeal fallibility as well as reliance upon the kinetic knowledge, gut reactions, of the body, is “hearable” in the performance works of Pauline Oliveros: on the accordion, with her voice, and while performing real-time improvisations in electronic sound-processing environments.(8)


While I write, I play the CD. This sounding accompanies my writing, the sounds of me and my environment. It informs the first two sections, "I could love my listening" and "I could listen to me listening," physically as a resonance to which I can return and, in thought, the reflection upon which triggers further reflection. With the music, while listening, while contemplating listening, while not listening, I search for a way, with the music, to open a space to discuss the qualities of perception, sensing, and responding that it triggers in me. In the third section, "I could perform my listening," besides the video material mentioned in the paragraph below, I also include examples of Deep Listening as a generative, creative, practice with a recording from Ximena Alarcón’s Migratory Band and a video clip of Kristin Norderval’s Hut #6: MiniBo. Here I highlight Deep Listening as rooted in a history of participatory performances, highly encouraging of private and public creation, and offering platforms for sharing compositions, performing, attending workshops, forming study groups, et cetera.


Woven throughout is video material from a recent Deep Listening session, a masterclass, given by Pauline Oliveros on the 23rd of February 2012 during the Sonic Acts Festival XIV, Travelling Time, in Amsterdam. Oliveros herself gives a summary of the milestones of Deep Listening in the video clip "Introduction and Background of Deep Listening"; tells the "Story of the Deep Listening Recording, 1988" in the clip with that title; briefly discusses hearing in relation to listening and leads the group in a number of movement exercises related to Qigong while encouraging awareness of heat, electricity and electromagnetism in the body, especially the palms of the hands, in the video clip "Hearing <-> Listening and Movement with Energy Awareness"; and leads the group in a "Listening Meditation and Improvisation in Solos, Duos, Trios &…" in the video clip of that title. You are welcome to observe and participate.


I realize this article contains a certain refusal, or acceptance of the impossibility, to tell you what Deep Listening is. I would say, rather: do. And then, you tell me. 


I sit with this kōan-like poem of Pauline Oliveros. I am not performing an exegesis of the poem – this would be impossible as it is the nature of a kōan to remain inaccessible to logic or rational thinking(9) – and I will inevitably, in my searching, be bending the poem to meet my own experiences, my personal and contingent reflections. However, like other contact with her and her works, it generously proffered both the inspiration and organizing structure for the following.

(1) Poem of Pauline Oliveros which reads for me like a kōan, printed in The Roots of the Moment (Oliveros 1998: 27).

(2) Many thanks to Pauline Oliveros for offering her assistance in collecting materials for and commenting on my draft of this article as well as her support during the three years in which I followed the Deep Listening Certificate Program. Also, I am deeply appreciative of the close reading and critical comments of the Founding Editors of this Journal, friends and colleagues as well as others involved with Deep Listening, namely those who contributed examples of their work for this article.

(3) Foster Reed of New Albion Records and Pauline Oliveros granted their generous permission to place this licensed recording on the Journal of Sonic Studies.

(4) See Stuart Dempster’s Foreword (Oliveros 2005: xi).

(5) Here I am not calling up Marc Augé’s notion of non-place (the airport terminal or city which is identical upon leaving and landing, spaces for passage, communication and consumption, safety, solitude and alienation). Rather, I am referring to the predicament that "Deep Listening" is a (web)site, but not (only) that. There are many virtual and real meeting points for the practice, but these “places” are never static, always moving. Inspiration came from the chapter “Wanderings” in Marcel Cobussen’s book Thresholds: Rethinking Spirituality Through Music.

(6) Deep Listening also appears as a name for a relaxation therapy in the nature of autogenous training. However, in this article I refer specifically to the lifework of Pauline Oliveros. From this point on, I omit the ® for the purpose of less visual disturbance.

(7) To give some tastes: works composed with electronic media, Time Perspectives (1960) and Bye Bye Butterfly (1965), coming into existence alongside the building of and working in the San Francisco Tape Music Center and establishing her practice of constructing a performance architecture and then performing/improvising a piece in real time I Of IV (1966), electronic music studio University of Toronto. The Sonic Meditations, concisely written “scores” that lead to improvised sounding events, developed and performed with women (the Ensemble) at the U. C. San Diego from 1970 and published in 1974. Work with dancers, including Anna Halprin’s production of The Bath (1966), Merce Cunningham’s Canfield (1968), improvisation informed by T’ai Chi with Al Chung-Liang Huang, and Energy Changes with Elaine Summers (1973). Film appearances, such as with Rose Mountain Slow Runner in Robert Ashley’s Music With Roots in the Aether, “Opera for Television” 1976. Numerous books and articles by Pauline Oliveros, including Software for People: Collected Writings 1963-80 (1984) and Sounding the Margins: Collected Writings 1992-2009 (2010). Yearly retreats at Rose Mountain, New Mexico, with IONE (listening through dreaming), Heloise Gold (training creative movement, T’ai Chi and Chi Kung) and Pauline Oliveros as well as other American-based and international Deep Listening® retreats. Exhibition with IONE in Bòlit, Centre d’Art Contemporani, Girona: “Landscape?”, 11 June-29 August 2010. The Telematic Circle, interest group for telematic research and music performances. The yearly Dream Festival, coordinated by artistic director, writer, playwright and poet, IONE. Adaptive Use Musical Instruments (AUMI) software, which enables students who have very little voluntary mobility or other varieties of impairments to create and participate in solo and ensemble electronic music improvisation and composition. Inspiration for FaceBook initiatives, such as “Hear Naked” by Meg Ryan Heery. Online exchange groups, such as the WordPress-supported exchange, initiated and coordinated by Stephanie Loveless: “The Deep Listening Text-Score Ensemble.”

(8) See also An Interview with Pauline Oliveros by Alan Baker, American Public Media, January 2003, on the American Mavericks website.

(9) As neurologist James Austin writes, "A koan is realized, not solved. This realization arrives not at the level of mere thought, but as a result of direct experience." (Austin 1999: 117) Italicized words from a book by H. J. Kim Dogen Kigen – Mystical Realist, University of Arizona Press, 1975.

Track 1: “Lear”, performed by Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis on accordion, trombone, didjeridu and with voice


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I could love my listening

I could listen to me listening

I could perform my listening

I could be my listening(1)


~Pauline Oliveros

I could love my listening

As a musician I am interested in the sensual nature of sound, its power of release and change. In my performances throughout the world I try to transmit to the audience the way I am experiencing sound as I hear it and play it in a style that I call deep listening. Deep listening is listening in every possible way to every thing possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, of one’s own thoughts as well as musical sounds. Deep listening is my life practice (Oliveros 1998: 3).


Seven years ago I listened to track one(10) of this Deep Listening CD for the first time. I do not have the link anymore, however, what I remember is that I was able to listen to more than the usual one minute of the first track, Lear, online. Despite the limited quality of sound transmitted through computer speakers, the swell of the opening tones touched me and triggered an intense desire. To hear more? To consume more? To be consumed by the music? To consummate a physical intimacy with the music, a music that loves my body? Do the performers transfer a love of their listening/playing bodies to me, in the touching of the lips on the mouthpiece, through the cradling of the accordion body on the lap, through the pulling and pushing of the bellows, through the deep inhalation and the oscillation of the vocal folds, the smashing of pipes against the wall? Does this sound transmit gestures of listen/sense/respond that enter and become my gestures, my own sounding? Is that what I crave, this seed of becoming-gesture? Do the performers sonically transfer their love of listening through these vibrations? Do I long for such a love relationship with listening as is practiced by Pauline Oliveros?(11)


“I could love my listening.” Oliveros extends an invitation, to herself; upon reading these words, we could extend an invitation, to ourselves. Part of this act of engagement, this love affair, is curiosity. Central to Deep Listening are the explorations: how do (your) listening and hearing work?

