Monday, December 14, 2009
Pauline Oliveros - The Well and the Gentle
Pauline Oliveros is one of the earliest composers linked to the minimalist movement, having worked with Terry Riley beginning in the late 1950s. In San Francisco, she co-founded the famous San Francisco Tape Music Centre with Morton Subotnick, Ramon Sender, William Maginnis and Tony Martin, creating one of the first electronic music studios in North America, and one of the only ones which was not affiliated with a university.
Oliveros began composing primarily electronic music, with early Buchla synthesizers, tape, and various home-made and appropriated electronic equipment. In the 1980s she developed her theory of Deep Listening, and lately has been primarily been playing accordion with some electronic processing, which she calls the Expanded Instrument System.
The first three pieces ("The Well", "The Gentle", and "The Well/The Gentle") all feature Oliveros performing with the Relache ensemble, here also featuring fantastic accordionist Guy Klucevsek. Most of Oliveros' recorded works are her solo playing or small groups (like Deep Listening Band, Carrier Band), so it's great to hear her here in a larger group setting.
"The Well" is a slowly building, droney piece, featuring prominent wordless vocals from singer Barbara Noska. According to the notes, the piece is something of a guided improvisation, with Oliveros conducting the group, and using a pre-determined pitch group.
"The Gentle" is a rather unique piece in Oliveros' canon in that it's very rhythmic. It begins with a basic woodblock beat which continues throughout the piece, and all the players follow the rhythm throughout. It sounds very typically minimalist, in a way, with its insistent continuous pulse. Beautiful piece, and completely unlike any of her other work that I've heard.
The set goes on with "The Well/The Gentle", a shorter, combined version of the first two tracks, which segue nicely from one section to the next.
The rest of the set features some excellent solo accordion and voice pieces from Oliveros, recorded in a giant empty water reservoir in Cologne. Similar, though somewhat more melodic than her later Deep Listening Band work, much of which was recorded in a reservoir in Washington state. The extreme natural reverb washes everything out into a beautiful drone.
This here 2LP set was released in 1985 on the venerable Hat Hut label. About a year ago I saw Oliveros give a talk at my university and she mentioned that Hat Hut was going to be rereleasing is on CD soon. I have yet to see any other evidence of that, and have been checking their website frequently, but I sure do hope that's the case. If they do rerelease it though, they'll probably cut some tracks to fit the 2LP onto one CD (total time is 86 minutes) as they have done many times before. In which case, this rip still won't be totally pointless.