Photo by Gisela Gamper @1990/2017

In 1988, sonic pioneer Pauline Oliveros with her accordion and two colleagues — the trombonist, didgeridoo player and composer Stuart Dempster and the vocalist and composer Panaiotis — descended into an extraordinarily resonant abandoned cistern in Port Townsend, Washington. We had no plan, no written score and had no discussion beforehand. We simply improvised, played and learned that the cistern was playing with us, she said in a TEDx talk.

The title and theme of the work they made was “Deep Listening”; it became Oliveros’ life’s exploration and practice. (Suiren, from the album, is on the player below.)

Deep listening is listening in every possible way to every thing possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, of one’s own thoughts as well as musical sounds. Deep listening is my life practice.


Oliveros’ idea was to help people be fully engaged in sound and aware of the way nature, vibrations and man-made sounds interact. She eventually created “Sonic Meditations,” a set of 25 text-based instructions meant to provoke thoughtful, creative responses.“Native,” the most commonly cited example, is also the most succinct, accessible and beautiful:

Take a walk at night. Walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears.

We find it to be instantly transformative no matter when we think about it during the day.

In a 1976 interview with NPR, Oliveros describes the origins of her method:

I found myself listening to long sounds and becoming more interested in what the sound did themselves than what I would do with them. And as this work proceeded, I began to become interested in what the kind of listening I was doing did to me and my own internal processes.

ear-in-japanese from Becky Lewis

Oliveros passed away in 2016 at the age of 84. She leaves behind a pioneering body of work that teaches us to listen in a new way.

Pauline Oliveros via Sharon Stewart
Pauline Oliveros via Sharon Stewart


Top photo by visual artist Gisela Gamper who, with her husband David Gamper, participated in Oliveros’ early meditative explorations that would develop into “Deep Listening”.  Of particular interest are See Hear Now: live music and video improvisations done in collaboration with David Gamper. Watch/listen here.

We found the bottom quote in an illuminating article about Deep Listening by Sharon Stewart in the Journal of Sonic Studies.

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