Sound Transduction


In what is considered a state of normal functioning, synapses are not passive channels for relating sensory information to the brain. The synapses actively filter information so that we can function according to information that the bodymind(12) deems (the most) relevant and important. How this occurs is far outside the scope of this article,(13) however I do want to turn to Oliveros’ explorations as related to selective attention(14) in listening. Oliveros writes:


All of the waveforms faithfully transmitted to our auditory cortex by the ear and its mechanisms constitute our immediate soundscape. Though we may not be of it, we are in it. Extending our awareness as far as possible to include any and all sounds places one in the center of the environment, with presence and relationship to all that is going on. The body is continually sensing and recording all of the information that is delivered to the auditory cortex, even though we may not be conscious of this constant activity. This is why the brain/body knows far more than our mind can process immediately. […] There is always information in any sound that you perceive. (Oliveros 2005: 18-19)


Our ears faithfully respond, vibrating to every auditory signal that they are subjected to and which are within the physical range of their capability to respond. This physical response to sound, she calls hearing. Listening, according to Oliveros, is something else: “Prompted by experience and learning, listening takes place voluntarily. [...] The ear is constantly gathering and transmitting information – however attention to the auditory cortex can be tuned out. Very little of the information transmitted to the brain by the sense organs is perceived at a conscious level. Reactions can take place without consciousness” (Oliveros 2005: xxi). Not accepting that we filter and receive audible signals in a fixed, pre-determined, way, a substantial focus of Oliveros’ work, including physical exercises to activate bodily awareness and sensitivity as well as meditative practices and listening strategies, offers activities with the aim of helping the participant become more aware of how she listens, gives attention to and filters sound as well as leading toward an expansion of that awareness, while allowing for playfulness and creativity in listening. However, I do want to state, Deep Listening, as a practice, is primarily concerned with the doing of listening and not saying what listening is or might be for each individual.

As Pauline Oliveros states, a central work are her Sonic Meditations,(15) text scores developed together with theEnsemble in San Diego from approximately 1969-1973.(16) William Osborne discusses the Sonic Meditations, relating their creation with the sociocultural movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, which is sometimes referred to as the new sensibility. In the Sonic Meditations, meditative and somatic attention practices serve as processes in which listening and music making can be explored, and in which (Zen) Buddhist(17) principles of nonjudgmental perception, empathy and compassion can be experienced in a variety of relationships: listener and sound, listener and sounder (both self and other, human and non-human), sounder and sound. They also include an exploration of expanded awareness, with experiments in telepathic transmission, development of the sense of kinesthesia and what Osborne terms empathetic resonance: “a type of non-verbal communication through sound or music that allows people to form strong bonds of communal identification” (Osborne 2000).


In 1973 Pauline Oliveros undertook research supported by the Rockefeller Foundation at the (then) Center for Music Experiment at the University of California, San Diego: an “exploration of meditation technique in relation to music and musicians.” The project, carried out with Elaine Summers, Al Chung Liang Huang and Dr. Lester Ingber,(18) consisted of a daily two hour practice, “an intended exploration of mental and physical exercises in concentration (or attention) and awareness, in their relationship to the techniques of rehearsal and performance of music” (Oliveros 1984: 158), carried out with a group of twenty volunteers, both musicians and non-musicians.(19) Pauline Oliveros states:


The key product of all this training is the development of receptivity. In general, our cultural training dominantly promotes active manipulation of the external environment through analysis and judgment, and tends to devalue the receptive mode which consists of observation and intuition. […] My project was designed to reverse the above-stated situation, not to replace the active mode but to complement it. It seems to me that musicians might benefit by the ability to switch modes easily and consciously. Promoting receptivity has high potential value in teaching, as well as rehearsal and performance (Oliveros 1984: 163).


Receptivity.(20) The receptivity spoken of here is in no way a passive act. It implies an alert presence in emptiness, empty of “opinions and speculations,”(21) cultivating the field of quieting that allows for the subtle motions of interpenetration to unfold in their own doings, deeply felt and sustained beyond and unhindered by pre-conceptions or pre-judgment. An openness to the non-appropriated doings of the sound, the movements of the self-in-vibration-with, through which sound and the bodymind form a flow that is both the one and the other and neither the one nor the other. A receptivity that may or may not lead to a response, with the understanding that this kind of receptive listening is already an act that is bound to act on the object we observe(22) (Oliveros 1984: 150).


Receptive listening. I open to the reception of motion. Sound waves vibrate the tissues of my ears: physical movement passing through thresholds, mediums and materials: pockets of compressed and expanding matter streaming toward final transduction as electrical current. Pinna, concha, ear canal, tympanic membrane, middle ear ossicles, vestibular and cochlear windows, endolymph (cochlear fluid), basilar membrane, organ of Corti, cochlear nerve and brain.(23) Movement, that is, kinetic energy, navigating and redesigning itself through membrane, bone, membrane, liquid, membrane, hair cells with stereocilia, membrane, and afferent nerve fibers, dendrites (receivers), axon and axon terminals (transmitters). Vibrating, oscillating, waving, releasing itself as hydraulic pressure, bending, opening and closing of ionic channels and …(24)


Sound waves are sensed by my skin and penetrate the fluid cellular mass of my body. Sound vibrates my whole being, my organs, including my brain. I stream with the sound moving (in) me. Where am I when I am immersed in listening? I lose myself to following the traces of the reception of the sound/movement in my body. This movement enlightens me with the realization that if I try to seize or grasp it, it will always already escape me.(25) Listening, opening to the moving-with-sound is a risk. Neither I nor the sound vibrations "know" where we might be going. Each act of abandoned listening is an acceptance that one will be moved, outside of one’s control and irrevocably. Each act of listening could be profoundly ethical in nature.(26) I could love my listening.

(10) Which was actually the third recording, the third track on the CD being the initial recording, time and space always (re)shifting itself in the recording and post-production process.

(11) However, these are sounds that have immediate appeal to my being. Other questions arise, such as: Can I love my listening even when the sounds around me do not appeal to me? Can I love my listening even when I am physically repelled by the sounds I am listening to? Can I relax and open my body to the waves that are entering it, paying attention to the quality of sound, the details of my contraction and withdrawal from the sound? Can I stop judging sounds? Can I learn about how I filter out sounds? Can I also more deeply understand the impact of sound and take measures to protect myself from sounds that I perceive to be damaging?

(12) I use this neologism to acknowledge the fact that the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) cannot be thought of as separate from the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic, parasympathetic and enteric systems), and thus all conscious and unconscious systems of action and/or regulation (deliberate motor action, homeostasis, “fight-or-flight,” regulation of internal organs and glands, reflexes and [hormonally-driven] impulses, for example) form one interconnected field. 

(13) Austin says: “Everyone knows what it feels like to ‘pay attention.’ What goes on, technically, is that we enhance the way we process information from a preselected location in space. Attention seems like a simple matter, but within it is a whole series of interrelated phenomena. They include awareness, a word derived from being wary, watchful. Awareness implies perception, a purely sensate phase of receptivity. Attention reaches. It is awareness stretched toward something. It has executive, motoric implications. We attend to things” (Austin 1999: 69).

(14) In the 1950’s, as a result of his work with air traffic controllers during the war, Donald Broadbent began conducting research to understand how we choose to focus our attention. The dichotic listening task was developed in order to observe how people selectively attend when they are overloaded with stimuli, in this case sound stimuli that could be quickly repeated: a three digit number presented to both ears simultaneously. See Selective Attention Models. More information on the history of research on selective attention can be found at Jon Driver (2001) “A selective review of selective attention research from the past century.” British Journal of Psychology 92: pp. 53–78.

