Reflections on the Text Scores of Pauline Oliveros

Music entails listening. This may be a truism, but it is one that Pauline Oliveros’s music considers from every angle. What is listening? How is it different from hearing? Can we activate it, and then shape it at will? Can we compose music with it?


Listening needs stillness. As does reading. ‘First imagine silence’ begins the score of One Sound Once. Oliveros’s scores are written as texts, rather than musical notation. Some are just a few lines long, some several pages. Klickitat Ride is a list of 108 instructions that are to be read out loud. David Tudor is a two-line epigram. Although often poetic, they are not poems. Oliveros has called them ‘attentional strategies’ – ways of listening and ways of responding. They don’t attempt to express anything as such, but invite the reader/listener to find out for herself what might happen if they pay attention in a particular way. They rarely require specialist musical knowledge: they can be read, and performed, by anyone. But to perform them properly requires discipline, attention and concentration.

Stillness entails breathing. Even at our stillest and most attentive, we are breathing. There is a meditative aspect to Oliveros’s work that applies to both performers and listeners. She calls this aspect ‘Deep Listening’, a form of listening practice cultivated through the sort of concentration and discipline her scores require, and intended to expand consciousness into ‘the whole space/time continuum of sound/silences’.

Breathing means movement. As we inhale and exhale our chest rises and falls. If we are practising Deep Listening, our mind similarly expands and contracts. Inner becomes outer; outer becomes inner. The sounds we are listening to exist in spatial relation to us and to each other. Quintessential and Pebble Music present catalogues of sounds, arranged by the performers like objects in a museum. In Rock Piece movement is even more explicit, with performers moving into, out of and around the space.

Movement means making. As the performers in Rock Piece move, they click pairs of stones together in their hands, ‘sounding out the environment in all directions’, attending to its different resonances and the relationship between their clicks and those of their colleagues. In Word Sound the movements are more abstract – ‘Say a word as a sound. / Say a sound as a word.’ read two lines of the score. Moving from words to sounds, turning one into the other makes a particular type of sound production, and a particular type of listening. When does a sound become a word?

Making entails music. As words and sounds transform into one another, or as clicking rocks echo around the performing space, we start to make music. Like John Cage, Oliveros blurs the boundaries between life and music: Deep Listening is inclusive listening, in which everything one might possibly hear is attended to. The pieces themselves are ways to reach that state. Deep Listening can only be intellectualized so far; in the end you have to do it. You have to listen.

The Viola in my Life

Date: Monday 21st November, 8.00pm
Venue: The Forge, Camden (NW1 7NL)

The Riot Ensemble connects people to great contemporary music with this performance entitled “The Viola in my Life.” The performance features Riot’s new Artistic Board Member Stephen Upshaw, who programmed this concert alongside fellow rioters Sarah Mason & Claudia Maria Racovicean.
The concert features Feldman’s classic The Viola in My Life, alongside the world premiere of new solo viola works by Mark Simpson, and small chamber music by Jack Sheen, Tigran Mansurian and others.  Here’s the full programme:

Mark Simpson: New Work for Solo Viola (World Premiere)

Morton Feldman: “The Viola in My Life 3” for viola and piano

Mark Bowden: “Hoist” for solo percussion

Jack Sheen: “Each One Cancels Out the Last” for viola, piano and tape (World Premiere)

Anna Meredith: “Flex” for solo percussion

Tigran Mansurian: “Duet” for viola and percussion (UK Premiere)

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Date: Saturday 29th October, 5.00pm
Venue: St. Nicholas Church, Brighton (BN1 3LJ)

The World Premiere of Laurence Osborn’s Micrographia – a song cycle for two sopranos and chamber ensemble setting seven new poems (written specifically for this piece) by poet Joseph Minden.  World Premieres from our 2016 Call for Scores winners Yukiko Watanabe and Lee Westwood, and an array of new miniatures from composers from the New Music Brighton Composers’ Collective.

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Hear and Now: Live from South Bank

Date: Saturday 1st October, 10.00pm
Venue: South Bank Centre, London

Members of our Artistic Board perform live from the Southbank on BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now.  We’ll be performing the UK premiere of “death, hocket, and roll” – a Toy Piano Duo by Thomas Kotcheff, Nina C Young’s “Void” (Nina is our current composer in residence), Scelsi’s Ko-Lho, Liza Lim’s violin solo Philtre, Maderna’s Serenata per un satellite and a newly commissioned work by emerging English composer Jack Sheen.  There will be interviews with many of the musicians (and some of the composers) so do turn up or tune in!

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Listen: Pauline Oliveros @ Sonic Imperfections

Date: Tuesday 13th September, 8pm
Venue: Montague Arms, Peckham (SE15 2PA)

Sonic Imperfections is a monthly experimental music night at the Montague Arms in Peckham.  We’re heading down with a complete evening of Pauline Oliveros‘ Text Scores, like the one below.  The evening will take place in three short sets, with time for drinks and conversation in-between!

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Breathe AHR: Charcoal

Date: Wednesday 9th November 1pm
Venue: Guys Hospital – Atrium 1
A ‘Remembrance’ themed concert, with live artist Marcus Stefanelli.  Music by John Garner, A world premiere of Giovanni Cacioppo’s The Immigrant Suite, a selection of Bartok’s 44 Duos For Two Violins and Kate Williams Suite for Two Violins.

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