Sunday, November 27, 2016

Pauline Oliveros has passed away

This year is one of many changes and passings away: this week Fidel Castro and Pauline Oliveros. Alex Ross posts this representative work of hers:

Here is another that he recommends, an early work from 1966:

Is it just me or do all these droney, electronic pieces all sound the same? What is missing from any music primarily about drones and sonorities is rhythm, meter and pulse. The great renovation that Steve Reich and Philip Glass brought to 20th century music was the return of pulse and rhythm to a central place in musical structure. Apart from giving music a form and direction, it also tended to re-connect classical and popular music.

The problem with drones, for me, is that they are formless and floaty. They always sound like the introduction to a bad musical soundtrack of a second-rate science fiction movie. Let's listen to some examples. Brian Eno:

Well, ok, that sounds more like the soundtrack to a movie about Tibetan Buddhism or background music at a yoga retreat. John Luther Adams:

The Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi:

There is something more happening there, but it is still not rhythmic.

I guess my fundamental bias is that music is really always about time: articulated time, time measured with pulse, structured time. Droney music, of whatever variety, is about escaping from time. I reject it as I reject transcendental meditation and "paradise" defined as sitting around gazing at sunsets while sipping chardonnay with an insipid look on your face.

Now, can we please have some rhythm. This is the Symphony no. 59 by Haydn:


Jives said...

Upon hearing of her passing, I've been listening to some Pauline Oliveros' music, and finding it quite welcoming. It runs to the atmospheric and droney, but I'll say that she seems to have a better sense of proportion and pacing than many of her contemporaries. I hear sectioning, points of arrival, an inviting surface texture, easily understood processes of accretion and rotation, and a sense of when to relieve the tedium this sort of music is prone to...It's all very out there and indisputably weird, but affably and thoughtfully so.

My first impression of the early, really "electro" sounding one, was that, yes, this was a lot of knob-twiddling, but she's really listening/reacting to the results very carefully. As a listener, I don't feel assaulted, taxed, interrogated or uselessly bored. I feel invited. From further reading I see that this was her MO. To listen deeply. Fascinating work.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks Jives. You send me back to listen to her again.

Jives said...

FYI, I've checked out pieces called Crone Music, and Four Meditations for Orchestra and Sound Geometries for Chamber Orchestra.