Pauline Oliveros — Duration

PDF

Save texts as PDFs and create your own custom mini-publication to download and print.

Generate Reader Download Reader

Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros, a pioneering electronic composer and accordionist, developed the theory and practice of “deep listening,” merging music, art, meditation, and technology.

While the duration of most human-generated sounds [is] determined by the information they communicate, musicians and sound artists working at the margins of time have created fascinating works built with sounds of extreme brief- or long-ness, from Iannis Xenakis and Curtis Roads’ micro sounds and punk rock’s energetic brevity to John Cage, Indian ragas, and Justin Bieber’s “U Smile” played at 800%.
—Jeff Thompson1

Sound art has emerged from the twentieth century and been identified as “not music”; it has arisen in the transition of music to sound. Extremes of duration have emerged as well in this transition. For example, Max Neuhaus’s sound installation in Times Square, which runs 24-7, has influenced generations of sound artists.2 Museums are now taking up the call for exhibitions of sound art. The challenge for the curators is how to shift from looking to listening or at least to find a way to balance listening and looking.

My commissioned work The Mystery Beyond Matter (2014) has no beginning and no ending. The players of the Quiet Music Ensemble in Cork, Ireland, like to play “for a long time.” I took them at their word. Duration in The Mystery Beyond Matter is the ongoingness of life. The player enters the flow of sound, whatever it is, by listening until she feels like joining. She plays by listening and stops when she feels like stopping. There is no meter, no counting, no tempo. Rather there is space.

The ensemble of five players may be joined by players listening from other spaces and locations. The sounds from the ensemble players may be sent to other places and returned in another form. Software processing creates changing sound environments, alternating from massively reverberant to barely reverberant little spaces.

Any player may be in any of these environments at any time. The distribution of each player from one environment to another is improvised algorithmically. Thus the player’s responses are to space rather than time.

The term duration became increasingly present for me in the 1960s. The concern with time in my traditionally notated music was to defeat the bar line and to defeat meter. I wanted a more timeless organic flow rather than a regimented beat.3

Tempus fugit.

I moved gradually away from conventional notation to improvisation with my acoustic instrument and into tape music.4 The duration of my electronic music was determined by the medium, that is, tape duration in which the piece recorded was either 7 1/2 inches per second = 30 minutes or 15 inches per second = 15 minutes. Some endings of pieces were rather abrupt because the tape ran out! There was no reason to stop the music other than that the medium could not continue. I was improvising all of my tape and electronic music in “real time.”5 So my pieces were often as long as the tape. Duration was a problem of the medium.

A curator who wanted to program my music asked, “Why don’t you write a short piece?” This prompted me to compose Why Don’t You Write a Short Piece? The performer enters the stage and in one concentrated moment stomps her foot. The lights go out, and she exits. This was a response to the curators who follow the convention of short pieces to fill their programs. The convention seemed to be no longer than twenty minutes. It is no coincidence that 4'33" is a good duration for a museum program!

In 1960 La Monte Young composed Composition 1960 #7, which consists of a B, an F#, a perfect fifth, and the instruction, "To be held for a long time.” The duration of this influential piece and the stasis of its content defied convention.

In my Sonic Meditations (1970–74), I shifted to composing the direction of the performer’s attention.6 Duration was determined by length of breath or by actions or was indeterminate. Musical training was not necessary to perform Sonic Meditations. Instructions were transmitted orally or in prose. Concert venues and audiences were not necessary. The pieces were not intended for curated programs and could be done as solos or with a group. If there was an audience, they were invited to participate.

To end this meditation, I consulted Tao Oracle: The Illuminated New Approach to the I Ching, which is a combination of the Eastern I Ching, the Western tarot, and art.7

Hexagram number 32, representing duration, indicates constancy, continuity, endurance, perseverance, maturity, strengthening, stability, and a deep commitment.


