Worldwide Collaborators, Both Listening and Playing

Worldwide Collaborators, Both Listening and Playing

Date posted: 2007-08-27 16:08:00

From left: Norman Adams, Pauline Oliveros and John D.S. Adam.

Published: August 23, 2007

Many people are often uncertain which verb to apply to their experience of attending a concert. "I saw a concert," one says, then catches himself: "No, I heard it."

For the 75-year-old composer Pauline Oliveros, the best choice would be the more active "I listened to it." The distinction between listening and mere passive hearing has been a focus of her activities for decades; in 1985 she founded something called the Deep Listening Institute.

And listening was at the center of both pieces she brought to Lincoln Center Out of Doors on Tuesday night. A set she performed with three other musicians, called the Extreme High Risk Entertainment System, had each player responding to the others' sounds both acoustically and electronically, using computers to mold their own phrases and sometimes one another's.

This was preceded by a "Worldwide Tuning Meditation." The instructions, available as a rain-flecked handout around the south side of Lincoln Center Plaza, were: Inhale deeply; exhale on the note of your choice; listen to the sounds around you, and match your next note to one of them; on your next breath make a note no one else is making; repeat. Call it listening out loud.

Ms. Oliveros called the hourlong event a "sonic gesture of peace," and its aim of universality — meditations from sites around the world were piped in live through speakers — gave it the stamp of '60s idealism.

But the more interesting point was the focus on listening as a sound-producing activity. In the ragged circle of people on folding chairs in the plaza, those who closed their eyes as they intoned missed nothing; there was nothing to "see" beyond three lighted tents sheltering tables of computers and sound equipment. You could say the performance was all in the heads, and from the heads, of those who were there.

The same principle governed the Extreme High Risk performance, which was like watching someone else's meditation: watching even more than listening, since the spirit of the '60s was here invoked by equipment failure that knocked out Ione, a spoken-word artist, for a good chunk of the piece while techies fumbled with wires and finally provided her with an old-fashioned mike stand. Ms. Oliveros, on accordion, and Norman Adams, on cello, played their timbres off against each other while John D. S. Adams merged and refracted their sounds through a filter of electronic bubblings and spits and pops.

"This is the next frontier," one listener said. But it seemed more a re-enactment, even an allegory, of the past: a frontier 40 years old, still manned, but shrunk , on this wet night, by a tougher, colder climate.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues through Monday; (212) 546-2656;

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Coming at a moment of profound political and social crisis, What is Democracy reflects on a word we often take for granted.  Join Filmmaker Astra Taylor for a media and activism workshop from 4:00 to 5:30 PM on Studio Beta at EMPAC, and screen the film later that evening at the Sanctuary for Indepndent Media in Troy.