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The cover of the Spring 2007 SF State Magazine features two penguins, heads bent together as they view their offspring on the ground below.

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Alumni & FriendsEyes closed and intent on her music, Pauline Oliveros raises an accordian to her ear. Photo by Terry Meier

Sound & Music

One day in 1957, Pauline Oliveros (B.A., '57) put her newfangled tape recorder in her apartment window and began recording. What she heard on the playback astounded her—so much sound that she had missed.

Today at 75, Oliveros is famed for her "Deep Listening" philosophy, which turns composing into an improvisational, meditative experience. The lessons she gathered with SF State College Professor Robert Erickson are never far from her mind.

"The first session I had with him, I was ecstatic," says Oliveros, who heads the Deep Listening Foundation in Kingston, New York, and teaches at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "You could feel the support, and he understood how to move you along without interfering with what you were doing. He told us to improvise our way forward to get unstuck. And that was good advice."

Oliveros has been piled with laurels, including a retrospective at Washington, D.C.'s, Kennedy Center. But her career shows no signs of slowing: Her 1987 work "Lion's Tale" has just been reissued, and a box set of her 1950's electronic music is in the works.

The SF State community that supported those early works is still present in Oliveros' life. She bonded with fellow avant-garde musicians Terry Riley (B.A., '57) and Stuart Dempster (B.A., '58; M.A., '67) in Wendell Otey's Composers' Workshop, where Oliveros was one of just two women.

"Women simply weren't viewed as composers then," Oliveros remembers, "but Dr. Otey was supportive." Oliveros, Riley and others continued to experiment with taped sound, eventually founding the San Francisco Tape Music Center at the SF Music Conservatory, which became the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College.

Oliveros' latest investigations are more computer-age. She's been working with Internet connections that allow her ensemble at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and musicians on the West Coast to occupy the same "sonic space" from afar.

The rapid pace of technology doesn't trouble Oliveros. "I just have to keep learning," she says. "And I just keep listening. I try to practice what I preach, which is listening to everything all the time."

To listen:


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Last modified June 19, 2007, by the Office of Public Affairs and Publications