  1. Jeff Thompson, statement for the exhibition “Chopped and Stretched: Sounds at the Extreme of Duration,” Drift Station Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska, September 2–October 1, 2011, http://www.driftstation.org/exhibitions/chopped_and_stretched/index.php

  2. Bruce Weber, “Max Neuhaus, Who Made Aural Artwork, Dies at 69,” New York Times, February 9, 2009; Dia Art Foundation, “Max Neuhaus, Times Square,” http://www.diaart.org/sites/main/timessquare

  3. See Pauline Oliveros, “MMM: Meditation, Mandala, Music,” in Software for People: Collected Writings, 1963–80 (Baltimore: Smith; Barrytown, NY: Printed Editions, 1983). 

  4. Pauline Oliveros, Reverberations: Tape and Electronic Music, 1961–1970, Important Records, 2012, CD (box set). 

  5. Pauline Oliveros, “From Outside the Window: Electronic Sound Performance,” in The Oxford Handbook of Computer Music, ed. Roger T. Dean (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 467–72. 

  6. Pauline Oliveros, Sonic Meditations (Baltimore: Smith, 1974). 

  7. Ma Deva Padma, Tao Oracle: An Illuminated New Approach to the I Ching (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002). 


For Further Reference

Max Neuhaus, Times Square, originally installed 1977–92, reinstated May 2002. Sound installation, north end of the triangular pedestrian island at Broadway between Forty-Fifth and Forty-Sixth Streets, New York.

“Chopped & Stretched: sounds at the extremes of duration,” curated by Jeff Thompson, Drift Station Gallery, Lincoln, NE, September–October 2011.

“Soundings: A Contemporary Score,” organized by Barbara London with Leora Morinis, Museum of Modern Art, New York, August–November 2013.

“Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary,” curated by Sharon Kanach and Carey Lovelace, 2010. Venues: The Drawing Center, New York; Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Curtis Roads, Microsound (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002).

John Cage, 4'33", 1952/1953.

Dhrupad music, an ancient form of Indian classical music.

Justin Bieber, “U Smile,” 2010.

Pauline Oliveros, The Mystery Beyond Matter, 2014.

La Monte Young, Composition 1960 #7, 1960.

Pauline Oliveros, Sonic Meditations (Baltimore: Smith Publications, 1974).

See Also

Media — Pauline Oliveros

Theatricality — Raimundas Malašauskas

Theatricality — Mark Russell

Iannis Xenakis, Terretektorh, Distribution of Musicians, 1965. Collection famille Xenakis. Courtesy of the Iannis Xenakis Archives. © Iannis Xenakis.

Quiet Music Ensemble (Ireland). Commissioned and premiered Pauline Oliveros's The Mystery Beyond Matter, 2014, with funding from An Chomhairle Ealaíon / Arts Council of Ireland. From left: Ilse De Ziah, Seán Mac Erlaine, John Godfrey, Roddy O’Keeffe, Dan Bodwell. Photo: Agata Ożarowska-Nowicka.

Max Neuhaus, Times Square, originally installed 1977–92, reinstated May 2002. Sound installation, north end of the triangular pedestrian island at Broadway between Forty-Fifth and Forty-Sixth Streets, New York. Photo: Pidu Philipp Russek. Estate of Max Neuhaus.

John Cage, two pages from 4'33" (original version, in proportional notation), 1952/1953. Ink on paper, 11 x 8 1/2" each sheet. Acquired by The Museum of Modern Art through the generosity of Henry Kravis in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis. © 1993 Henmar Press Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission of C. F. Peters Corporation. Photo © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

Paul Chan, Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, 2007. Photo: Frank Aymami. Courtesy of Creative Time.

Andrea Fraser, Projection, 2008. Still from a 2-channel HD video projection installation. © Andrea Fraser. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nagel Draxler.

David Levine, Bystanders, 2015. Installation view, Gallery TPW, Toronto. Performer: William Ellis. Photo: Guntar Kravis.

VALIE EXPORT, TAPP und TASTKINO (Tap and touch cinema), 1968. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Bildrecht, Vienna. Photo © Werner Schulz.