(15) Smith Publications (1971). Oliveros writes that the Sonic Meditations are “a collection of verbally notated meditations that may be enjoyed by anyone in a variety of ways: read as poetry, performed alone or performed for an audience” (Oliveros 2005: 93).

(16) The chapter “Meditation” in Sounding Out by Martha Mockus presents an insightful look at the correspondence, the writings, the practice and the processes of these three years, beginning conceptually in 1969 and culminating somewhat in the research project of early 1973, of the creation of the Sonic Meditations (Mockus 2008: 37-88). Sounding Out theorizes the notion of “lesbian musicality” by addressing the life and works of Pauline Oliveros with primary attention to the network of (feminist) activists, writers, artists and musicians with whom she made music, exchanged ideas, developed large and small-scale performances, explored meditative practices and shared her intimate personal space.

(17) Buddhism is a vast system of traditions, an elusive, paradoxical practice, born within yogic practices, moving and branching through India, China and Japan, linguistically moving through dhyna (Sanskrit word for meditation), which evolved through Ch’an-Na into the Chinese word Ch’an, which became Zen in the Japanese tongue (Austin 1999:7).

(18) Elaine Summers gave training in kinetic awareness; Al Chung Liang Huang lead meditations derived from T’ai Chi Chuan, Chinese theater and calligraphy; Dr. Lester Ingber introduced Karate technique, with an emphasis on the meditative aspects of training attention and awareness; Dr. Ronald Lane served as consulting psychologist, conducting tests and weekly individual personal consciousness scales; and research assistant Bruce Rittenbach measured Alpha amplitudes in the two hemispheres of the brain before and after the project period (Oliveros 1984: 159-160).

(19) The project was also considered as a long rehearsal for Oliveros’ ceremonial composition Phantom Fathom from The Theater of the Ancient Trumpeters, performed 10 March 1973 with the training group as well as approximately 100 participating audience members.

(20) In Listening As Healing, Oliveros also speaks of receptive listening: “Listening is a multi-dimensional dynamic process. Ways of listening are manyfold. These ways of listening are based on experience, habit and training. Two principle ways of listening are: 1) Active listening which involves interpretation, participation or meeting the stimulus with sensual, emotional, intellectual or intuitive energy. 2) Receptive listening which involves recording the stimulus in memory. Though one may experience the two principle ways of listening numerous times every day, force of habit or special training may control and/or limit how one listens” (Oliveros 1998: 24).

(21) From the story “A Cup of Tea”: Nan-In, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-In served tea. He poured his visitor’s cups full, then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-In said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” From Paul Reps: Zen Flesh – Zen Bones (Oliveros 1984: 141).

(22) Oliveros relates this to Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty in which the measurement of one property affects the extent to which another property can be determined. She quotes an article by Otto R. Frisch, from Atomic Physics Today: “Every observation we make is bound to act on the object we observe, even if only by the impact of a single quantum of light. In other words, there is always a mutual inter-action between the observer and the object” (Oliveros 1984: 150).

(23) We humans hear within the range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Our external ears are designed to amplify sound, particularly that at the frequency range of speech (2-5 kHz). If you are curious as to how far you can hear within the full range, check your hearing online.

(24) I found this Diagram in the book by Fritz Winckel, Music, Sound and Sensation: A Modern Exposition, dating from 1960.

(25) This thought is inspired by the 7th Threshold, “Language, Spirituality, Music,” by Cobussen: “Heidegger leads us explicitly to a kind of thinking, real thinking as he calls it, which is responsive to the unfathomable mystery hidden behind all supposedly solid ground: an ‘andenkendes Denken,’ which is always permeated by a trace of the inaccessible and unthinkable, of that which causes one to think. To think for Heidegger is not to understand; to think is to be moved, to challenge and to be challenged” (Cobussen 2008: 68-69).

(26) In “Moving to Become Better,” Vincent Meelberg discusses the “Ethics of the Groove,” a responsibility towards sustaining the groove or perhaps resisting or terminating it, this groove with its overwhelming, irresistible power to set our bodies in motion, especially the body which is open, and thus vulnerable, to its capacity for affecting (Meelberg 2011). See also Salomé Voegelin’s contribution, “Ethics of Listening” appearing in this issue of the Journal of Sonic Studies.

“Introduction and Background of Deep Listening”

Pauline Oliveros speaks of her article "Software for People," the Sonic Meditations, generative systems, teaching at the University of California, San Diego, listening globally, performances in which environmental sounds became part of the performance, and exclusive and inclusive listening.

I could listen to me listening

Every consideration of perception is a realization of distance, singularity, the shock that what I perceive is the perception itself: “that which is” can only exist in me as “that which I perceive.” What we call hearing is a translation. Physically, that movement which carries the signal of our perception is not the movement of sound itself (the compression and expansion of material). Rather, it is the movement of electrical nerve impulses (the opening of voltage-gated ion channels and the flow inward, charge reversal, and flow outward of sodium and potassium ions).(27) Hearing is always something else than sound and occurs always at some temporal and spatial distance from sound. Yet, hearing is sound coming into being, our being.(28) We cannot listen or hear in the same way as any other human, not to mention the expanse of difference between how we and a spider “listen” and what we and a whale “hear,” for example. 


Listening also reveals the difference between each singular action of perceiving sound from the next, even, or especially, when listening to repeated, similar sounds. As I listen again to this Deep Listening CD once more, as I am typing these words, I am made aware of an unavoidable and perpetual difference. I listen differently, now. I hear it differently. I perceive differently. Listening reveals itself as also covering up sound, always distant/different from sound, yet completely dependent upon sound for its doing.(29) Yet, this distance, this perpetual echo, provides a fecund space for the auditory system to respond with its own generations. The joyful, rich, fallibility of the auditory system: fatigue causing variability in loudness perception, sensitivity to pitch fluctuation being dependent on volume levels, a general insensitivity to changes in amplitude and frequency of single partials, tone recognition related to energy content and duration of the sound, and perception of pitch (a function of the brain, as different from frequency) always being dependent on loudness (also affected by proximity).(30) Listening creates, fills in, ignores. As Max Neuhaus said about his sound work Two Sides of the 'Same' Room (1990), “I think the confusing thing about explaining this work is that people don't understand how we hear, that we don’t hear reality any more than we see reality. We build what we hear in our mind. And I’d found a way to have the mind build, in its conscious perception, the same thing for each sound; but in fact each sound was different” (Neuhaus 2005: 6). There is no absolute measure of heard sound outside each auditory system.


What we hear is what we hear and constructs the singular, heard, reality of a sounding (succession). When asked by Katharine Setar whether the piece I of IV (31) – a tape piece created at the electronic music studio University of Toronto and released commercially on New Sounds in Electronic Music in 1966 – was organized tonally, Oliveros responded: “I of IV was composed/played in real time strictly ‘by ear.’ If you hear tonal, it is. If you hear other [wise], it is also. I heard – you hear”(32) (Mockus 2005: 31). In this sentence, Oliveros moves herself out of a hierarchical system in which the educated composer and/or performer has access to a certain knowledge or access to a more “true” reality of listening and experiencing music(al sounding) than the listener. Furthermore, she moves herself toward, with, amongst those who also listen: Escher stairs that become a circle along which we move and continually meet ourselves and each other, again and again. Hearing is not the property, the commodity, of a select and elite few, chosen by the various musical and intellectual industries. No, each listener is solely responsible and in charge of her own listening. “If you hear other [wise], it is also. I heard – you hear.”


