5. Electronics and Indeterminate Music
PAULINE OLIVEROS: The first kind of tape loop that I can remember was 1960 when Ramón Sender and I started what was called Sonics, and this was gathering equipment together to make an electronic studio, and we had the attic at the San Francisco Conservatory, and this was the beginning of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, and what came here to Mills College and was renamed by Robert Ashley the Center for Contemporary Music later on. But we always did an improvisation in our tape music concerts, live improvisation. And Ramone had the idea to make a tape loop between 2 tape machines that would run while we were improvising. So one machine crossed to another so that there would be a long delay. Then he would play it back to us as we were improvising.
FRANK J. OTERI: And it would go round and round…
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Yeah, it would come around again. It wasn’t a closed loop; it was an open loop.
FRANK J. OTERI: So it sort of created a canonic form. Now the whole question of this technology is interesting because your music is very much about nature in a lot of ways. At the same time you talk a lot about technology. A lot of people think of it as the antithesis of nature. But in a weird kind of way by channeling technology, it’s sort of allowed us to reacquaint ourselves with more natural modes of making music. It’s sort of a Marshall McLuhan-esque view of technology and the future. We talk about recordings. Oral traditions which weren’t notated in standard music notation systems didn’t get preserved except in so far as they got handed down from generation to generation. Recordings allow a different kind of transmission, so they allow us to return to the roots. We no longer need to notate music in order to preserve it. Were you thinking these things even in the 60s when you were doing stuff with the Tape Center? This activity predates your involvement with Sonic Meditations and Deep Listening.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Well sure. With tape there wasn’t any need to write anything down because you had the tape. I didn’t make scores, I just made tapes. As I got more interested and involved in improvisation; improvisations were recorded so there wasn’t any need to notate anything there either. I mean the tape was the notation.
FRANK J. OTERI: So those pieces exist as recordings, but they couldn’t be recreated again.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Not necessarily, no. But then I’m not so very interested in that necessarily. I’m more interested in the continuing variation.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well so much of your music since the 1970s has been about the physical process about making music, and there’s something about splitting and splicing tapes, or working on a Buchla synthesizer, that really sort of divorces sound from it’s physical means of production. You don’t really get that physicality, that breath, as it were, whether it’s through singing or through moving your hands back and forth on an accordion. You made a statement at one point that everybody needs to make non-verbal sounds. Yet we as a society don’t really do things to foster that, and music is just one of them, but just to be able to go bleb-bleb-bleb feels good.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: This is true. (both laugh)
PAULINE OLIVEROS: This is true.
FRANK J. OTERI: This gets back to the notion of it’s not really about composition for you in the sense of your working out these parts that someone else then plays, and has to play according to what you desire. You create things that allow people to find themselves.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: This is true. It’s an interaction, it’s interactive music, not in the sense that interactive is used in technology but that I can offer a proposition, and someone else can engage in it, and engage the material in their own creative way.
FRANK J. OTERI: So this raises a whole other gamut then. Say you have a piece, and you go hear a performance of that piece, and these people worked on it. Often it may sound completely different than what you imagined.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: It might. (both laugh)
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Yeah, why not recognize that?
FRANK J. OTERI: How do you feel about that as a composer?
PAULINE OLIVEROS: I feel fine. I mean it would be very interesting to see what I have instructed, what results from the construction I made.
FRANK J. OTERI: To turn this question backwards. People say that indeterminate music sounds completely different each time someone plays it. Well, what I find more fascinating is that you can have performances that are from scores that are completely open form sounding quite similar to each other. And I find that really fascinating. John Cage always talked about divorcing intent from composition, but it’s still there, there’s still a compositional voice. I can tell when I’m hearing a Cage piece.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: I can pretty much tell that I’m hearing my music too.