My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), Broke People’s Baroque Peoples’ Theater, 2010. Courtesy of Alexandro Segade.

Richard Maxwell, Neutral Hero, 2012. The Kitchen, New York. From left: Janet Coleman, Bob Feldman, Lakpa Bhutia, Andie Springer, Jean Ann Garrish. Photo © Paula Court.

Miguel Gutierrez and Tarek Halaby in Gutierrez's Last Meadow, 2009. Dance Theater Workshop, New York, September 2009. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Mac Wellman, Muazzez, 2014. Performer: Steve Mellor. Chocolate Factory Theater, Queens, New York (a co-presentation with PS 122). Photo: Brian Rogers.

Janine Antoni, Yours Truly, 2010. Ink on paper, 5 7/8 x 8 1/2”. © Janine Antoni. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Yvonne Rainer, score for “Trio B: Running,” from The Mind Is a Muscle, 1966–68. Graphite and ink on paper, 8 5/16 x 7 5/16". The Getty Research Institute. © Yvonne Rainer.

Susan Leigh Foster, The Ballerina’s Phallic Pointe, 2011, a performed lecture in the series Susan Foster! Susan Foster! Three Performed Lectures, produced by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and performed at the Philadelphia Live Arts Studio, 2011. Photo: Jorge Cousineau.

Opening performance of the exhibition “Trisha Brown: So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing,” Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2008. Brown improvises movements across a large piece of paper on the Medtronic Gallery floor, holding charcoal and pastel between her fingers and toes, drawing extemporarily. Photo: Gene Pittman for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Allora & Calzadilla, Sediments Sentiments (Figures of Speech), 2007. Mixed-media installation with live performance and pre-recorded sound track, dimensions variable. © Allora & Calzadilla. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Martha Rosler, Meta-Monumental Garage Sale, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Lucinda Childs, Pastime (1963), 2012, performed by Childs at Danspace as part of Platform 2012: "Judson Now." Photo © Ian Douglas.

Siobhan Davies and Helka Kaski, Manual, 2013. Photo © Alan Dimmick. Courtesy of Glasgow Life.

“Performance Now,” curated by RoseLee Goldberg. Installation view, Kraków Theatrical Reminiscences, Poland, 2014. Photo: Michal Ramus. Courtesy of Independent Curators International (ICI).

Steve Paxton, Intravenous Lecture (1970), 2012. Performed by Stephen Petronio with Nicholas Sciscione. Part of Platform 2012: “Judson Now,” curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor, Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Installation view, “Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham—Robert Raschenberg,” curated by Darsie Alexander at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2011. Photo: Gene Pittman for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Chief Dalcour and the Serenity Peace Birds in “Public Practice: An Anti-Violence Community Ceremony,” curated by Delaney Martin and Claire Tancons for New Orleans Airlift, October 25, 2014. Photo: Josh Brasted.

Ain Gordon and David Gordon, The Family Business, premiered 1993. Performers: David Gordon, Ain Gordon, Valda Setterfield. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein. Courtesy of the photographer and Pick Up Performance Co(s).

Hotel Modern, Kamp, 2005. Photo: Herman Helle.

Janine Antoni, Anna Halprin, and Stephen Petronio, Rope Dance, 2015. Photo © Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy of the artists and The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia.

Sarah Michelson, Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer, 2012 Whitney Biennial, February 26, 2012. Photo © Paula Court. Performers: Eleanor Hullihan and Nicole Mannarino.

Ralph Lemon, How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?, 2009. Archival print from original film. © Ralph Lemon.

Pope.L, The Great White Way, 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street (Whitney version), 2001. © Pope.L. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Photo: Lydia Grey.

Iannis Xenakis, Terretektorh, Distribution of Musicians, 1965. Collection famille Xenakis. Courtesy of the Iannis Xenakis Archives. © Iannis Xenakis.

Lisa Bielawa, Chance Encounter, premiered 2007. Co-conceived with Susan Narucki. Photo: Corey Brennan, 2010, Rome.