I could listen to the equipment “listening.”(33) In addition to the translations and transductions of our own body, we also are at the mercy, when listening to recorded music, of the capacities of all the equipment that was used to record the sound movement, the technical decisions of the sound engineer as well as the equipment we have available to reproduce that which was “captured.” So many points of slippage, so many possibility of leakage that it is amazing that there is any resemblance at all. Sound passing through thresholds, mediums and materials: microphone membranes, electrical impulses, audio codecs, including ADC, DAC and compression (shall we also mention the grooves of an LP and the distribution of ferric oxide on a reel-to-reel), all volume controls and filters, electrical impulses, speaker membranes with variable capacities and limitations.


“Story of the Deep Listening Recording, 1988.

Oliveros speaks of the relationship between the title of the CD and the naming of “Deep Listening” as well as an upcoming performance at The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, occuring in an environment that simulates the cistern acoustics. The cistern software was developed by Jonas Braasch, director of the Communication Acoustics and Aural Architecture Research Laboratory (CA³RL) at RPI, and his team

I cannot listen to this CD without realizing that I will never hear the music that was recorded on this CD.(34) The CD was recorded on the 8th of October, 1988, at the Fort Worden Cistern, Port Townsend, Washington. The cistern, capable of holding two million gallons of water, is 14 feet (4.27 m) deep with a diameter of 186 feet (56.7 m) and is characterized by an approximately 45 second reverberation. From the CD notes, Panaiotis, one of the three performers, writes:


The space is real, and unique. A large cathedral will return slap echoes and uneven resonance characteristics. The cistern showed a very smooth frequency response and no echoes, only a smooth reverberation, the amplitude of which appears to begin at the same decibel level as the source. Consequently, it is impossible to tell where the performer stops and the reverberation takes over. One additional aspect of the reverberation field that does not seem to record easily and which makes simulation very difficult, is that it slowly moved from the sound source along the walls until it enveloped the listener: a most remarkable and beautiful phenomena. (Oliveros, Dempster, Panaiotis 1989)


As I read this, I drop into a sense of loss, the lacuna separating the sounding moment and the listening-after. Even with my large, wooden speakers, especially in my 4 by 6 meter room, I will never experience this “most remarkable and beautiful phenomena.” I am not the only one confounded. Al Swanson, recording engineer speaks of the impossibility of recording this music, asking himself repeatedly “Just what is the appropriate aesthetic for a two million gallon hole in the ground?”


But what kind of sound should I aim for? Certainly, such audiophile concepts as "imaging" and "phase integrity" lose all meaning in a nearly uniform acoustic: Everything bounces everywhere with almost no loss […] so a sort of "phase wash" is created […]. As an engineer I tried to analyze all this objectively, but I found I couldn’t do it. In a kind of acoustic uncertainty principle, there was no way to simultaneously pin down both the objective audio parameters and the audible reality of the situation. That is, the actual act of listening influenced the cognitive result. In this situation, therefore, I, an ostensible observer, became a virtual performer. (Oliveros et al. 1989)


I listen to the recording engineer listening to himself listening to the equipment listening to the performers listening to the space. 

I could listen to the performers listening to the space. Pauline Oliveros says: “The cistern space, in effect, is an instrument played simultaneously by all three composers” (Oliveros et al. 1989). What kind of instrument is this space? It is almost impossible to think of engaging with this space musically, or hear the CD’s soundings without being triggered to remember, to hear in the mind’s ear, preceding developments in electronic music, with the possibilities of impossible reverberation as well as experimentation with site-specific works. And, this music is clearly shaped by composers who are well-versed in dealing with the complexities of reverberation, resonance shifts and reflection.(35)


However, in my listening, the performers approach this space with more than the idea of adding natural reverberation to their music-making. They are not playing in the cistern to hear how “their music” sounds with the “extra reverb,” but they are, through listening, weaving a music, a sounding, that the cistern calls out of them. They are not only causing the cistern to resonate; the cistern, as (more than) equal participant, is also causing them to resonate, calling out the sensitivity of the players as they play with their/its capacity to shape a certain music, a music that they can only call into being at that moment, with the cooperation and resistance of this space. For three tracks Oliveros, Dempster and Panaiotis reveal themselves as skilled in both creating the flood and simultaneously navigating the waves of reverberation. Perhaps loosely related to what Diamanda Galàs says of another process and another music: “The shared and unshared pleasures of both flagellant and flagellee” (Galàs 1996: 2). Tones, subject to the cistern’s reverberation, become long and drawn-out. Phrases, consonances and dissonances, drones and melodic fragments arch and weave themselves in grand and slow-motion articulation. I experience pleasure in following the sinuous lines curving and twisting around each other, resting in and tasting difference through the constant of a drone, tracing the shadowy voice-lines or awakening to the regal bugle call ushering and announcing the entrance of the next majestic tone. Only with the last track, Nike, do the performers enter warrior mode in an attack of irreverent reverence. Kratos, Zelos, and Bia come in with strength, force and zeal. Banging, yelling and crashes seek a staccato articulation and, in that search, extend themselves once again into the reverberating space, flying and spreading from staccato to prolonged sound traces, in the merciless mercy of this echoing chamber. I am becoming mad and in that madness rush into the battlefield. An end is approaching, must approach, before I myself am annihilated in the dominance of this space, and I, as active listener, gleefully join in an attempt to obliterate the very essence of the space’s sounding and obliterate the reverberating waves. But the space laughs, the mock of an echo, which takes our attempts to destroy it as a chance to more clearly articulate itself, its acoustic presence, its sonorous presence: space iterating itself through its sounding (back). (Re)iterating its very specific properties of reverberating being. Saying and doing its space-ness through the articulation of the echoed sound. 


How, through listening, to each other and the space, does this musical sounding acquire its form, given the entire spectrum of sounding possibilities (subject to the limitations of the instrumentation, human body, space, et cetera)? In what “sonogenesis”(36) do the not-yet-chosen-sounds, the pre-sounds, meet their form, the improvised composition? Is it the trained body of the musician, the articulating working of practiced gestures, which causes these sounds to join with their ultimate resonance, their congealing in temporal space, at a certain moment (and further captured in its echoform as a recording)? Or is it the listening ear-becoming-body,(37) which both guides and shapes the gestures as well as is continually reconstituted in "that which it wants to hear" by the acquiescing body that serves as the site of articulation? Is it possible that through listening, a returning to listening, one might escape the phenomena of overcoding, of rigidity, fixation, both in reception as well as in creation through listening? Where, at what point in the act of improvising sound/music, can one make a distinction between the workings of the gesturing body and the listening body-ear? Does my listening “become” an almost simultaneous musical gesture? At this point I am "naturally" led to the next reflection, “I could perform my listening,” however, I need to make a diversion. 


Does it communicate anything?

Must it?

If it’s high, does it?

If it’s low, does it?

If it’s in the middle, does it?

If it’s soft, does it?

If it’s loud, does it?

If it’s an interval, does it?

(Cage 1973: 50)


What does this music, this sounding (also) do? I make the admission that I want to, and perhaps cannot do otherwise, than speak of myself, in relation to this music. 

This music enters the back of my neck, lifting me and supporting my head. It spreads through my veins, whispering of another way of moving. Effortless and strong, light and heavy. The vascular mass of my body centers into my belly and spirals out towards my extremities. I am acutely aware of the blood pulsing through my veins, the emptying and filling of the chambers of my heart and the infinite pulsations of my body. My thoughts string away, emptying enough for another presence to develop, a tender, narrow vastness of being that is free to circle, a leaving that is simultaneously a coming back. My awareness flows outward, expanding beyond what I habitually experience as the limits of my physical body; yet this awareness becomes instantaneously the new limits of my perceived physical presence. Or, I might say non-limits, as the borders seem to have exploded in an rupture that simultaneously annihilates and redefines the extension of my sensed bodily presence. Some pressure is released in a flow of tears whose movement draws my attention to the surface of my cheeks and chin. Contraction enters, pulling my ribs into stone. I am absolutely sure I will die, a certainty beyond all vacillation of emotion. I wait, and listen to the approach.


