Copyright © 1988 Folke Rabe and the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation.
Public reproduction - wholly or in part - without the written consent of the copyright owner prohibited.
FOLKE RABE: FROM HOPEFULNESS TO WHAT? Program 1/5, manuscript.
Premier broadcast: 10th February 1988, Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 2. Light adaptation for the Internet publication.
Tonight Studio Onsdag [The Wednesday Studio: a program with contemporary music] commences a new series; five programs under the heading of From Hopefulness to What? Folke Rabe will present a 20-year perspective on an American generation of composers, and tonight we will pay special attention to Pauline Oliveros. But, Folke Rabe, how was it really then - twenty years ago, in the 60s - when it all began?
Yes, those were the days!
Collage of music and voices from the 1960s: (Ramon Sender: Desert Ambulance, Robert Erickson: General Speech, Morton Subotnick: UCLA, Terry Riley: I Can't Stop, No, Beatles: It's Getting Better All The Time.
Yes, it was an exciting period, the 60s in America - and in Europe too, for that matter. Here, in order of mentioning, talking about the 60s as a time of unrestrained experimenting and an enormous creativity, we heard Ramon Sender, Robert Erickson, Morton Subotnick, Anna Halprin and Terry Riley. It was a time when you tore down walls and broke limits to open and liberate resources, maybe not with such a strong sense of responsibility, but so what? There was hopefulness and a belief in the future; that everything would get better.
/The Beatles, fade in: -----"getting so much better all the time"----/
It was a time of optimism and lots of energy. A time when the lines between different cultures were erased, when it was possible to make wild experiments with considerable poetic qualities even within the most commercial forms. The Beatles and Bob Dylan left their marks on this decade.
Right at the beginning of the 60s I got my first American friends; musicians and theatre people traveling Europe. They were composers like Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley and Morton Subotnick, theatre people like Ken Dewey and Anna Halprin. They had fantastic tales to tell, especially about what happened on the West Coast, at the time totally unknown in Europe. It sounded like fairytales. They spoke about illustrious mixed forms of theater, stage design and music, like The Tropical Fish Opera (I'll get to that in a while). The tape recordings I got to hear confirmed the impression of flowing fantasy and a liberating irreverence.
All this differed pleasantly from the European avant-garde of the day, as it emerged from summer courses in Darmstadt and mighty German radio stations, where the music - with few exceptions - felt very rigid and conceited. It veiled itself in a quasi-scientific jargon, and oftentimes you got the impression that the analysis was more important than how the music sounded. The new American signals constituted a real contrast to that attitude.
In 1965 it was due! With the support of a travel grant I headed across the Atlantic in an old Icelandic prop, arrived in the USA and remained there almost half a year, most of the time in New York and San Francisco. I fraternized with young composers, musicians and other artists, with whom I also collaborated. It was mighty stimulating, and I got impressions that - in hindsight - became life deciding; affected my thoughts and deeds the years right after and all the way up till today.
Twenty years later I went on a second extended USA trip, this time to give lectures, but I also took the opportunity to search out and re-visit as many as possible of my good old friends. I brought up the same subject with each and everyone of them: what has happened during these twenty years and in what ways is the situation different compared to then? I thought this might bring some order to my own confusion. Simultaneously I taped all the conversations to maybe be able to use them for radio - and that's how it's going to be.
These interviews are the basis for a series of programs that has just started - here and now - to continue four consecutive Wednesdays on ahead, same time, same channel. I will portray the various composers and we will hear a good deal of their music. I also believe that the sum of these individual fates will reflect characteristic attitudes and aims during the second half of the 20th century. In the final program I will try to sum up the somewhat dissipated picture.
Naturally, the perspective is American, but I don't think it'll be too hard to translate it into our own conditions. The Western musical pond isn't large enough that it will make you lose your bearings. A duck at one end often has a corresponding duck at the other end, somewhat like Shitville and the Great Royal Capital.
But which composers will appear, some may ask. No reason to hold back. Those that I've interviewed are John Cage, Robert Erickson, Malcolm Goldstein, Charlie Morrow, Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick - and we will meet them all, albeit with a little tilt towards the West Coast musicians, simply because I have more to tell and play when it comes to them. Peripherally we will also encounter musicians like Stuart Dempster, Steve Reich and La Monte Young and also Anna Halprin, mostly known as a dance theater person.
