Pauline Oliveros & David Gamper  - "Live at the Ijsbreker, Jan. 1999"
JdK 03 (1999)

Pauline Oliveros, "Godmother of Ambient" gives JdK the premiere live recording from her sold-out concert at the Ijsbreker, Amsterdam in January 1999. Working with electronic music-magician, David Gamper on his EIS system, they created transparent layers, crystalline structures slowly evolving and mesmerizing the listener in timeless forms. This is the pinnacle of the Oliveros/Gamper collaborations, music that through its depth, reveals ever more profound expression.

Links -- information on Pauline and The Deep Listening Band and See Hear Now.


The Wire 189 / Brian Duguid

Pauline Oliveros & David Gamper - At The IJsbreker Jan 24 1999

Pauline Oliveros has a somewhat undeserved reputation as a kind of Grandmother of New Age. Perhaps her early albums with the Deep Listening Band are to blame, taking free improv into hitherto unimaginable realms of subtle reverberation, courtesy of some remarkable underground acoustic spaces. But Oliveros has always been a far more diverse, and indeed pivotal artist, and she's never shied away from dissonance. Her pioneering experiments with electronics and tape loops, and an interest in experimental drama, led on to the development of Deep Listening - that is, guided group improvisation which emphasises the social and participatory aspects of hearing. More recently, she's restored that wheezy, groaning monster, the accordion, to a place of rightful respect, and developed the Expanded Instrument System with various colleagues.

The EIS is greatly in evidence on this presumably improvised live recording with collaborator David Gamper. It takes the sounds of Oliveros's accordion and Gamper's piano and recreates them in a virtual acoustic space, distorting them as if seen in a hall of mirrors. The lengthy 'Breaking the EIS' showcases a divergent sound menagerie: plaintive electronic yowls, scatterbrained pitter-patter, ghostly wavering and wailing. It's mostly downcast and alien, but impressively grotesque. "Pauline's Solo" is more serene, but there's a rippled depth to be heard in the laminated accordion drone, which recalls Penderecki's chilly tautness. Whenever it seems like subsiding into mere atmospherics, piercing flurries of shrapnel erupt and disrupt expectations.

The two instruments work best together on 'EIS Cream', which sounds like some subterranean race of cyborgs attempting to make a Windham Hill record, and where the flickering piano blends well with the dilated accordion tones. At The IJsbreker is deep uneasy listening.

Forestter Cobalt // music monkey

Pauline Oliveros & David Gamper - At The IJsbreker Jan 24 1999

Why do people hate accordions? Maybe because they've never really heard its potential. A potential reached through electronic effects, which takes the once hapless polka party sound machine and turn it into the sound of desolate landscapes and eerie foreboding. In Pauline Oliveros and David Gamper's improvisational "At The Ijsbreker, Jan. 24, 1999", the once excitable accordion, along with plantive piano, are turned into exercises in difficult listening. But the only real difficulty in listening to this documentation are often in determining such matters as where sound originates, what the sound originates from, and where the sound is going. Such is the nature of ambient music. Also with musique concrete, knowing what the sound originates from weakens its power. In the same vein, knowing where the sound is travelling is part of what makes it ambient (or else you'd have pop music - think about it.)

Given the drone potential in accordions makes it seem like a highly predictable instrument of choice in the realm of ambient music, but historically it hasn't been. All too readily musicians have opted for effected guitars, probably because no one wants to pick up an accordion. It's a stigmatized instrument if ever there was one, that holds top honors alongside tubas, ukuleles, and harps. But there's no doubting the obvious profoundity of Oliveros' customized instrument of choice, even if after years of her working with it, no one else has chosen to follow in her footsteps. That only makes "At The Ijsbreker, Jan. 24, 1999" yet another almost singular release in the history of Oliveros' long career within experimental music, combined with the stirring majesty of sometime Deep Listening project partner David Gamper's EIS (Expanded Instrument System) (a sort of huge sound processing and mixing station).

Oliveros' "deep listening" philosophy, based around the construction of meditative music, more than amply comes into play with the multi-layered texture of these compositions, and it's hard not to reach a level of trance within only minutes of listening. An almost equally balanced space of silence and sound, drone and tinkling, voice and machine, create a continual wave of steady auditory motion. Considering what would seem on the surface the limitations of accordion, piano, voice, and equipment effects, the sound is incredibly rounded, given that the sound processing aids in the evolution of any one sound aspect: a tonal whisper becomes a thundering rush, a sputtering vocal sequence turns into a new language, a few bars of a piano melody become nearly symphonic. Combined, the many directions this performance take collide, arranged into a steady flow, overwhelming the listener and pushing attention exactly where Oliveros and Gamper want it to be. This is a truly illuminating side of the power of ambient music to do more than just fill the room with soothing sounds.