A change has taken place in my body. If I would give the process a name, I would call it “somatic listening”: giving attention, observing and following the sensations of the body, such as, temperature, electric pulses, tension and relaxation of muscles, flows of digestion, blood circulation, breath, waves of expansion and contraction, currents of life force, Qi.(38) Vincent Meelberg has carefully worked out the connections between affect, “prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body’s capacity to act,” and emotion, “which is personal, subjective and meaningful,” in connection with sound’s ability to touch, that is, to address the body both through a literal movement of the (ear) tissues as well as conveying a kinesthetic sense of the gestures produced by, and which are necessary to produce, the music. With somatic listening, I am perhaps expanding even more upon Meelberg’s concept of what is perceivable as a “sonic stroke”: “acoustic phenomena that have an impact on the listener’s body,” With Deep Listening practices, the sensed “impacts” go beyond the more obvious ones – the frission, or chills, or the startle response,(39) resulting from a sudden loud sound – to include the more subtle flows of energy that travel throughout the body when one is immersed in listening. And, yet, even though this following of energy takes place over a longer period than just a chill or a shock, it still precedes, or bypasses, the meaning-conveyance of “musical gesture” (all quotations, Meelberg 2009). And although it does result in a certain giving of structure, a certain narrative, I might also suggest that with somatic listening, the structure we speak of is no longer, or not only, a musical structure, but the structure of a happening: neither sound nor body, but the story of the sound-with-body encounter.


Movement exercises play a large part in the preparation for a Deep Listening meditation or improvisation. In the following video, you can follow a number of the exercises.(40) Developing and maintaining a personal, daily movement routine is one of the practices of Deep Listening. Sensitizing the body through softening and releasing muscular tension, which allows for more receptivity, is a crucial step that is given plenty of time, as you will see below. Also, the body sense is expanded to include a perception of the energy produced and which can be perceived by the body: heat, electricity and electromagnetic energy. 

What can this music, this sounding do? I suppose the answer comes when one does it.

(27) See Animation of the Nerve Impulse.

(28) As Voegelin says, “every sensory interaction relates back to us not the object/phenomenon perceived, but that object/phenomenon filtered, shaped and produced by the sense employed in its perception. At the same time this sense outlines and fills the perceiving body, which in its perception shapes and produces his sensory self. Whereby the senses employed are always already ideologically and aesthetically determined, bringing their own influence to perception, the perceptual object and the perceptual subject” (Voegelin 2010: 3).

(29) The language and idea was inspired by that very influential, thin volume, entitled Listening, by Jean-Luc Nancy (2007).

(30) Here I am informed by chapter IV “The Evaluation of Sound through the Hearing Mechanism,” from the book by Fritz Winckel (1967) whose explorations outlined are still central in modern studies of psychoacoustics.

(31) Part 2/2 of I of IV. Note, this video was not uploaded by the Deep Listening Foundation and may be subject to removal.

(32) Referenced in Mockus as e-mail communication from Oliveros, quoted in Setar, “An Evolution in Listening,” p. 227.

(33) Here I take some liberty and use the word “listening” to refer to the way the equipment translates sonic material into other forms of material coding. One might consider this in some sense an operation related (at least metaphorically) to the brain’s translation, registration, or neuronal encoding, of sound. See the sections “Listening as Recording” (which problematizes this conceptualization of listening) and “Listening as Computing” (which discusses the fact that listening can be modeled computationally) in Joshua Mailman’s “Seven Metaphors for (Music) Listening: DRAMaTIC” appearing in this issue of the Journal of Sonic Studies.

(34) As Cage writes, “Let no one imagine that in owning a recording he has the music. The very practice of music, and Feldman’s eminently, is a celebration that we own nothing” (Cage 1973: 128).

(35) Stuart Dempster is known for commissioning and performing new works for trombone, engaging with resonance (Standing Waves 1978) and coordinating environmental/site-specific works such as State of Washington As a Musical Instrument. Panaiotis (Peter Ward) is vocalist and composer, working also within the field of electrical and computer engineering. Pauline Oliveros had already for years worked with both material and virtual acoustic space. She writes in 1994: “Music as I understand it is played in acoustic spaces. The concert hall, theaters, cathedrals etc. all act as mechanical amplifiers which by their architectural design capture the sounds of voices and instruments and impose resonances, reflections and absorption which colors the sounds. Instrumental and vocal sounds are enhanced or distorted by these mechanical amplifiers depending on the nature of the sound and the purpose of the design. The resonance, reflection and absorption is determined by the relationships and materials of the enclosure as well as the environmental factors such as air temperature, and humidity” (Oliveros 1998: 5-6).

“With the advent of signal processors and sophisticated sound systems, it is possible to tamper with the container of music in imaginative ways. The walls of a virtual acoustic space created electronically can expand or contract, assume new angles or apparent surfaces. The resulting resonances and reflections changing continuously during the course of a performance creates spatial progressions much as one would create chord progressions or timbre transformations. The audience and performers can experience sensations of moving in space as well as sounds moving through space. They can also experience the audio illusions, or virtual acoustics can function as a new parameter of music much as timbre became new in Klangfarben Melodie in the music of the second Viennese school” (Oliveros 1998: 7).

(36) Inspired by morphogenesis (“shape creation”): the origin(s) of the various aspects of the form of an organism. 

(37) This term appears in Adel Wang Jing’s article “Affective Listening: China’s Experimental Music and Sound Art Practice” in this issue of the Journal of Sonic Studies.

(38) Somatic experiencing, attributed to Dr. Peter A. Levine, is an extremely broad and diverse practice whose traces can be found in psychology, the field of dance, bodywork and spiritual practices. For a discussion of affective listening, in which Qi is related to the “haecceities” of sound, please see Adel Wang Jing’s article (also mentioned in footnote 36) in this issue of the Journal of Sonic Studies.

(39) Term used for a long time by teachers of the Alexander Technique, founded by Frederick Matthias Alexander. See the website of Hilary King, MSTAT.

(40) At the international Deep Listening retreats that I attended, Heloise Gold led us in slow walks, embodying the five directions, T’ai Chi and Qigong exercises and various movement "compositions." Finding balance, releasing tension, following subtle inner movement impulses, tapping energy into the organs and gland systems all served to awaken my bodily sensations, bring me to an alert and calm state of perception, and enable me to react more freely to sound. The book Deeply Listening Body (Gold 2008) contains many of these exercises and movement improvisations.

“Hearing <=> Listening and Movement with Energy Awareness” 

I could perform my listening

“Teach Yourself to Fly”

Any number of persons sit in a circle facing the center. Illuminate the space with dim blue light. Begin by simply observing your own breathing. Always be an observer. Gradually allow your breathing to become audible. Then gradually introduce your voice. Allow your vocal cords to vibrate in any mode which occurs naturally. Allow the intensity of the vibrations to increase very slowly. Continue as long as possible, naturally, and until all others are quiet, always observing your own breath cycle. Variation: translate voice to an instrument.(41)


This is Sonic Meditation I. In “On Sonic Meditations,” published in the Painted Bride Quarterly in 1976, Oliveros details the reasoning behind each sentence: a circle as living symbol of a "unified reality" with participants on the same plane, relating to the same center; dim lighting reducing the dependence on sight, thus awakening the sense of hearing and somatic sense; observing the breath cycle as a bridge between voluntary and involuntary activity, conscious and unconscious action, holding the intention not to interfere with the breath while realizing that your breath will change as the result of attention, thus changing the state of the body; the precarious introduction of the voluntary action of “allowing” the voice to vibrate without consciously manipulating the voice; remaining an observer of the voice while "allowing" it to increase in intensity, thus keeping focus on the details of breathing while awareness of the body and the surroundings may be expanding; and attention to the group process and non-verbal consensus toward closure (Oliveros 1984: 149-155).


