It was bound to happen. I knew the holiday bliss established over the weekend would inevitably melt away and it would be back to business at usual here in Corporate Hell. So here I am working on my presentations and hating every second of it. Time to plug in and tune out, this time with a little electronica WTF? weirdness in the form of the ‘Accordion & Voice‘ album by Pauline Oliveros.
Yes, an album featuring simply an accordion and voice can be weird.
Trust me here.
Let’s begin with Oliveros herself. Pauline Oliveros (b. 1930) is an accordionist and composer who currently resides in Kingston, New York. She is a central figure in post-war electronic art music, Oliveros is one of the original members of the San Francisco Tape Music Center (along with Morton Subotnick, Ramon Sender, Terry Riley, and Anthony Martin), which was the resource on the U.S. west coast for electronic music during the 1960s. The Center later moved to Mills College, where she was its first director, and is now called the Center for Contemporary Music. Oliveros often improvises with the Expanded Instrument System, an electronic signal processing system she designed, in her performances and recordings. This album is her first recording as a soloist.
Critic John Rockwell’s review of a New York performance of Horse Sings From Cloud offers a concise and insightful summary of Pauline Oliveros’ aesthetic:
“The music…is built up of the simplest of ingredients. In a sense, it is the experience of the piece and its essential sounds that interest her more than the compositional deployment of those sounds….It might not seem to be ‘music’ at all, but some vaguely therapeutic ritual. Oliveros means it to be just that; for her the implied politics of a concert are at least as important as the tangible aural result.”
Oliveros’ aim is for audiences to experience the musical event as an opportunity for personal, and even social change, and not as entertainment, or as a commodity. ‘Horse Sings From Cloud‘ (presented in 3 parts), for example, invites the listener to surrender to the music’s static surface and experience it on a purely visceral level, without the analytical, logical filter through which most Western music is perceived. The listener’s acceptance or rejection of this approach to music will determine his or her appreciation of the album. The accordion’s long-held notes, chords, and clusters, accompanied by Oliveros’ gentle singing, can be heard either as a serene, aural Zen-like opportunity to empty oneself of expectations and experience the sound purely for its own sake, or as simply monotonous. ‘Rattlesnake Mountain‘ achieves a similar effect by very different means. It’s in constant motion, full of grace notes and rapid figures, but they move within a harmonic stasis that precludes any traditional sense of development. Oliveros’ work should be of strong interest to fans of avant-garde, and to adventurous listeners willing to listen in non-traditional ways.
What this all means is that it’s the perfect ambiance for concentrating at my desk while blocking out all the other bullshit going on at the other desks around me.