Claudia La Rocco, 173-177 [or, Facebook Is Inescapable], 2013. Headlands Center for the Arts. Courtesy of José Carlos Teixeira.

Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal, Palermo, Palermo, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1991. Photo: Maarten Vanden Abeele.

Tomás Saraceno, Observatory, Air-Port-City, 2008. In “Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on Architecture,” curated by Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery, London. Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York.

Christian Marclay, Chalkboard, 2010, paint and chalk, 210 x 1,045 inches. Installation view, “Christian Marclay: Festival,” 2010, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Collection of the artist; courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Christian Marclay.

Steven Schick at the “Peacock” in the Paul Dresher Ensemble Production of Schick Machine, 2009, by Paul Dresher, Steven Schick, and Rinde Eckert. Mondavi Center, UC Davis, Davis, CA. Photo: Cheung Chi Wai.

Ralph Lemon in An All Day Event: The End, part of Platform 2012: “Parallels.” Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Installation view, “Allison Smith: Rudiments of Fife & Drum,” The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT. Photo: Chad Kleitsch. Courtesy of The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

David Levine, Habit, 2012. Installation view, Luminato Festival, Toronto, 2011. Photo: David Levine.

Meredith Monk, Shards (1969–73), 2012. Part of Platform 2012: “Judson Now,” curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor, Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Berlin, Bonanza, 2006. A documentary project focusing on Bonanza, Colorado, population 7. © Berlin. berlinberlin.be.

Gob Squad, Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good), 2007. Photo © David Baltzer / bildbuehne.de / Agentur Zenit Berlin.

Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, Hole in Space, 1980. On screens in front of Lincoln Center and The Broadway department store in Los Angeles, passersby could see and talk to their counterparts on the opposite coast, and many “reunions” were quickly set up, in this early example of video conferencing. Courtesy of the Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway Archives.

Hans Haacke, News, 1969/2005. Installation view, “State of the Union,” Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 2005. © Hans Haacke / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Pauline Oliveros, circa 1967. Courtesy of the CCM Archive, Mills College, Oakland, CA.

The Builders Association, Elements of Oz, 2015. Photo: Gennadi Novash. Courtesy of Peak Performances @ Montclair State University.

Ain Gordon, A Disaster Begins, 2009. Veanne Cox. Here Arts Center, New York. Photo: Jason Gardner. Courtesy of the photographer and Pick Up Performance Co(s).

The Wooster Group, BRACE UP!, 1991. Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte. Anna Köhler (on monitor) and Willem Dafoe. Photo © Mary Gearhart.

Joanna Haigood and Charles Trapolin, The Monkey and the Devil, performance installation, 2011. Performers: Matthew Wickett, Sean Grimm, Jodi Lomask. Photo: Walter Kitundu.

Jarbas Lopes, Demolition Now, in “SPRING,” curated by Claire Tancons for the 7th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, 2008. Photo: Akiko Ota.

Lisa Bielawa, Crissy Broadcast (part of Airfield Broadcasts), San Francisco, 2013. Photo: James Block.

Erwin Wurm, One Minute Sculpture, 1997/2005. © Erwin Wurm. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid, 1981. Photo: Peter Hujar. The Peter Hujar Archive. Courtesy of Pace MacGill and Fraenkel Galleries.

Wu Tsang with Alexandro Segade, Mishima in Mexico, 2012. Color HD video, 14:32 minutes. Courtesy of the artists, Clifton Benevento (New York), Michael Benevento (Los Angeles), and Isabella Bortolozzi (Berlin).

Young Jean Lee, Untitled Feminist Show, 2012. Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York, 2012. Hilary Clark, Regina Rocke, and Katy Pyle. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.

Romeo Castellucci, On the Concept of the Face Regarding the Son of God, 2010. Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, 2013. Photo: Kevin Monko.

Jérôme Bel, Le dernier spectacle (The last performance), 1998. Photo: Herman Sorgeloos.