Each step of the score brings the performer/listener closer toward experiencing certain paradoxes usually discovered within the practice of meditation as well as some that are found specifically in this performance of an “other” kind of music: How can I act while relinquishing all forced attempts to act? How can I act without following one of my habitual, trained patterns of acting? Am I sounding my voice, or is my voice “sounding me,” in other words, turning into a sounding that, in my listening and following, seems to direct me more than I direct it, with my own conscious control? How much choice do I have when not trying to choose? How much development occurs when not trying to develop? Why do happenings based an emphasis on non-control and allowance often seem to proceed "inevitably"? Why, from a bodymind focus on a single action, can a sudden sensing/knowing of the entire field of sounding develop? If all my attention is focused on listening while I am sounding, am I “performing my listening”? Might the sounds that emerge be called a sort of sonic reflection, an echo-representation, of that which is received by my listening ears and acted upon, in a state of absorption, by my sensitive, generative body? Who is then listening, and who is then sounding?


On the one hand, while writing the Sonic Meditations, Pauline Oliveros was certainly concerned with the bodily pressures and pains of the (professional) musicians with whom she worked and performed. Her mandala, in which the dot represents attention and the circle represents awareness,

was designed (also) to help those making music keep a proper relationship between attention, more connected to mental activity and "aroused by interest or desire," and awareness, more connected with the “body’s sensory receptivity.” As the musician practices or performs, the goal is to keep her attention finely tuned to the sound that is produced while remaining aware of the sensations of the body as well as all the vibratory feedback of the surrounding space. “Both have a tunable range: attention can be honed to a finer and finer point. Awareness can be expanded until it seems all-inclusive. Attention can intensify awareness. Awareness can support attention. There is attention to awareness; there is awareness of attention” (Oliveros 1984: 139).

On the other hand, Oliveros was also effecting a disruption of the distinctions between musicians and non-musicians. In other words, the scores that explore this mandala are written in such a way that those who do not consider themselves musicians can take part in a group sounding process in which the focus is on the sounding of the mental and bodily experience rather than the achievement of certain expectations related to aesthetic judgments of “beautiful” music.


However, the more “simple” the assignment does not necessarily mean the easier the execution, and in some cases a piece might become more difficult in direct correlation to the learned and practiced experience of the performer. Virtuoso musicians used to formal ways of reading, interpreting and reproducing a musical score might experience distress at the thought of performing the following:


“Horse Sings From Cloud”

For solo or ensemble.

Hold a tone until you no longer desire to change it.

When you no longer desire to change the tone then change it.

(Pauline Oliveros, © Copyright Deep Listening Publications 1979)(42)


This is a sounding in which control is relinquished, in which “the composer” bestows the music not only into the hands of the performer, but into the force of the non-desire, the will of the non-will. At that moment, when one note is held, one can become lost in the endless variety, the subtle variations of dynamics and tone color, the intricate ways in which that single pitch colors each moment that it passes, intersects with each breath, each twitch of a muscle, each sound that merges with it from the surrounding environment. Rather than seeking for a certain effect, or affect, one “gives oneself over” to the sounding. In the program notes for the performance of Rose Mountain Slow Runner, a related piece, Oliveros writes:


In this song my task is to listen to long sounds from my accordion, to join them with my voice, blending as perfectly as possible, continuing each sound until the desire to change it subsides. Very often I hear ways for the sounds to change mentally, but I give up those mental changes and wait until the sound seems to change on its own. This produces in me a sense of openness and awareness (Mockus 2005: 108).


As one “gives oneself over” in this way, in a listening-to-that-which-arises, the erotic, the sensual, the seductive, the untamable aspects of sounding open themselves up. The sounds are not something that I struggle to control with my body, the power of my memory, the strength of my analytical brain; rather, the sounds emanate from me, yet surprise me with their own will and direction. I would say: try it.


The CD catches my ear again, or my writing catches up to the music. I hear that the performers are performing their listening, in those subtle messages of timing, in the give and take of thematic material, energetic impulses, and, as stated previously, the sensitivity to the sounding space. I hear this in the same way that I hear when my students who are improvising together are not listening to each other. Two decades of experience tuning me into sensing where the attention of the becoming-musician lies. But I hear something else, also as a result of two decades of giving instrumental lessons.(43) I hear that the performers are listening to/aware of their bodies as they are playing. I hear the body awareness/listening of the performers, just as I can hear (not always infallibly, but often even if I am looking away to write or in a different room) if my piano students are breathing, if they are releasing the weight of their arms into the keys, if they are tightening the upper muscles of their legs or constricting their shoulders or rib muscles. Just as I can hear the blockage of flows of energy related to muscular constriction, related to jumpy or incomplete breathing, related to tension of the diaphragm, related to a lack of release of the muscles into the gravitational pull, related to a fear of falling. Each teacher of voice or an instrument is trained to detect the audible cues for deep or hidden body tension, the voice being perhaps the most susceptible to tension of all sorts, immediately apparent in the quality of the tone, the richness of the partials, the breadth of resonance and the ease of transitions. To put it baldly, I might say I hear the “yoga” of Stuart Dempster and the “black belt in karate” of Pauline Oliveros. Power without force, expansion within the moment, seamless emptying and filling, effortless effort and unwavering lightness of concentration, catching sound, curving it in the reception of their body/mind/ear and sending it soaring back to the other players. The way of the Qi made audible. Performing a listening to, an awareness, a deep understanding of the body, the kinesthetic language of the body, especially as related to the perceptual, bodily and compositional paradoxes that one engages with in meditation, Yoga, T’ai Chi, Qigong and other forms of attentive movement.

What about the sounds around us? I could perform my listening to the environment.


“Environmental Dialogue” (1996 Revision)

by Pauline Oliveros (1975/1996)

Each person finds a place to be, either near to or distant from the others, either indoors or out-of-doors. The meditation begins by each person observing his or her own breathing. As each person becomes aware of the field of sounds from the environment, each person individually and gradually begins to reinforce the pitch of any one of the sound sources that has attracted their attention. The sound source is reinforced vocally, mentally or with an instrument. If one loses touch with the sound source, then wait quietly for another. Reinforce means to strengthen or to sustain by merging one’s own pitch with the sound source. If the pitch of the sound source is out of vocal or instrumental range, then it is to be reinforced mentally. The result of this meditation will probably produce a resonance of the environment. Some of the sounds will be too short to reinforce. Some will disappear as soon as the reinforcement begins. It is fine to wait and listen.

