Pauline Oliveros

Four Electronic Pieces, 1959-1966 (Sub Rosa)

At age 76, composer Pauline Oliveros occupies a considerable role as the grand dame of modern electronic art music. A Mills College professor for almost three decades, she combined accordion, electronics, and instincts to develop Deep Listening, an environmentally mindful, Buddhist-inspired compositional philosophy she used to craft numerous expansive sound pieces. From its late-'80s start, Deep Listening inspired a following for Oliveros and many meditative sonic retreats. But this new collection of her early long works finds her learning how to actively process sound—often harshly, but with an ear toward absorbing sonic material that would inform the philosophy for which she's best known.

Oliveros recorded three of Four's pieces near the end of her work in the San Francisco Tape Music Center, a Mills-based electronic music studio she ran in the early '60s with fellow experimental composers Terry Riley, Ramon Sender, and Morton Subotnick. Made with simple tape loops and oscillators, this trio of tracks portrays her ability to wrangle electronic noise into compelling structures that build from solitary buzzing signals into pulsing patterns and waves of wailing, high-register tones. But the intimate, home-recorded piece "Time Perspectives" proves most engaging. Here she juxtaposes radio voices, atmospheric chimes, mouth sounds, and the inexplicable household plonk against the drones and whooshes caused by manipulated tape speeds (and the reverberations she got by recording in an empty bathtub). As a piece, it perfectly portrays Oliveros' burning desire to make sonic art out of her surroundings, a principle that informed Deep Listening and made her a mentor to many in the realm of experimental electronic music.

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