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Deep Listening: The Story of Pauline Oliveros

The New Documentary on the Revered Musician Screens at the Rosendale Theater

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Pauline Oliveros performing in Amsterdam, circa 2000. - PHOTO BY PIETER KERS
  • Photo by Pieter Kers
  • Pauline Oliveros performing in Amsterdam, circa 2000.

"People mostly rely on their eyes [to observe], but by doing that they miss the world around them," the late Kingston composer, musician, musical theoretician, and educator Pauline Oliveros told your arts editor when she was profiled for the October 2013 issue of Chronogram. "When we learn to become better listeners, we learn more about ourselves, as well as each other." That principle, which lies at the core of the Deep Listening practice she developed, comes to the fore in Deep Listening: The Story of Pauline Oliveros, a new documentary about the experimental and electronic music pioneer by filmmaker Daniel Weintraub that will premiere at the Rosendale Theater on November 4 and 5.

"[The film] is Daniel's vision, and he started working on it before Pauline passed," says Oliveros's partner of 30 years, the author and artist Ione. "She and I spoke with him a lot during the process and did a lot of video for it. I kind of had to stop for a while when Pauline passed [to grieve] and couldn't put my full energy into it. But after a while I thought about what she'd say, which would have been, 'Let's get this thing done!'"

A still from Deep Listening.
  • A still from Deep Listening.

Deep Listening is filled with rare early photos, recordings, and even scores and diagrams that illustrate Oliveros's compositions and theories. The film follows her fascinating and creative life from her Texas childhood through her negotiating being a gay woman before the cultural revolutions of the '60s and '70s to her studying alongside fellow innovators Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Ramon Sender, and Loren Rush in San Francisco, where she cofounded the pivotal San Francisco Tape Center collective; groundbreaking work and approach on the accordion; and right on up to her final years as a Kingston resident and a faculty member at the cutting-edge Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) in Troy, where the Deep Listening Institute entity, as per its creator's wishes, is permanently embedded.

Perhaps there's a bit of irony at play in the fact that there's now a movie about Oliveros, whose intensely meditative approach to audio awareness—and awareness in general—centers on peeling back and compartmentalizing the layers of sound that surround us, which sometimes means not looking at anything. But Weintraub's film, which largely allows Oliveros herself to tell her story and explain her discoveries and ideas through recorded interviews that are peppered with commentary from her peers (Riley, Morton Subotnick) and disciples (Thurston Moore), is never at odds with the central tenets of the Deep Listening ethos. In fact, it leaves the viewer not only wanting to explore her music further, but to pay more attention to the sounds around them—something the composer no doubt would have appreciated.

Pauline Oliveros playing the accordion. - PHOTO BY BECKY COHEN
  • Photo by Becky Cohen
  • Pauline Oliveros playing the accordion.

"Watching the film for me is like revisiting Pauline's past at the same time as her work continues here in the present, which is something that really goes along with the quantum theories she had about the work she was doing," muses Ione. "It brings her back, into the present, but in a new way."

Deep Listening: The Story of Pauline Oliveros will be shown at the Rosendale Theater in Rosendale on November 4 at 7:30pm and November 5 at 2pm. A Q&A with director Daniel Weintraub and Ione will follow each screening. See website for tickets and information.

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