Tonight we start with clearing the stage for --- Pauline Oliveros.
ENTRY 2, RECORD:
Pauline Oliveros: Sound Patterns for Mixed Chorus (1961), 4'00''
I first met Pauline Oliveros in Holland in the fall of 1962, at the Gaudeamus Festival in Bilthoven. We each had a choral work performed at the same concert, and hers was the piece we just heard, Sound Patterns from 1961, here in a recording with the Brandeis University Chamber Chorus conducted by Alvin Lucier. Sound Patterns, by the way, won Pauline the Gaudeamus Foundation's Prize, so it became a kind of breakthrough for her.
We spent an afternoon on a glass porch at an old ragged café in Bilthoven, and Pauline produced one tale after another about what they were doing in San Francisco, like, for instance, The Tropical Fish Opera. In consisted of a sizeable, illuminated aquarium placed in the center of a dark hall with the audience spread around it. They had painted checkered patterns on the glass walls of the aquarium, and in front of each side a musician had taken up position. When the beautiful, plenty colored tropical fish in the aquarium swam past the painted graphical patterns, a kind of notes appeared. The musicians interpreted the movements of the fish musically. Tradition has it that there has been a scent opera too
Pauline Oliveros was born in Texas in 1932, which one can't miss, hearing her southern drawl. She comes across in originality, small and stocky and often wearing some kind of weird hat, like a Vega cap embroidered with pearls, in an appearance of a weathered, exotic seafarer, just ashore.
Pauline started out as a French horn player and accordionist, but she moved to San Francisco in the early 1950s, studying composition with Robert Erickson along with Loren Rush, Terry Riley and Stuart Dempster. The group grew to include Morton Subotnick, Ramon Sender and the visual artist Tony Martin. It was basically that gang that made, among other things, fish and scent operas.
However, the San Francisco establishment wouldn't allow you that degree of imagination. They were expelled from the Conservatory where they had performed their works, and so decided to create their own platform: The San Francisco Tape Music Center - a concert stage and electronic music studio combined. They shared the house with Ann Halprin's Dancers' Workshop; a dance and theatre group which was at least as imaginative and unbounded.
When I met Pauline again in San Francisco 1965, she had started staging small theatre pieces for musicians, in which animals, one way or another, were involved. Pauline has always lived in an intense relationship with nature, and likes to surround herself with unusual animals.
In one of those theater pieces she and pianist David Tudor sat at opposite ends of a long seesaw, armed with accordion and bandoneon, respectively. A mynah bird was included in the specially designed scenario. That is an Indian mocking-bird, i.e. a bird with a great talent for imitating voices and other sounds. The idea was that the bird with luck would take part in the music from the two bellows instruments.
A little later Pauline realized that these theater pieces from the 60s consistently had had a dual form: the function of the first part was to stir confusion, in audience as well as performers, to dissolve old patterns of behavior. The second part could then, so to speak, begin from scratch and take a different direction.
Interview with Pauline Oliveros, 1985, New York: "A lot of my theatre pieces would be provocative." 1'38"
So the function of the theatre pieces was to achieve a change of attitudes, while also being fun, confusing and provocative.
Towards the conclusion of the 60s, Pauline devoted quite a bit of time to electronic music. Robert Erickson - her teacher - had simultaneously become Professor of Composition at the University of California in San Diego, close to the Mexican border. The prerequisites for creating a center for new music were at hand there. Pauline was enrolled as a teacher and later became the chief for the special experimentation center.
She formed a group of female musicians and dancers who toured quite extensively. She is also a well-known feminist. I visited her in San Diego in 1972, when we meditated together, singing low tones with different timbres. Pauline achieved magnificent bass tones with partly oscillating vocal cords - a technique that the Germans call Strohbass - and she laughingly stated that she'd caught up with the men in the low registers.
Meanwhile the character of her music changed, became meditative, looking inwards toward individual aspects of the musical process and into ways of direction your attention. These exercises are published as Sonic Meditations.
Interview with Pauline Oliveros, 1985, New York: My work after the Sixties ritual and ceremonial nature.
In some compositions with a ritual character from the 70s Pauline Oliveros used mandala as an aid for concentration; graphs or geometrical figures - important cult objects in northern Buddhism and in Hinduism. One of her ceremonial works that caught the most attention was Bonn Feier, a grand scale outdoor work with many participants that the City of Bonn commissioned from her 1977, and for which she received the city's Beethoven Prize.