Troubleyn / Jan Fabre, Mount Olympus, 2015. Performance lasts 24 hours. Photo © Wonge Bergmann for Troubleyn / Jan Fabre.

Siobhan Davies Studios, Roof Studio, London. Photo: Peter Cook.

Emily Roysdon, Sense and Sense (a project with MPA), Sergels torg, Stockholm, Sweden, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

David Lang’s home studio. Photo © Jorge Colombo.

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1964 (replica of 1913 original). Wheel and painted wood. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of the Galleria Schwarz d’Arte, Milan, 1964. © Succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2016.

Historical interpreters from Freetown Living History Museum, as part of Allison Smith’s 2008 project The Donkey, The Jackass, and The Mule, with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo: Allison Smith and Michelle Pemberton.

Rimini Protokoll, Situation Rooms, 2013. Photo © Ruhrtriennale / Jörg Baumann.

Jeanine Oleson and Ellen Lesperance, We Like New York and New York Likes Us, 2004. A “wry look back” at Joseph Beuys’s performance with a coyote, I Like America and America Likes Me, René Block Gallery, New York, 1974. Courtesy of the artists.

Christine Hill, Volksboutique Organizational Ventures, 2001. Mixed-media installation, Kunstverein Wolfsburg, Germany. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

Andrea Fraser, Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk, 1989. Performance. Performance documentation: Kelly & Massa Photography. Courtesy of the artist. © Andrea Fraser.

Theaster Gates, Dorchester Projects, Chicago, 2012. © Theaster Gates. Photo © Sara Pooley. Courtesy of White Cube.

John Cage, two pages from 4'33" (original version, in proportional notation), 1952/1953. Ink on paper, 11 x 8 1/2" each sheet. Acquired by The Museum of Modern Art through the generosity of Henry Kravis in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis. © 1993 Henmar Press Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission of C. F. Peters Corporation. Photo © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

Yoko Ono, Painting For The Wind, summer 1961. First published in Yoko Ono: Grapefruit (Tokyo: Wunternaum Press, July 4, 1964). © Yoko Ono.

Rosemary Lee, Square Dances, 2011, commissioned by Dance Umbrella. Square Dances took place in four central London squares throughout a day, with different casts in each: 10 children in Woburn Square, 100 women in Gordon Square, 35 men in Brunswick Gardens, 25 dance students in Queen Square. Each performance involved bells, ranging from a huge church bell that struck every minute; to a handmade musical instrument using bells within its barrel structure, created and composed by Terry Mann; to tiny hand bells for the dancers. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

Joanna Haigood and Wayne Campbell, Ghost Architecture, 2004. An aerial dance installation centering on the architectural and social history of the site. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

Ann Hamilton, the event of a thread, 2012–13. Park Avenue Armory, New York. Curated by Kristy Edmunds. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Robert Wilson and Marina Abramović, The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, premiered 2011. Park Avenue Armory, New York, 2013. Foreground: Willem Dafoe. Photo: Joan Marcus. Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

Richard Maxwell, Neutral Hero, 2012. The Kitchen, New York. From left: Janet Coleman, Bob Feldman, Lakpa Bhutia, Andie Springer, Jean Ann Garrish. Photo © Paula Court.

Ann Liv Young, The Bagwell in Me, 2008. Photo: Scott Newman, Revel in New York.

Xavier Le Roy, “Retrospective,” 2012–. Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, 2012. Photo: Lluís Bover. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies.

Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid, 1981. Photo: Peter Hujar. The Peter Hujar Archive. Courtesy of Pace MacGill and Fraenkel Galleries.

David Levine, Habit, 2012. Installation view, Luminato Festival, Toronto, 2011. Photo: David Levine.

Rimini Protokoll, 100% Yogyakarta, 2015. Teater Garasi, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia. © Goethe-Institut Indonesien / KDIP Viscom.

Bebe Miller Company, A History, 2012. Angie Hauser and Darrell Jones. Photo: Michael Mazzola.