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Pauline Oliveros

Composer, performer, and educator Pauline Oliveros is the founder of the Deep Listening Institute and a professor of music in the Department of Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. Currently composing The Nubian Word for Flowers—an opera produced in collaboration with author and director Ione—Oliveros is included in this year’s Whitney Biennial.

  1. THE POPEYE CLUB, CA. 1939

    Saturday mornings were always exciting at the Popeye Club, a special weekly screening at our local Delman theater in Houston. Besides the cartoons, they would show things like the Buck Rogers serial featuring twenty-fifth-century adventurer Wilma Deering, introducing me to science fiction and the sounds of outer space. The movie-house manager would pass out favors like a tiny cardboard resonator with a vinyl strip attached. You could play the grooves with a fingernail to hear something like Popeye saying, “Hello, sweetheart!”

    *Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind, _Buck Rogers_, 1939*, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 237 minutes. From left: Wilma Deering (Constance Moore), Buck Rogers (Buster Crabbe), George “Buddy” Wade (Jackie Moran). Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind, Buck Rogers, 1939, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 237 minutes. From left: Wilma Deering (Constance Moore), Buck Rogers (Buster Crabbe), George “Buddy” Wade (Jackie Moran).
  2. FANTASIA (1940)

    I first saw Disney’s Fantasia at around age eight, taking in, for the first time, Igor Stravinsky’s “Danse sacrale” from The Rite of Spring and Paul Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The filmexpanded my musical mind. And the technology used to record the sound track and the audio system used for playback in theaters were among the most advanced of their day. I went back to see Fantasia many times.

    *Norman Ferguson et al., _Fantasia_, 1940*, 35 mm, color, sound, 125 minutes. Norman Ferguson et al., Fantasia, 1940, 35 mm, color, sound, 125 minutes.
  3. BÉLA BARTÓK, MUSIC FOR STRINGS, PERCUSSION, AND CELESTA (1936)

    When I discovered this record in the ’50s, I got a copy and played it over and over again every day. Bartók wrote the score for two complete string orchestras, classifying the piano as percussion. I am still fascinated by the sonorities of this amazing work.

  4. KPFA 94.1 FM (BERKELEY)

    Founded in 1949 as the first community-supported radio station in the US, KPFA was a powerful source for my musical and political education. The most inspiring sounds came from the daily four-hour Morning Concert, which broadcast the most recent music from around the world, music that could not be heard via any other source. Radio KPFA’s archives can be found at otherminds.org.

  5. “KETJAK: THE RAMAYANA MONKEY CHANT,” BALI: GOLDEN RAIN (NONESUCH, 1969)

    Hearing this Balinese trance ritual in 1970 was an ecstatic experience. The precision of the vocal chorus and the quality of the soloist were completely new to me. Nonesuch Records’ Explorer Series—of which Golden Rain is a part—was groundbreaking for world music and has been the source of some of my most memorable musical encounters.

    *Ketjak dancers, Bali, May 6, 2008.* Photo: Vincent Fung/Flickr. Ketjak dancers, Bali, May 6, 2008. Photo: Vincent Fung/Flickr.
  6. APPLE II COMPUTER

    My writing changed radically in 1983 when I began using a word processor, a feature of the Apple II I purchased that year. Little did I know that personal computers would radically change my life as well.

  7. DAN HARPOLE CISTERN (PORT TOWNSEND, WA)

    Located beneath a World War II–era military base off Puget Sound, this reservoir once held two million gallons of water. Now dry, the empty cavity can hold a single sound—suspended in smooth reverberation—for an incredible forty-five seconds. Experiencing this on my first visit to the cistern in 1988 was another mind-changing event. This was not just a venue but a musical partner.

    *Dan Harpole Cistern, interior view, Port Townsend, WA, August, 2008*. Photo: Centrum Foundation. Dan Harpole Cistern, interior view, Port Townsend, WA, August, 2008. Photo: Centrum Foundation.
  8. HOLE-IN-SPACE, 1980

    Thirty years before video calls became standard fare, artists Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz created a “hole in space,” collapsing, for two hours on each of three nights, the 2,500 miles between New York and LA. Described by the artists as a “telecollaborative” project, the event utilized satellites to stream true-to-life-scale video feeds between public spaces on either coast. Their vision of telematics began a new genre of artmaking, wherein performers act together in the same conceptual space no matter their physical distance.

    *Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, _Hole In Space_, 1980,* live two-way black-and-white video, sound, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York and Century City Centre, Los Angeles. Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, Hole In Space, 1980, live two-way black-and-white video, sound, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York and Century City Centre, Los Angeles.
  9. GEORGE DYSON, TURING’S CATHEDRAL: THE ORIGINS OF THE DIGITAL UNIVERSE (PANTHEON, 2012)

    Following technology historian George Dyson’s keynote address “No Time Is There” at the Stedelijk Museum’s 2012 Sonic Acts Festival in Amsterdam, I immediately sought out his book. It recounts the creation, in the late 1940s, of the first digital computer—a one-thousand-pound machine based on Alan Turing’s model of artificial intelligence—via the individual narratives of the people who realized it. Since I grew up during World War II, this book put my life in perspective.

  10. JOHN SCHAEFER, NEW SOUNDS ON WNYC 93.9 FM (NEW YORK)

    Driving home to Kingston, NY, from NYC, we always listen to New Sounds with John Schaefer at 11 PM. This is a very pleasant way to pick up on music that I haven’t heard before. Radio continues to be one of the biggest influences on my life.