This tilt towards Eastern culture is probably rather characteristic for Californian artists. In spite of the great ocean the influences from the West are strong, especially in San Francisco, naturally, where Chinatown is the largest Chinese settlement outside Asia.
Pauline has involved herself in karate for many years, and she is since long a master, with a black belt. There are those who think that her interest in karate has to do with her feminism, but the fact is rather that she considers karate a form of meditation.
Pauline left the University in San Diego in 1981 and moved to New York, where she works as an independent composer, musician, lecturer and writer. Without compromising her convictions, she is now a respected cultural personality, upholds positions of trust, is consulted as an adviser and travels extensively worldwide.
Since becoming a free musician, she has taken up her accordion playing again, and performs more and more as an accordion soloist, using the instrument to a high degree in her music, certainly in a piece from 1983 called The Wanderer, for an orchestra of 22 accordions plus percussion.
Pauline Oliveros: The Wanderer (1983), a live recording with an anonymous ensemble, circa 4'.
Yes, this was a short sample from The Wanderer by Pauline Oliveros, a piece, which in its entirety is considerably longer. Pauline has recently purchased an accordion which is specially tuned to just intonation - i.e., non-tempered. Her music of late often builds on drawn-out intervals. With a lot in common with classical Indian music, so an intensified attention to intonation logically emerges.
The same night we had our conversation Pauline had had a commission premiered. It's called The Lion's Eye, written for the gamelan ensemble The Son of Lion in New York, a characteristic occurrence of late. Gamelan is a traditional ceremonial and theatre music of Indonesia and Malaysia, performed on tuned metal percussion instruments. Gamelan ensembles have become something of a movement in the USA in later years, somewhat like the balalaika orchestras have become in Sweden, albeit with different preconceptions.
Pauline Oliveros: The Lion's Eye (1985), Gamelan The Son of Lion, recorded at the premier in New York 15 March 1985.
A sample from the premier of Pauline Oliveros' gamelan composition The Lion's Eye. The piece in its entirety has a duration of 45 minutes.
Pauline describes her current music in the 80s as eclectic. She picks and chooses and borrows among styles and types of ensembles to find the most fitting in various contexts. At the time of our conversation she worked with one of her dance projects. Those have become many over the years. Recently she has had a very productive collaboration with the choreographer Deborah Hay. This time Gagaku musicians were included in the ensemble; traditional Japanese court music, in addition to accordions and more common Western instruments. All in all 60 people participated, including the dancers.
Interview with Pauline Oliveros, 1985 New York: Next month I'm going tremendously abundant time." 1'50
Twenty years ago it was all about developing a personal style. That isn't important for Pauline Oliveros any more. Some of her music of today may not be recognizable as an expression of her individuality. It deals more with taking part in the enormous richness and abundance of our time.
Asked what has fueled her development in this direction, Pauline mentioned how so many cultures have come close to us through the colossal mobility; traveling and new media.
Interview with Pauline Oliveros, 1985 New York: Well, I mean ..it precipitates change." 0'49
And of course the giant technological acceleration, which moves us into new ways of thinking and reacting. All this expedites change, Pauline Oliveros said.
We will conclude this initial portrait in our series on the American 60s through the eyes of the 80s by listening to a longer, unabridged piece of music by Pauline Oliveros.
Her first collaboration with the dancer Deborah Hay is called The Well. Since they started the work on this composition in 1982, it has gradually grown into a grand scale work in several parts. Different versions of the music for The Well have been released on a double vinyl album on the label Hat Art, and we will listen to an almost 20 minutes long piece from that recording, with the same title as the work as a whole. Namely - The Well.
It is the Relâche Ensemble from Philadelphia who plays. It is a mixed group with a woman's voice, flute, clarinet, two saxophones, piano, accordion, cello, percussion - and of course Pauline Oliveros as an accordion soloist.
There is a text that comes with The Well, starting like this:
A city can be moved, but not a well! The prevalent images in The Well are wood, water and earth and the sign speaks of the inexhaustible dispensing of nourishment. A well is also, literally, a fixed, natural source of replenishment and a meeting-place for members of a community. It is a rich metaphor for social and political notions, as well as for natural and creative processes.
ENTRY 9, RECORD:
Pauline Oliveros: The Well, 19'50"
- THE END -
English translation: Ingvar Loco Nordin