Bachtrack is asking the same six questions to many composers this month as part of its focus on contemporary music. Here’s what Pauline Oliveros had to say.

1. What influences are important to you and your music? Do you choose them, or do they choose you?

My mother is the first influence on me and my music. She was a pianist and songwriter. Her improvised music for modern dance in the 1940s caught my attention. The pieces were quirky and playful. Later I became very interested in Bartók – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste and the six string quartets. I appreciated the dissonance and drama of these pieces. I also count Fantasia, the Disney movie, as introducing me to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring when I was only six years old. I saw the movie several times. I remember loving the bassoon solo and the big bass drum part. Most recently I wrote a Concerto for Bass Drum and Ensemble. The bass drum and bassoon parts have a faint resemblance to Stravinsky coming through and this is The Rite of Spring’s centennial year.

A major influence during the 1960s was David Tudor. His manner of performing was distinctive and reflective. He introduced me to many exciting composers of the New York School including John Cage. Tudor’s attention to performance practice gave me new direction.

2. What (if anything) do you want listeners to take away from your music?

My music is often participatory, beginning with Sonic Meditations composed in the 1970s. So I want listeners to become performers to receive experience through sounding as well as listening.

3. Is there a composition of yours which you are most satisfied with? What makes it successful?

Last night at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn I was very satisfied with my Primordial/Lift for seven players. The audience and performers were totally engaged for the entire duration of the piece – one hour and fifteen minutes. The instrumentation includes a low-frequency oscillator that represents the changing resonant frequency of the earth moving from 7.8hz to stabilize at 13hz after 45 minutes. This vibration of the earth provides an astonishing depth that opens all sounds of the piece to a new range of harmonic relationships.

4. How important is new technology to you as a composer?

I have been working with technology as instrumental to my music since 1960. I have created EIS – Expanded Instrument System – and worked on it in a continual evolution to the present day. My idea was to handle more musical information than I could generate with my accordion alone. When I play in the present moment I know that the material will come back in the future (up to a minute later or more). When the material comes back it will be either modified or unchanged and then becomes part of the past as I play new material with the old material.

What is expanded is time. So I consider EIS to be a time machine.

I am interested in developing EIS as a smart agent that listens and responds creatively to another performer.

5. What music do you enjoy listening to?

I enjoy listening to live music in all genres. I also enjoy recorded music. The radio broadcast has been a continual source for music since childhood.

6. How is composing changing, and where do you want new music to go in the future?

Composing is changing in many ways and in all directions. In my lifetime composing by recording and mixing has been added, and composing via computer. The means of composing is changing the music. Notably, world music is enriching resources such as instrumentation. Musicians from anywhere can and do play together and resolve differences in tuning and style.

Pauline Oliveros (1932) has influenced American music extensively in her career spanning more than 60 years as a composer, performer, author and philosopher. Recently awarded the John Cage award for 2012 from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts, she pioneered the concept of Deep Listening, her practice based upon principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation, designed to inspire both trained and untrained musicians to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions in solo and ensemble situations. During the mid-60s she served as the first director of the Tape Music Center at Mills College, a.k.a. Center for Contemporary Music, and this was followed by fourteen years as Professor of Music and three years as Director of the Center for Music Experiment at the University of California at San Diego.

Since 2001 she has served as Distinguished Research Professor of Music in the Arts department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) where she is engaged in research on a National Science Foundation CreativeIT project.

Her research interests include improvisation, special needs interfaces and telepresence teaching and performing. She also serves as Darius Milhaud Composer in Residence at Mills College doing telepresence teaching and she is executive director of Deep Listening Institute, Ltd., where she leads projects in Deep Listening, Adaptive Use Interface. She is the recipient of the 2009 William Schuman Award from Columbia University for lifetime achievement.

A retrospective from 1960 to 2010 was performed at Miller Theater, Columbia University in New York, 27 March, 2010, in conjunction with the Schuman award. She received a third honorary degree from DeMontort University, Leicester, UK, 23 July, 2010.

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