Pauline Oliveros

For almost half a century now, Pauline Oliveros has been following a road of her own. She made an innovative career outside the main stream of contemporary music, but only during the last decade has she earned the wide interest and recognition she always deserved. Ms. Oliveros, born in Houston, Texas, belongs musically to the American West Coast and the good company of other colorful composers and musicians going their own way. The common denominator for her and other remarkable West Coast composers as Harry Partch, Robert Erickson, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, or Morton Subotnick is music created as a sensuous experience in the first place, and this in the best sense of the word. Listening with the senses requires an attitude Ms. Oliveros has been describing forever as "Deep Listening." "It means listening to everything that can be heard," she says, "in all kinds of ways and while you're doing no matter what. Hearing is our most primary sense-we hear involuntarily. Listening on the other hand is cultivated. It is based on experience and training. Deep Listening is an intense form of listening to the sounds of daily life, nature, your own thoughts, and-of course-of musical sounds. Deep Listening is a way of life. It represents a higher state of awareness and links you to everything existing. As a musician I'm interested in the sensuality of sounds, how they coincide and coordinate with other sounds, how they change and erupt. As a composer I use Deep Listening for making music."

In 1952, Ms. Oliveros encountered composer Robert Erickson (1917-1997) in San Francisco and she studied with him for six years. Mr. Erickson, a composer whose beautiful music makes a lasting 'Deep Listening' impression, never has made any stride in Europe other than as the vital stimulus for such outspoken West Coast mavericks as Terry Riley, Morton Subotnick and, of course, Ms. Oliveros.

With these colleagues from her own generation, Ms. Oliveros pioneered a new road, with all the far-reaching consequences thereof. She embarked on electronic experiments, composed her first tape pieces and, thanks to contact microphone amplification, experienced new sensations of sounds coming from all kinds of resonating objects like fruit crates and boxes. In the Sixties, she and David Tudor, among others, composed a number of pieces for ensembles of musicians with vibrating, sound producing objects, boxes and contact microphones. The pieces of course had an unusually theatrical effect. These experiences, combined with her dislike of the visual void of tape concerts, sparked in Ms. Oliveros already at the beginning of the Sixties the then unusual idea of multi-media performances. Her first collaborators were choreographers, followed by other artists. She explored two new frontiers simultaneously: her musical frontier (at the San Francisco Tape Music Center which in 1966 became the now famed Centre for Contemporary Music at Mills College, Oakland) and the interdisciplinary frontier which had quite a number of followers in the Seventies. To these days she keeps that inspiration very much alive, and her work in that particular field now includes the most advanced communication media.

The enormous potential of her solo-instrument, the accordion, inspires Ms. Oliveros to focus continuously on 'in depth listening.' Linked to electronic tools, the instrument becomes in her hands an abundant source of refined sounds for her own music. Her instrument, build in 1983 by her former teacher, Willard Palmer, has a row of pedal tones, ranging from E to c#. Since 1986 it is tuned in just intonation.

The accordion and the way Ms. Oliveros plays it, make the instrument ideal for turning her ideas on breathing, listening and meditating into sound. And those ideas are most effective when the sensuality of her music needs to be heightened.

"There are enough accordionists who just put their fingers on the right keys," she told Richard Henderson (The Wire no. 164 - October 1997). "But they don't listen to what happens when the wind goes through their instrument. The best examples of how it should be done are Cajun accordionists. They do really listen to what they play and to the tongues of the instrument. That's how they extract such an incredible sound from that little box. I also studied Chi K'ung, a Tao practice connected to the meridians and electro-magnetic fields of the body. And in the late Sixties I studied T'ai Chi for a while. And as I began understanding something about the energy that streams through the body, and connecting the breathing and the energy stream to the instrument in such way that it reinforces them, and then to the very rich qualities of the metal tongues, I realized what an interesting kind of 'sender' I was holding in my hands." That is the way Pauline Oliveros developed the instrument into a perfect extension of the body, in favor of the kind of music she wanted to make.

In 1983, the 'birth year' of her own instrument, she also added a piece of electronics to her equipment which gives the music an intensifying harmony by way of highly refined echo effects. These effects are not superficial. They don't make the sound spacious but are an integral part of the music's structure. They affect the tiniest pitch changes, help produce sound layers, and create harmonic modulations.

These, of course, are all external aspects of what Ms. Oliveros has done in her long career to achieve what she considers the essence of music. The essence is best acquired by listening, deep listening. It is hard to put into words what that is exactly, but one can experience its effect listening to her performances.

Thanks to: Frans van Rossum (for writing the text) and MusikTexte & The Wire (for letting us use their information) -- 1999 JdK Productions