(Oliveros 2005: 35)


Once again, I trace the echoes of Buddhist principles in the scores. There are no menial tasks. There are no (un)important moments. There are no (un)important sounds.(44) As neurologist James Austin says of zazen at Ryoko-in:

Working outside on the temple grounds, I pull weeds, split kindling, sweep, and keep the place clean. Is this menial work necessary? Or, like kinhin, is it Zen in motion? It takes longer to appreciate that no kind of work is "menial" unless I judge it to be, that any work takes place in the ongoing now, and is to be fully entered into as an integral part of my daily practice. (Austin 1999: 68)

This revelation of the illusion of (un)importance is also a working of the (non)sense of Cage’s lectures and writings, performative and interspersed with (ir)relevant stories: to dismantle the hierarchical, reason-based constructs of properness, worth, belongingness, genius, that held together the fabric of musical society and discourse, in which he moved, and to reveal them, also, in their “unreasonableness.”(45) Like the non-answers of mondo and koan, his lectures reveal the limitations of logical concepts.(46)

The effect of performing this work is that I feel myself centered in a vibrating, fecund field of sonic material. I, in my search to reinforce the sounds around, discover a source for inspiration in the expansion of my sounding vocabulary. As I sit quietly, listening, translating and responding, I am touched and reach out with vibrations. In my silence, my listening, the vibratory world recreates itself in me, and I become aware of the balance between my bodily sounds, my imagination and the sounds entering my perception from the world around me. Even when I engage in that rarefied activity termed "playing piano," my awareness and attentive perception are able, if desired, to expand to include the reception of even subtle triggers from my environment. Not always and not dogmatically, but more and more accessibly.


In my experience at three international Deep Listening Retreats, besides movement, performance of text scores and dream work,(47) we were engaged from the very first day in creating: creating scores, creating interpretations on the fly with small groups, creating and preparing performances over a period of a few days. We engaged with each other, with our environment, with ourselves, in the struggle to give form to a sounding event with the materials at hand, while applying the principles of Deep Listening we were assimilating. As one works, it becomes clear that this act of creation is always imbedded in preconceived notions, expectations, habits. Dialogues (sometimes heated) arise with sentences such as: “I find this too emotive,” “this is too dry and mathematical for me,” “where is the form?,” “how do we end?,” “you can’t do that in a performance,” “what are we SAYING?” or “why in the world would we want to do that?” The act of listening and creating and performing becomes an act that reveals our expectations, reveals our aesthetic judgments and choices and those of communities in which we function. Alongside the interactivity of participating in one of the scores of Oliveros herself, participants also take part in creating works that follow the same possibilities of interaction:


My music is interactive music. It is interactive in the sense that participants take a share in creating the work rather than being limited to expressively interpreting pitches and rhythms. I have composed the outside forms, the guidelines for ways of listening and ways of responding. These forms and guidelines with appropriate application give the participants a creative opportunity to compose and perform simultaneously in collaboration with me and to expand their musicianship. (Oliveros 1998: 5)


The possibility arises, of course, that this way of creating, for oneself and others, becomes a part of a person’s lifestyle, becomes incorporated in their own work and doings. In the Appendix to Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice (2005), one can find examples of reflections, research, explanations of shifts in perspectives, creative processes written by those touched by Deep Listening. And this is absolutely an effect understood and desired by Oliveros. In an interview by Mockus, Pauline Oliveros says:


Well, it’s very important to me to help facilitate creative process in others, to empower people to understand and use sound as a force in their lives and in their realization of who they are, creatively and spiritually. And in this way, you build community. You build a community of understanding based on sounding and listening, but it’s not about controlling and regulating. It’s a different approach. Very different. It’s very important to me, and it’s also fairly recent that I can even articulate that, in the way that I just have. (Mockus 2005: 165)


I could perform my listening-to the society in which I move and find my being.(48) The Deep Listening Anthology I and Anthology II contain examples of the creative works of around 90 "musicians and artists from around the world who have embraced the ideas of Deep Listening in their own ways."(49) To close this section, I present three more hearable and/or viewable examples of such generative, exploratory creative processes: first, the final film of the Masterclass given by Pauline Oliveros on the 23rd of February 2012 during the Sonic Acts Festival XIV, in which the participants improvise with each other; second, an excerpt of the improvisation Chaos and Control, recorded during a session of the Migratory Band, sent to me by Ximena Alarcón, and, finally, film material of MiniBo – an occupation of the Norwegian National Opera lobby – a performance installation dealing with sustainability, sent to me by Kristin Norderval.

In the following, Ximena Alarcón, born in Colombia and living in the United Kingdom, describes and includes an audio excerpt of a session with the Migratory Band, a Deep Listening Study group brought together by her, who share, sonically, feelings associated to the migratory experience, and through the sharing, investigate feelings of unsettledness. The situation described reflects the process as given in the guidelines for a Deep Listening session: sensing and moving the body, engaging in listening and/or sounding meditations and the performance of a score.(50) This session included four members, two of whom consider themselves “non-musicians.”


Chaos and Control (excerpt)

Date and place of the recording: Leicester-UK, Nov. 19, 2011, 11:45am

Description: Each session (of two hours) has a number of activities. This day’s activities:

  • Warming up: Taoist massage; Two hands push to heaven; Six healing sounds 
  • Body greeting (silent voice): What have you been listening to? Express it using your body.
  • Chaos and Control score
  • Meditation with your own voice: Reflection on our voices and how they change as influenced by language or the location and culture in which we live. 
  • Dream Camp


Chaos and Control score: Explanation of the exercise to be sounded/performed:

  • I wrote it inspired by the changes a migrant can experience when changing geographies, moving from extreme chaos to extreme control – the UK, where we all live, is an extremely controlled place.
  • Think of a series of sounds, or a sound that suggests chaos for you. Feel it, amplify it in your mind, sound it.
  • Think of a series of sounds, or a sound that suggests control for you. Feel it, amplify it in your mind, sound it.
  • Each of us simultaneously: voice our chaos sounds, increasing and decreasing in amplitude, reflecting your wish to listen to the others and to be heard.
  • Each of us simultaneously: voice our control sounds, increasing and decreasing in amplitude, reflecting your wish to listen to the others and to be heard.
  • Improvise between control and chaos (heard in Sound File Chaos and Control).


Comment: This session was quite cathartic, and the abstraction of the concepts of Chaos and Control are very musical and political. It allowed for expressing the need to follow each other’s rhythms or the need for diverging, breaking harmonies, or standards. This exercise is very useful for expressing feelings that bring hidden individuality to the surface, rebellious feelings that wouldn’t have been expressed otherwise. I think it was also good as a group, to experience feelings associated with leading or listening to the leader as well as the possibility of being together with our differences in expression. It provided freedom of amplitude, and for the first time I heard liberating shouting from some members, combined with subtle whisperings as well. 


~Ximena Alarcón

Below, Kristin Norderval reflects on the question “How do we perform our listening?” while describing the process of Hut #6: MiniBo, which took place from noon until 5pm, 15-19 October 2011 in The Norwegian Opera House foyer as part of the CODA Oslo International Dance Festival. 

As a composer and a singer, I create site-specific work to explore sound in different acoustic environments. Listening to my environment has greatly expanded my awareness of environmental issues at large. My recent collaborations with choreographer Jill Sigman have focused on environmental issues of sustainability, waste and energy.

In October 2011, Jill Sigman and I, together with percussionist Amund Sveen, occupied the Norwegian Opera House foyer with a durational performance-installation that mixed dance, new music, and visuals, and included a living plant system by guest artist Vigdis Storsveen. Our performance squat revolved around Hut #6, a temporary structure that Sigman built from found and re-purposed materials collected in the opera house and the surrounding area. Through activities like dancing, planting, and serving tea, we explored the concept of being "at home" and asked what our home will be like when we consume less energy and utilize more waste materials. The music for Hut #6: MiniBo consisted of a series of structured improvisations, different each day and which depended on our careful listening to the space and to the public.The opera lobby was a liminal zone that people traversed, in transit from one area to another, and we were surrounded with sounds ranging from rolling food carts to guided tour groups, from the sounds of the restaurant inside to the sounds of birds and boat horns outside. We incorporated these various sounds into our improvisations and felt that our interactions with the sounds and activities were the key to creating a sense of the whole space being in performance and in dialogue. In our experience, the more carefully we listened to those who were in the space, the more carefully they listened to us and to each other.  The sound system and sound installations were run on renewable energy: hand-crank generated power, and batteries charged through solar panels and a wind turbine installed on the terrace of the opera house. Hut #6: MiniBo was a continuation of my past collaborations with Jill Sigman on portable performance and green energy, work which includes site specific performances in Mexico, and the mobile performance Our Lady Of Detritus built around a solar powered cargo trike. Hut #6: MinBo is also part of Jill Sigman's larger series: The Hut Project


~Kristin Norderval

(41) Pauline Oliveros from Sonic Meditations. Copyright 1974 by Smith Publications.

