By Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times
Originally published August 21, 2013; full text and original article visible here.
“During the International Contemporary Ensemble’s concert in the intimate black box Clark Studio Theater on Tuesday evening, the composer Pauline Oliveros stood in front of the audience and listened intently as various popping, gurgling and breathy sounds unfolded around her.
“We come into the world making sound and we continue making sound,” she said, before inviting the audience to participate in the work. Ms. Oliveros, 81, who is being celebrated this season as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival, focuses on cultivating disparate noises in her pieces.
She fosters the aesthetic with her Deep Listening Institute, which aims to heighten consciousness by developing a more acute aural sense. Instead of plugging into gadgets to tune out all extraneous noise, Ms. Oliveros advocates a greater awareness of sound, whether from nature, music, daily life or your own thoughts.
Many of Ms. Oliveros’s scores have a substantial improvisatory element. In works like “Piano Piano” (1988), for example, she abandons traditional notation for words and signs that guide the performer, including directives like “black white,” “each key a tone for life” and “play.” With the pianist Cory Smythe as soloist, the work unfolded with a series of spare and stark gestures that eventually culminated in a sound of gently buzzing bees.
In the score for “Thirteen Changes: For Malcolm Goldstein” (1986), Ms. Oliveros provides 13 brief phrases to inspire the musicians to improvise, like “rollicking monkeys landing on Mars” and “a single egg motionless in the desert.” The resulting canvas evolved through breathy flute, sinuous bassoon, a skittish violin frenzy and snippets of trumpet melody.
Introducing “Double X” (1981), the clarinetist Joshua Rubin described it as a “tennis game between opposing musicians.” Four performers stood on each side of the space and followed instructions that were more pragmatic than those for the preceding works, specifying, for example, the approximate length of particular notes and subsequent silences. There were alluring moments with the choralelike chords and eerie harmonies produced by bow on marimba.
The final section, fully notated, proved the most consistently rewarding music on the program, with a rhythmically vivid canvas punctuated by a lively and melodic dialogue between instruments.”