FRANK J. OTERI: I find it so intriguing that you grew up in Texas and chose the accordion as your instrument because that already guarantees that you cannot be influenced by the western classical tradition because there is no western classical tradition for the accordion.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: (laughs) Well, the accordion was invented in 1840 and so it was already past the classical tradition. And there’s a lot of snobbery about what instruments can be included in the so-called canon or not. But my mother brought the accordion home in the 40s because she was going to learn to play it and add to her repertoire of what she could teach. I got fascinated about the instrument and wanted to learn it, so I did.
FRANK J. OTERI: A few years back at a flee market I bought a Weltmeister accordion and I try playing it every now and then, but after all the physical energy required to do it, I quit. I can’t last for more than 10 or 12 minutes. I’m out of shape. (both laugh)
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Well yes. It does require a lot of coordination because of the coordinating of the bellows, getting the air through the reeds and also playing buttons on the left and a keyboard on the right. And of course when you go in the vertical direction up is really down…
FRANK J. OTERI: Right, right. The world sort of turns sideways then backward-sideways. It’s interesting to talk about the accordion’s influence in music. The accordion is an instrument that the western classical tradition didn’t incorporate, but all of these other musics used it – like the Polka music of the German immigrants in Texas, and it wound up in Tex-Mex music. There were all these great Norteño accordionists like Narciso Martínez, and nowadays Flaco Jimenez. Did you hear any of this music when you were growing up?
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Well the accordionists that I heard were Cajun accordionists because Louisiana isn’t that far. I can remember hearing Cajun music beyond the big jukebox of the 40s listening to “Jolie Blonde” and playing it over and over again.
FRANK J. OTERI: I love Amade Ardoin…
PAULINE OLIVEROS: But I didn’t hear Norteño music until after I left Texas because it wasn’t that available to me in Houston at that time as I was growing up.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s interesting because Norteño accordion music is more about lines and melodic phrases, whereas Cajun accordion music is more about breath and pulse, and that really is something that has shaped your musical sensibility.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Yeah, definitely. The Cajun accordionists really know how to make a sound. Those instruments are different too.