Posted on March 22nd 2019

The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

I've been diving into the music and writing of the late Pauline Oliveros, composer, improviser and visionary. Here is a one-minute clip of Oliveros discussing the connection between listening and consciousness and why the term "ear-training" is wrong:

In her book Deep Listening: A Composer's Sound Practice, Oliveros writes, "My training in music was generally centered on techniques for how to perform and appreciate music of the past. This type of education is generally true for most music students. Encouragement for composition or improvising and appreciation for new music was almost nonexistent in my earliest musical training. Most students do not realize that they have creative potential to make their own music as well as learning to perform traditional music."

Oliveros developed the practice of Deep Listening when she noticed, "many musicians were not listening to what they were performing! There was good hand-eye coordination in reading music, but listening was not necessarily a part of the performance. . .There was a disconnection for the environment that included the audience as the music was played. Observing these phenomena prompted me to investigate human attention processes and strategies."

Oliveros's music employs the notational practices include: "conventional staff notation, graphic notation, metaphors, prose, oral instruction, and recorded media. Sonic Meditations are notated through prose instructions or recipes."

Below are two of her Deep Listening pieces. (Order Deep Listening here.)

Ear Piece (1998)

  1. Are you listening now?
  2. Are you listening to what you are now hearing?
  3. Are you hearing while you listen?
  4. Are you listening while you are hearing?
  5. Do you remember the last sound you heard before this question?
  6. What will you hear in the future?
  7. Can you hear now and also listen to your memory of an old sound?
  8. What causes you to listen?
  9. Do you hear yourself in daily life?
  10. Do you have healthy ears?
  11. If you could hear any sound you want, what would it be?
  12. Are you listening to sounds now or just hearing them?
  13. What sound is most meaningful to you?

Any Piece of Music (1980)

Answer the following questions in an many ways as possible:

  1. If you could write any piece of music, what would you write? Assume that no kind of restraint exists, i.e. time, money, existence of resources or technology etc.
  2. How would you achieve it?

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