A New Documentary Meditates on Texan Electronic Composer Pauline Oliveros

Celebrate the queer theorist behind Deep Listening this Sunday at AFS

The Texas premiere of Deep Listening: The Story of Pauline Oliveros takes place on Nov. 12 at 6pm at Austin Film Society (Courtesy of Daniel Weintraub)

Heloise Gold first met Pauline Oliveros at one of the influential composer's concerts in New York in the mid-Seventies. Gold, now an Austin-based experimental dancer and choreographer, had already been studying Oliveros' 1971 Sonic Meditations handbook.

"I went to a concert, and that was the first moment that really clicked," says Gold. "The next time we met, she came to Austin in 1983 or '84, playing for the Deborah Hay Dance Company. There were four women at that time in the company, [including myself]. Pauline and I just had a lot in common, including just being very playful with each other."

Born in Houston, Oliveros established the disciplinary-crossing concept of deep listening, self-described as "a way of listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing." The practice guided the queer Texan's career in electronic music, teaching, and far beyond. Alongside Oliveros' wealth of ambient recordings, like her 1989 album Deep Listening, new documentary Deep Listening: The Story of Pauline Oliveros captures her life.

“She wanted to teach people how to really listen with the whole body, and let that be the instrument first. So we would spend hours laying on these beautiful boulders and just listen.” – Heloise Gold

The film's Texas premiere lands on Sunday, Nov. 12, at Austin Film Society as part of the theatre's Doc Nights series. Austin-based Gold, a longtime collaborator of Oliveros, joins a post-screening Q&A in person with director Daniel Weintraub. Oliveros' life partner, Ione, and the musician Stuart Dempster of the Deep Listening Band will also join via Zoom. Hosted by Tara Bhattacharya, the group will remember their influential friend Oliveros, who died in 2016.

After working together in Austin, Gold and Oliveros went on to run deep listening retreats with Ione from 1991 to 2015. The six-day dives took place at Gold's brother's ranch in New Mexico.

"It's called Rose Mountain, high up in the wilderness, off the grid," says Gold, also a tai chi instructor and co-founding director of local nonprofit Art From the Streets. "We were offering what we call the three modalities, which was Pauline's listening work, Ione's dream work, and my movement work. Pauline did so much listening up there, and created so many scores. It was very organic.

"In the very early retreats, Pauline asked any of the musicians who were coming to leave their instruments at home, which was pretty profound. She wanted to teach people how to really listen with the whole body, and let that be the instrument first. So we would spend hours laying on these beautiful boulders and just listen."

The documentary also features musical friends and admirers like Laurie Anderson, Terry Riley, and Thurston Moore, and found early support from actor/filmmaker Steve Buscemi. Q&A host Bhattacharya is known for bringing international sound artists to Austin as Antumbra Intermedia Events, recently at spaces like Co-Lab Projects and Hotel Vegas. She says Oliveros' deep listening has been essential to her own musical exploration.

"She turned the traditional music establishment approach on their heads and revolutionized the art of listening [...] with consciousness and empathy," says Bhattacharya via text. "I was raised as a classical music kid and reading, writing, and listening to classical music. I had no teacher, instructor, nor mentor who ever provided me with the heart, warmth, nor depth of understanding of sound to which Pauline has."

Deep Listening: The Story of Pauline Oliveros, Sun. Nov. 12, 6pm, AFS Cinema, 6259 Middle Fiskville. Tickets at austinfilm.org.

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Pauline Oliveros, Deep Listening: The Story of Pauline Oliveros, Austin Film Society, Heloise Gold, Daniel Weintraub, Tara Bhattachary

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