SA7: The Deep Listening Issue

This is the fifth time I've rewritten this opening; not edited, mind you, but rewritten. I began with a pseudo-historical overview of the idea of purpose in music making, then a series of questions about what music adds to a person’s life. Finally, after a series of increasingly abstract and increasingly Marxist openings about use versus surplus value, I find myself here, expressionless and lost in silence again. Somehow this inability for me to articulate what I want is fitting for this issue exploring Pauline Oliveros’ practice of Deep Listening. I admit that I entered into my research with a certain amount of skepticism, expecting to find a gap between Oliveros’ music (which I love) and a morass of self-reflection couched in meditative language. It was because of this skepticism that I wanted to find out more about Deep Listening practice and practitioners. I wanted to be able to understand it, to put the concept into words, to make it into some sort of latter day dodecaphony complete with grids and lists of rules. What I discovered is that trying to force a concept like Deep Listening into a grid, a set of rules, is as offensive as it is ridiculous. Where do you go, then, when your task is to put ideas into, hopefully objective, words? I went into the research for this issue in the same way I undertake the study of all of Sound American’s previous topics …forensically… with the hope of uncovering a correct answer or definitive “this is that” to fill the following pages. I went back to every conversation I had with musicians that had been involved with Pauline and Deep Listening. I reread her text. I did some of the meditations. What I realized is that there are a few general truths that, when taken together, start to give one a feeling of what Deep Listening is to those that practice it. Notice I used the word feeling, as opposed to definition. While Oliveros does make sure to explain concepts like focal versus global listening (see On Deep Listening), it seems more satisfying to try and find a way of articulating the feeling of Deep Listening was by finding out how other musicians, involved at varying levels in the practice, would grapple with the same problem. And so, that’s what I did. This issue of Sound American has become more about how we experience or explain our experience of an idea than how we objectively define it. My thinking had to change from researcher to explorer. Is it a place I’m comfortable with? No. Is it the right direction to go? For this topic, yes, I think so. In the following pages, you will read about (and listen to) the ways in which different musicians have experienced the concept of Deep Listening. Their experiences range from the completely initiated to those who, like me, are trying to grasp the concept for the first time. Their approaches will differ radically as they view the practice, not as a stylistic construct to build Deep Listening pieces in, but as a new way to broaden their own musical experience: a practice. On this page, you’ll find a group of young artists that used Deep Listening as a sounding board for experiments that expanded their musical world. While I don’t expect you to walk away from this issue with an understanding of what Oliveros’ practice and concept in an intellectual sense, I hope that exploring this issue of Sound American gives at least some sort of feeling of what Deep Listening adds up to. If you get nothing else out of the content here, please just take a moment to stop and pay attention to the sound. Read a little bit about Deep Listening in On Deep Listening, read Pauline’s words or listen to her music. See how it affects other people and use that as the inspiration to focus your attention on the sounds around you, find out how they affect you and, later, think about how you can use that kind of attention in music making, listening, and daily life. - Nate Wooley

Tim Daisy

RHYTHMS (1996)



What is the meter/tempo of your normal walk?


How often do you blink?


What is the current tempo of your breathing?


What is the current tempo of your heart rate?


What other rhythms do you hear if you listen?


What is the relationship to all of the rhythms that you can perceive at once?*

Tim Daisy: Reflections on Rhythms

REFLECTIONS ON RHYTHMS (For Marimba + Percussion) By Timothy Daisy - 2013


“An Interpretation of ‘Rhythms’ (1996) by Pauline Oliveros”


Reflections on Rhythms is a composition written for solo marimba + percussion. The piece is inspired by and is also an interpretation of the work “Rhythms” by the American accordionist and composer Pauline Oliveros.


This work utilizes elements of fixed thematic material and extended periods of improvisation. The written material reflecting concepts from Pauline Oliveros’ score which considers the rhythms of walking, breathing, heart rate and blinking. This conceptual material is referenced to the most literal sense throughout the work on the marimba.


The open ended improvisatory section of the piece , performed on gongs,cymbals,floor tom, snare drum, and alarm bells, aims to reflect the natural rhythms you will likely encounter in nature.


Recorded on November 15th, 2013 at Experimental Sound Studios Chicago Recorded and mixed by Alex Inglizian.

Loadbang Ensemble



Each person finds a place to be, either near to or distant from the others, either indoors or out-of-doors. The meditation begins by each person observing his or her own breathing. As each person becomes aware of the field of sounds from the environment, each person individually and gradually begins to reinforce the pitch of any one of hte sound sources that has attracted their attention. The sound source is reinforced vocally, mentally or with an instrument. If one loses touch with the sound source, then wait quietly for another. Reinforce means to strengthen or to sustain by merging one's own pitch with the sound source. If the pitch of the sound source is out of vocal or instrumental range, then it is to be reinforced mentally.


The result of this meditation will probably produce a resonance of the environment. Some of hte sounds will be too short to reinforce. Some will disappear as soon as the reinforcement begins. It is fine to wait and listen.*

Pan (trumpet, trombone, baritone voice, bass clarinet and evironments) realized by Loadbang Ensemble - 2013


Environmental Dialogues is a perfect meditation for a group of in-demand musicians during the holidays. This recording, made during the Thanksgiving/Hannukah holidays, a demanding time for work, family, and travel, was compiled from recordings made by each member at 9:30 pm EST on Friday, November 29. Trumpeter Andy Kozar was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Vocalist Jeff Gavett was in upstate New York. Bass clarinetist Carlos Cordeira recorded outside his apartment in the Bronx, and trombonist Will Lang took time between shows at holiday shows at Radio City Music Hall to find a quiet place to record.