SA7: The Deep Listening Issue
The Ghost Ensemble on Deep Listening
Ghost Ensemble Talks About Programming and Performing Oliveros
Deep Listening as a practice does not preclude individual compositional work by its founder, Pauline Oliveros. One of the interesting aspects of exploring the concept of Deep Listening is that a part of the practice exists on scores and in the hands of new generations of young players and ensembles. Her 80th birthday, in 2012, kicked off a trend of including her work alongside other iconoclastic composers such as Gerard Grisey, Iannis Xenakis, and Giacinto Scelsi. Groups like International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and Ghost Ensemble (featured in conversation with me in the podcast above) have realized that the Deep Listening mindset inherent in a composition like Angels and Demons can reset the performers (and audience's) ability to actively engage in listening to the music.
I spoke with four members of Ghost Ensemble at the Sound American offices on a fall Saturday afternoon, the day after supernatural themed concert of new music, which featured a work by Oliveros alongside music by Scelsi, Hildegard von Bingen, George Crumb, and two members of the ensemble. Speaking with director and accordionist, Ben Richter, flutist Martha Cargo, oboist Sky Macklay, and percussionist/electronicist Damon Loren Baker. Their experience with formal Deep Listening training varies from those that have only worked with her compositions, like Martha, to varying degrees of study like Damon and Ben, to Somna M Bulist, the groups harpist, who added comments later, which are included below.
I was interested in the perspective of performers that were treating Deep Listening more as repertoire and less as a life practice. Ghost Ensemble, because of its commitment to providing a wide range of musical experience in each concert, struck a middle ground for me. They understand the transformative element of Deep Listening contained in Pauline's text scores, while still preparing them rigorously for a performance that they hoped would be successful. Our conversation opened my eyes to ways in which Deep Listening works outside of the world of its strongest adherents, but still be effective in opening a contemporary classical audience's ears to penetrate deeper. - NW
* As mentioned above, harpist Somna M Bulist was unable to be with us for our interview. Because of her role as the leader of Oliveros' meditations when Ghost Ensemble prepared their all Pauline Oliveros concert, and her engagement in the Deep Listening practice, I am happy to include emailed comments about her experience with performing Pauline's musisc and practicing Deep Listening.
My first experience with Deep Listening was during the performance of The Tuning Meditation in 2010 where Ben, Damon and I met. We all arrived at the event, most of us were complete strangers. We were given the simple instructions and the Tuning Meditation began. We walked out of the performances with new and lasting friendships and the seeds of creative endeavors not yet known.
Preparing for the recent performances of Pauline's works:
In preparation for the recent Ghost Ensemble performances we warmed up with Deep Listening exercises for energy raising, synchronized breathing, attention awareness to variations in space and time (Extreme Slow Walk) and the Listening exercise - 10 minutes of listening.
Using the practice on other musical pursuits:
A direct result of my Deep Listening practice is strengthening a sensitivity to my instrument and widening the parameters of my creative activity. Currently I am focused on the ambient sounds of my instrument at rest. Patient listening to the duration of the harp's resonance and the receptivity of the sound box to environmental sounds are becoming creative considerations.