The legacy of an artist’s work - how it exists and where it is placed - when they are no longer there to attend to it themselves, is among the most complex problems that a creative context can face. This is particularly the case within experimental music, where openness and interpretation tend to be a central component of the practice, and compositions are often intrinsically bound to specific musicians or the composer themselves. Since her death in 2016, we’ve witnessed the appearance of numerous releases attending to the work of Pauline Oliveros - carrying her legacy forward to new generations of fans - but the majority of these have been reissues and archival releases of recordings made by the composer herself. Few have addressed the complexities of evolution and interpretation. Art Metropole’s latest, “Resonance Gathering”, does exactly this, elegantly embracing the composer’s spirit, while allowing her work to journey toward new unknowns. The culmination of a large-scale performance project, organized by artist Christopher Willes and the collective Public Recordings, that addressed Oliveros’ music between 2017-2019 by inviting nineteen interdisciplinary performers (mostly non-musicians) to interpret Oliveros’s score “To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation” (1970), “Resonance Gathering” is issued as an incredibly beautiful double LP on 140g, black vinyl, and a 64 page risograph and full color digital print book, containing new writing, previously unpublished text by Oliveros, score excerpts, photography + bonus Flexi Disc, all housed in screen printed custom envelope, folded wrapper, and a risograph table of contents. Unquestionably a stunning accomplishment that’s as beautiful a physical object as the sounds that it contains.
There is arguably no legacy, within the territory of experimental sound practice, more important, influential, or enduring than that of Pauline Oliveros. Radical and free thinking - fluidly incorporating both feminist and queer concepts into her work - from her earliest tape works during the late 1950s and her emergence into the public eye as a founding member of The San Francisco Tape Music Center during the early 60s, until her passing in 2016, she was one of the great pioneering voices in among the American musical avant-garde, eventually becoming regarded as its grande dame. There was, and will never be, anyone quite like her. She changed the way we listen, understand what art and music can be, as well as the basic terms and definitions within the practices of tape, electronic, acoustic, vocal, durational, and minimal music. She was a quiet hand - as radical and adventurous as she was holistic and nurturing, carving a daunting path through more than half a century of American music. Seven years after her passing, Oliveros’ ideas and actions continue to ripple around us; formative influences on the past as much as the present day.
Born in Houston, Texas, in 1932, Oliveros began playing music around the age of five, before beginning to learn the accordion - the instrument, for which she would become widely known - at nine. Eventually taking up the violin, piano, tuba and French horn, went on to study music at San Francisco State College, where she would meet longtime friends and collaborators Terry Riley, Stuart Dempster, and Loren Rush. In 1953 the young composer, took the radical step of acquiring and beginning to make works on tape recording deck, a developing practice that would lead to her becoming one of the original members of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, alongside Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender, co-organizing its first concerts in their “Sonic Series”, and eventually, following its move to Mills College, serving as its first director..
Like any artist who spends the majority of their career working in relative obscurity, and where there are distinct eras within which specific concerns guided their work into being, it is difficult to designate a specific period of Oliveros’ compositions as being more representative than another. Each holds great historical importance, and reveal, with the gift of hindsight, something about what came before and what would develop next. Predating both her widely celebrated “Sonic Meditations” - a working method and series of compositions that she began to develop in the mid 70s, and her theories of Deep Listening - a practice of radical attentiveness - that she instigated during the 80s, ‘To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation’, composed in 1970, unquestionably offers both, practically when staging the work today. It’s difficult to imagine any rendering not taking on elements of the ideas of spirit of the “Sonic Meditations” and Deep Listening.
Of ‘To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation’, Oliveros would later state: “Shortly after it was published in 1968 the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas fell into my hands. Intrigued by the egalitarian feminist principles set forth in the Manifesto, I wanted to incorporate them in the structure of a new piece that I was composing. The women’s movement was surfacing, and I felt the need to express my resonance with this energy. Marilyn Monroe had taken her own life. Valerie Solanas had attempted to take the life of Andy Warhol. Both women seemed to be desperate and caught in the traps of inequality: Monroe needed to be recognized for her talent as an actress. Solanas wished to be supported for her own creative work. Commissioned by the Music Department of Hope College, Holland Michigan, ‘To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation’ had its premiere in 1970. Though everyone knew Marilyn Monroe hardly anyone recognized Valerie Solanas or took her Manifesto seriously. I brought the names of these two women together in the title of the piece to draw attention to their inequality and to dedicate the piece.”
The piece marked an important shift in Oliveros’s work, encountering her moving away from more traditional methods' composition, toward new sonic-somatic practices that explore how listening can transform one’s sense of self and others that would eventually develop into her notions of Deep Listening. The project that Christopher Willes and Public Recordings created between 2017 and 2019 - roughly 50 years after the work’s premiere - takes this spirit in hand. Conceived from, and responding to, a tense political situation in Toronto during that moment, the group of artists recognized the potential of Oliveros’ score, which proposes a self-governing system for group music making, as a possible resolution, subsequently staging the final performance, bringing together nineteen interdisciplinary performers (mostly non-musicians), at the Council Chambers in Toronto City Hall between empty councilors' desks, among the specters of representational politics, in a room where debates and decisions about togetherness have tangible consequences.
This new rendering is fascinating, particularly when placed against the two previously available recordings - the work’s 1970 premiere in Michigan, and a 1977 performance at Wesleyan University in Connecticut - which developed under the composer’s guidance, and were later issued in 2011 by Roaratorio. Where those incarnations encountered large scale orchestration typical of that period, in the hands of Christopher Willes and Public Recordings the work takes on a more delicate and contemporary feel that takes on the more holistic elements of Oliveros’ later approaches to music making, as well as introducing a larger range of sound sources into the palette of conventional instrumentation. Broadening the scope beyond the singularity of ‘To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation’, ‘Resonance Gathering’ opens with a new sound poem by IONE (artist and Oliveros’ spouse) that was recorded in their home in Kingston New York in 2021. Part guided meditation, part dream, the fifty-one lines of text and silences evoke the passage of time between 1970-2021. This is followed, across the following three sides, by the new 45-minute-long recording of ‘To Valerie” at the ensemble’s City Hall performance, captured in a multichannel format that subtly moves the listener into ghostly spaces throughout the ensemble, breathing new life and vibrancy into the work.
Issued as an incredibly beautiful double LP on 140g, black vinyl, and a 64-page risograph and full color digital print book, containing new writing, previously unpublished text by Oliveros, score excerpts, photography + bonus Flexi Disc, all housed in screen printed custom envelope, folded wrapper, and a risograph table of contents. We couldn’t possibly think of a better tribute to the work of Pauline Oliveros. It carries her work toward new futures with startling insight and beautify. Absolutely fantastic and not to be missed.