6. Collaboration and Improvisation
FRANK J. OTERI: A lot of work you do, one of the things that’s so rare in western classical music is the idea of working with other composers and creating works with other composers. You said something very interesting in an article you wrote about women composers and society back in the 1970s. Of course the world has changed a great deal in 30 years, but what you said at the time I think is still relevant to gender issues to this day. Everybody is so engaged in the ego of creating a work, whether it’s a work of music, a novel, or a painting, but every human being is created by two people. I don’t think most men would think in those terms. Already there’s this collaboration. All of us are a product of collaboration. So to have this notion of a single author of a compositional work is really unnatural in a way.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Yeah. Well it’s the promotion of the individual that has come of the 19th century in heroism and so on. But music before, I mean if you go back far enough, composers were anonymous.
FRANK J. OTERI: And certainly in other cultures there are group creations of things, and in our own culture, most rock groups create the music together.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Yeah, they’ll create what they’re doing. Sure.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s interesting, jazz has now become academically acceptable, and we’ve gotten into this notion of the jazz composer, and the notion of the soloist improviser. You know, Charlie Parker‘s solos are his compositions. And yet we’ll take an ensemble and say this is Charlie Parker. Even though there are other people playing there we call it Charlie Parker’s record even though it really isn’t. There really was a group of 5 people that were playing. But that hasn’t happened yet in rock only because all these guys give names to the groups that don’t include their own names most of the time.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Well you know I have the Deep Listening Band, and we co-create what ever it is that we play. Sometimes I’ll have a title for a piece, and we use that, and it’s my piece. Sometimes Stuart [Dempster] has a title and it’s his piece, or suggestion, but then we all work it out.
FRANK J. OTERI: With the Deep Listening pieces, has anybody else ever played those pieces. Do they exist in any other form than their recordings?
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Well most of what the Deep Listening Band plays is stuff we’ve done together. We don’t broadcast it for somebody else to do.
FRANK J. OTERI: But you certainly do the pieces more than once.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Often, yeah.
FRANK J. OTERI: They are not necessarily just improvisations.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: What do you mean by ‘just improvisations’?
FRANK J. OTERI: I’m not sure how to say this! (both laugh)
PAULINE OLIVEROS: It’s interesting, isn’t it?
FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah it is.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Because there’s built-in to that particular way that you said that…
FRANK J. OTERI: Yes, you are right. You are absolutely right. How to say it? I guess replication is the issue.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: O.K., replication. What do we need that for? We’ve got recordings?
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s true, but if music is this physical act, and this communal act – we haven’t really gotten into that aspect of it – recordings wonderful though they are, divorce music from that. All of a sudden somebody could be listening to the Deep Listening Band and not deeply listening to it. They could be washing dishes to it.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: That’s right.
FRANK J. OTERI: They could be shaving to it, or whatever, or have it on a walkman on a bus, and have all these other stimuli going on at the same time. And in a way it’s sort of divorcing it from its physical root. How do you feel about that?
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Well, we have live music, and we have recorded music. And as John Cage said, you need a lifetime to listen to live music and a lifetime to listen to recorded music.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s interesting because Cage made a lot of statements against recorded music.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Yes he did.
FRANK J. OTERI: And it’s only since he’s died that there have been all these great recordings of his music. They are fabulous.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Yeah, there’s a lot of good stuff. But also what has happened is that a record is no longer just a record. It’s useful as material, and Cage has brought that about. He did it in 1942. He had a radio in one of the percussion pieces, so all of a sudden you hear a piece of music of some kind and it’s incorporated into his piece. But today, DJs think nothing of mixing together anything they want to mix.
FRANK J. OTERI: Right.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: To make something live and performed, and physical, I mean there’s a physicality to scratching and using turntables and so on. And it becomes alive again.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s a weird full circle.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: It’s no longer an artifact, but as I say, it’s material for a new creation, co-creation, appropriation, all of that. And I think it’s pretty fantastic that that’s happened, that it’s become such a wave.