Pauline Oliveros, composer, performer and humanitarian is an important pioneer in American Music. Acclaimed internationally, for four decades she has explored sound — forging new ground for herself and others. Through improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation she has created a body of work with such breadth of vision that it profoundly effects those who experience it and eludes many who try to write about it.
Interview with Pauline Oliveros by Susie Ibarra
It has always been an honor, a gift and inspiration to perform music with Pauline Oliveros as well as participate and hear her deep listening practice. I had the wonderful opportunity to hear about one of her latest projects in which she is developing software for disabled children to experience the joy of exploring sound and music. Her compassionate sensibility to make inclusion a very important part of music making is infectious, inspiring and yielding progressive programs that could benefit children and schools all over.
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SI: Can you tell us about your project Improvisation Across Abilities Adaptive Use. How did you begin with this idea?
PO: AUMI began with conversations with my drummer friend Leaf Miller. Leaf is also an occupational therapist working for 22 years at Abilities First in Poughkeepsie. Leaf told me about how she was using drum circles at the school with her students who all have disabilities. She wanted to find technology that would enable all of the children to participate. DLI got a grant from the Malcolm S. Morse Foundation to begin to solve this technical problem. I asked Leaf to show us three students with the least possibility to participate. All three were confined to wheel chairs, could not speak and could only move their heads a little bit.
I assembled a team from DLI, RPI and went to Abilities First to observe the students. Our team member – a senior student at RPI in the Electronic Media and Communications program (EMAC), programmed a camera tracking system. This allowed for students to sit in front of the computer and see an image of themselves. There was a vertical line in the prototype. A virtual marker placed on the nose image allowed for the students to make sound when they moved their heads laterally. All were successful instantly.
Now the AUMI has been refined so that there are different options for movement and there are all kinds of instrumental and environmental sounds available in the patch for selection.
SI: Your work to bring music to disabled children and adults is inventive, thoughtful, compassionate and inspiring. Can you share some of the experiences you have had in these music workshops?
PO: This software enables tracking of the slightest movements to make sound happen. One little boy could not move his head so Jaclyn Heyen, music technologist who assists Leaf, tracked his tongue with the marker. Soon he was playing with his tongue! Later he began to move his head. He is an enthusiastic member of the drum class! Jackie also tracked just breathing by placing the marker on the chest of one of the children who could not move at all.
SI: Which instrumental sounds are used in the software program?
PO: All kinds. The sounds are of a variety of percussion instruments as well as all other classes of instruments and noises. You can download the software from deeplistening.org and try the sounds for yourself.
SI: Will we be hearing a new ensemble of yours with this soon?
PO: On June 15 at Greenwich House Music School we will have a panel presentation on AUMI and a concert that will involve the students from Abilities First. Leaf Miller will do a solo on the AUMI software. She has become an expert on playing AUMI! The panel and performance is part of EMS11 a conference on Electroacoustic music.
SI: What plans do you have for this project?
PO: Currently we are developing a training program that will help other schools and centers to adopt the software and improvisation as an integral part of their programs. (More Info)
SI: How has this project affected you as a person, a compose, improviser?
PO: This project has affected me deeply and increased my desire to work with inclusion as a principle in my musical work.
SI: What possibilities or hopes do you have for these communities and what the program could bring in schools?
PO: My hope is to open a creative portal for all in schools anywhere and everywhere to share the joy of sound exploration and music. Children are natural improvisers. This natural sense of wonder and exploration should be encouraged through providing supportive environments and resources. Happy children make happy communities.