[[ INDEX TO ARTICLES ]]
Photo by Elise Ryerson
[[ May 31 - June 3, Meridian Gallery, San Francisco ]]
Q&A; with Pauline Oliveros
AZ: Tell me about your background. Where were you born? Where'd you grow up?
PO: Houston, Texas 1932. Houston, Texas until 1952, when I left for San Francisco.
AZ: What was life like for you as a child?
PO: I listened a lot to the rich dense soundscape in Houston of insects, birds, and animals and the constant piano lessons at home. I had a lot of unscheduled time and enjoyed exploring the woods and bayous.
AZ: When and how did you become interested in music?
PO: Music was always a part of my life. My mother and grandmother were pianists and taught lessons. I learned informally from them. My mother brought home an accordion in the '40s. I fell in love with it and began lessons when I was nine years old. When I went to junior high school I was not allowed to play the accordion in the band so I learned to play the tuba. Later in high school I switched to French horn and continued to play that instrument as well as the accordion. I graduated from San Francisco State College in 1957 with a BA in Composition cum laude.
AZ: Who, if anyone, do you consider your influences?
PO: The earth -- I am a life long listener to her sounds. My mother who was creative with music , Valerie Solanas because of her manifesto that I read in 1968 and Yoko Ono who's work triggered my interest in conceptual music.
AZ: Can you describe your relationship, as a composer, to technology?
PO: I have always used the tools of the time to make my music. I began by listening to all kinds of radios -- crystal, short wave, AM and FM. We had a wire recorder in the '40s. I got my first tape recorder in 1953 (when tape recorders were first available to the consumer). I got my first computer in 1983. Today I use the computer to control the processing of my instrument when I am performing -- the Expanded Instrument System (EIS).
AZ: Composition is such a male-dominated field, and it was even more so when you were starting out. How has being a woman affected your career, both creatively and logistically?
PO: There are fewer opportunities for women and it looks as though there are few performances and hardly any jobs in the field for women. The reason I succeeded as a composer was my passion for making music and persistence in the face of such resistance and lack of encouragement. I didn't think about being a woman. I just worked at my composition.
AZ: In what ways do you think your career has evolved?
PO: My work has transformed over the years from working in conventional notation to creating my own way of expressing musical potentials -- such as my Sonic Meditations and Deep Listening Pieces. This work uses instructions in words like recipes rather than conventional notation. You might say that my resources have involved conventional notation, improvisation, theater and electronics.
AZ: What have been some of the highlights?
PO: Hearing any of my music played. Receiving my first prize for Variations for Sextet in 1960. Discovering my own technique for making electronic music.
AZ: If you weren't a composer or otherwise involved in the field of music, what would you do?
PO: I would be a scientist / mathematician.
AZ: So what's next?
PO: More music and teaching.