In praise of Pauline Oliveros

Anne Hilde Neset, co-founder of Electra; Ana da Silva; Pauline Oliveros; Anat Ben-David; Louise Gray

Getting Pauline Oliveros open for Her Noise’s current Tate Modern programme – Feminisms and the Sonic – (organised by Electra and Tate Modern) was a real coup. Here’s an artist whose work has stretched from the start of concrète and electronic music to the present. Oliveros played a new solo work for a Roland V-accordion, Listening for Life/Death Energies, and delivered a keynote speech on a series of younger women composers, each with her own way of making her own noise. A performance of Oliveros’ extraordinary 1970 piece for ensemble – To Valerie Solanas and  Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation – was played on the bridge of the Turbine Hall.

Oliveros spoke about her decision at the age of 16 to become a composer, one taken at a time when gender conformity in music was high (earlier, she’d mentioned that in infant classes, drums were taken away from girls to replaced with more ‘feminine’ instruments like a recorder!). The growth of the women’s movement in the early 1970s gave her a new direction: “I had harboured such desires to live beyond gendered roles for a long time,” she said. And she spoke of her introduction to electronic music via four-hour Sunday morning concerts broadcast on KPFA in the Bay Area. They were weekly epiphanies: “Electronic sounds expressed my inner listening.”

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