In Memoriam: Pauline Oliveros

Professor of Practice, Arts

It is with profound sadness that HASS notes the passing of Distinguished Research Professor of Music Pauline Oliveros, on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016, at her home in Kingston, New York.

Pauline Oliveros is widely recognized as one of America's most important composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. She became a leader of the avant-garde and a pioneer of improvisatory music, alternate tuning systems, contemporary accordion playing, electronics, and multimedia events.  Since the 1960s, she has profoundly influenced American music through her work with improvisation, meditation, electronic music, myth, and ritual.  Many credit her with being the founder of present-day meditative music.  All of Oliveros’ work emphasizes musicianship, attention strategies, and improvisational skills.

To those who knew and worked with her, Pauline was a humanist who rejoiced in the mysterious beauty of the sonic world that surrounded her. She was a generous and kind-hearted spirit and is deeply revered and missed by her colleagues, students and friends at Rensselaer and all over the world.

Her legacy of Deep Listening is being stewarded by Rensselaer’s Center for Deep Listening under the leadership of Professor Tomie Hahn.  We strive to uphold her humanitarian and artistic values in all that we do. 

Born in 1932 in Houston, Texas, Professor Oliveros earned her undergraduate degree in music at the University of Houston in 1949, and a B.A. in music composition at San Francisco State College in 1957. She was a founding member of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s, and served as its first director when it was absorbed by Mills College. In 1967 she joined the faculty at the University of California, San Diego, where she taught until 1981. She joined the Rensselaer faculty in 2001.

"As a musician, I am interested in the sensual nature of sound, its power of synchronization, coordination, release and change,” said Oliveros. “Hearing represents the primary sense organ - hearing happens involuntarily. Listening is a voluntary process that through training and experience produces culture. All cultures develop through ways of listening. Deep Listening ® is listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, or one's own thoughts as well as musical sounds. Deep Listening represents a heightened state of awareness and connects to all that there is. As a composer I make my music through Deep Listening."

During the 1960s, John Rockwell named her work Bye Bye Butterfly as one of the most significant of that decade. In the 1970s she represented the United States at the World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan; during the 1980s she was honored with a retrospective at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. The 1990s began with a letter of distinction from the American Music Center presented at Lincoln Center in New York, and in 2000 the 50th anniversary of her work was celebrated with the commissioning and performance of her Lunar Opera: Deep Listening ForTunes. In 2012, Oliveros was honored with the John Cage Award, which is made in recognition of outstanding achievement in the arts for work that reflects the spirit of composer John Cage and also the GigaHertz Preis from ZKM Karlsruhe for lifetime achievement in Electronic Music.

Oliveros received the Resounding Vision Award for Life Time Achievement from Nameless Sound in Houston TX,in  April 2007. She also received an honorary membership in the Society for American Music and an honorary Doctor of Music from Mills College, an honorary Doctor of Arts from DeMontfort University in the UK and the William Schuman Award for Lifetime Achievement from Columbia University.

In addition to her work at Rensselaer, Pauline was the Darius Milhaud Artist-in-residence at Mills College in Oakland, California.


DeMontfort University – Doctor of Arts (honorary) 2010

Mills College – Doctor of Music (honorary) 2005

University of Maryland Baltimore County – Doctor of Music (honorary) 1986

San Francisco State College - BA Music Composition Cum Laude 1957

University of Houston undergraduate in Music 1949-1952 (2)

Non-degree preparation - Heights (formerly John H. Reagan) High School, Houston TX; graduated 1949

Research Focus
  • Composition
  • Improvisation
  • network performance
Select Works
  • Sounding the Margins: Collected Writings 1992-2009, Deep Listening Publications 2010
  • Deep Listening: A Composer's Sound Practice, iUNIVERSE 2005