(42) Printed in The Squid’s Ear, in an online article: “The Accordion (& the Outsider)” by Pauline Oliveros.

(43) I must also give credit to four years of Alexander Technique, five years of intense personal and group experience with Bioenergetic therapeutical work as well as close to two years with an improvisational dance and sounding group and personal explorations into Body-Mind Centering.

(44) The difference, in perceived intrinsic worth to the individual, between, let’s say, a moment spent grooming ones toenails and the moment when one accepts the Nobel Prize for Literature, is attached to mental constructs of importance and achievement. Of course, all actions will have repercussions in the material world, some more evident and some less. However, to be absurd, never grooming ones toenails might have more material repercussions then never winning the Nobel Prize. So, one might ask, which is more important?

(45) While Cage and Oliveros shared many similar views and had periods in which they exchanged ideas regularly, their compositional practices diverged on many points. Cage, besides working with improvisation and rhythmic expressionism (early works - later critically reapproaching “improvisation”), mathematical formulas, chromatism and serialism, and macro-microcosmic temporal strategies, emphasized chance (operations) as a randomly binding element. While Oliveros did do works based on the I Ching, the binding structures in her work are more bodily gesture, absorbed listening, ritual, use of symbolic shapes (such as mandalas) to guide performance structure as well as what one might call different ways of reacting to control, the use of the (non)will, while sounding. Her works are also based in great measure on the generative practice of listening meditations. While Cage did write more open compositions (here I think fondly of Child of Tree [1975] and Branches [1976] for amplified plant material), he did not enter into the sharing of listening meditations as a way of broadly reaching non-musicians and encouraging creativity. Furthermore, Cage’s tape works involve game-like structures, use as sound effects (concept for radio play preceding The City Wears a Slouch Hat), and chance operations – or the use of “pre-composed,” albeit chance-determined, shifts in parameters (volume, duration, speed). Oliveros’ interactions with electronic sound-processing environments have emphasized bodily gesture (“human motoric input” and “corporeal fallibility and virtuosity”) and kinetic impulse in instantaneous composition. See Tracy McMullen’s (2010) “Subject, Object, Improv: John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, and Eastern (Western) Philosophy in Music” and the section “Expanded Instrument System” from “Outside the window: Electronic sound performance” on the Deep Listening website. See also, “Acoustic and Virtual Space as a Dynamic Element of Music,” first appearing in the Leonardo Journal 21 August 1994 (Oliveros 1998: 11).

(46) A Quest for Non-Answers: Mondo and Koan (Austin 1999: 110-118). Maika Yuri Kusama writes “there is a famous Zen koan, a koan about the sound of one hand clapping. Have you heard it? I’m almost sure that you have! The sound of one hand clapping can only be heard within the realm of practicing deep listening. It is the direct experience of sound, eternal. It is the presence of no sound being filled – and obnoxious decibels being empty. It is the two in one, and the one in none” (Oliveros 2005: 80).

(47) Dream Work was lead by IONE, the artistic director of Deep Listening, and author of the book Listening In Dreams: A Compendium Of Sound Dreams, Meditations And Rituals For Deep Dreamers, iUniverse (2005) as well as producer of the play Njinga the Queen King, and the dance opera Io and Her and the Trouble With Him, both with music and sound design by Pauline Oliveros. See also footnote 6.

(48)   It is noteworthy to mention Elena Mann’s application of Deep Listening’s listening strategies in order to investigate listening in the Occupy movement, specifically Occupy LA. She says, “we had noticed both how difficult it was to listen at Occupy L.A. [...] and also the amazing speaking and listening techniques that are happening in the Occupy movement.” LAWeeklyOccupy L.A. and the Art World” by Catherine Wagley Thursday, November 24 2011.  See also Sue Bell Yanks post Occupy LAAAAAA: Artists in Solidarity (Elana Mann edition)  on the site Social Practice.

(49) Another FaceBook initiative was Hear Naked by Meg Ryan Heery. See also the WordPress-supported exchange, initiated and coordinated by Stephanie Loveless: The Deep Listening Text-Score Ensemble.

(50) See Deep Listening Practice Sessions (Activities) (Oliveros 2005: 1-28).

“Listening Meditation and Improvisation in Solos, Duos, Trios & …

MiniBo: From the performances

The Build: Day #12

I could be my listening

When I AM listening, who IS listening?

To (not) address this, I will step aside for a ninth century text, the first line of a song, Spandakarika, or “Song of the Sacred Tremor,”(51) translated by Daniel Odier (Odier 2005: 5). While acknowledging that concepts such as phenomena and consciousness are mapped out differently within Yogic traditions as within Western philosophical traditions, I offer this verse as an inspiration for contemplation. 


The venerated Shankari (Shakti), source of energy,

opens her eyes and the universe is reabsorbed in pure

consciousness; she closes them and the universe is

manifested within her.


I take the liberty of changing the sensory analogy:


The venerated Shankari (Shakti), source of energy,

opens her ears and the universe is reabsorbed in pure

consciousness; she listens and the universe is

manifested within her.


Sound created the ear. The ear reveals that which is heard. Perceiver and perceived, that-which-is and consciousness, create one another in a continual and mutual manifestation.

(51)  A song of 52 stanzas attributed to Vasugupta, who, the story is told, found them carved in a stone. This rock became known as Shankar Pal, the rock of Shiva, and is located in the forest of the Dachigam Valley, Kashmir, where devotees still come.


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McMullen, Tracy (2010). “Subject, Object, Improv: John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, and Eastern (Western) Philosophy in Music.” Critical Studies in Improvisation 6/2. 


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Meelberg, Vincent (2009). “Sonic Strokes and Musical Gestures: The Difference between Musical Affect and Musical Emotion.” In Jukka Louhivuori, Tuomas Eerola, Suvi Saarikallio, Tommi Himberg, and Päivi-Sisko Eerola (eds.), Proceedings of the 7th Triennial Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM) (pp. 324-327). Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä.


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Odier, Daniel (2005). Yoga Spandakarika: The Sacred Texts at the Origins of Tantra. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International.


Oliveros, Pauline, Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis (1989). Deep Listening [CD]. San Francisco: New Albion Records.


Oliveros, Pauline (1984). Software for people: collected writings 1963-80. Sharon: Smith Publications.


Oliveros, Pauline (1998). The Roots of the Moment. New York: Drogue Press.


Oliveros, Pauline (2005). Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice. New York: iUniverse, Inc.


Osborne, William (2001). “Sounding the Abyss of Otherness: Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening and the Sonic Meditations.” In Deborah J. Johnson, Wendy Oliver (eds.), Women making art: women in the visual, literary, and performing arts since 1960 (pp. 65-86). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.


Voegelin, Salomé (2010). Listening to Noise and Silence: Toward a Philosophy of Sound Art. New York: Continuum.


Winckel, Fritz (1967). Music, Sound and Sensation: A Modern Exposition. New York: Dover.