The great Pauline Oliveros played her last New York concert in the spring of 2015, trading soulful accordion riffs and subtly sly musical banter with members of International Contemporary Ensemble at a since-relocated radical theatre space in Fort Greene. The inventor of the concept of deep listening had been such a force in the world of improvisation and the avant garde for so long that it seemed she’d be around forever.
She left behind an enormous body of work. Decades before locked-down musicians desperately turned to Zoom to serenade their fans or make records, Oliveros coined the term “telematic” and participated in innumerable online collaborations. One welcome rediscovery is the new vinyl album Telematic Concert, a duo performance with Argentine electronic musician Alan Courtis, originally webcast in the fall of 2009. It hasn’t hit the web yet, but as Oliveros would be quick to tell you, her work sounds best on vinyl.
This joint improvisation is divided into just two tracks, their long upward drives, swells and sustain mingling to the point where it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what. Much of this brings to mind early industrial acts like Suicide. The treble is really gaining in the mix early on: you may want to bring down the highs, especially if you’re listening on earbuds.
Courtis introduces flitting poltergeist accents, sudden, menacingly responsive drones, sounds of water and wind. A hammering interlude subsumes the accordion, but Oliveros returns resolutely to the mix. The music takes on a decidedly assaultive, disquieting edge from this point, Oliveros choosing her spots amid the looming, toxic whirlpool. The second part of the improvisation begins with its most grim interlude, rising and falling more spaciously and basically falling apart at the end: with a single coy flourish, Oliveros lets it be known she’s done.
It would be nice to hear more of her here in general, although it’s also extremely instructive to see how spaciously and methodically she approaches music this overtly dystopic. With her puckish sense of humor and finely honed improvisational reflexes matched by an unassailable calm, her own music was often dead serious, and the very definition of immersive, but seldom so macabre.