RIP Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016)

We have lost yet another musical hero this year. Pauline Oliveros, composer, innovator and pioneer of the concept of “Deep Listening”, passed away on November 25.

Pauline Oliveros
[Photo by Pinar Temiz via flickr. Available via Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Her influence over the decades in experimental electronic composition and rethinking our relationship with sound cannot be underestimated. She was one of the founders of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s. The following video features her composition Bye bye butterfly, a title that seems very apt with her passing. It was composed during her time with the center and features two HP oscillators among other elements.

Although an electronic composition, one can hear and sense the sounds that would become important in Deep Listening, looking for and finding joy in small details and the sounds in between other sounds. The beating patterns and other elements in this electronic piece were certainly present in performances of Heart Chant that I participated in with the Cardew Choir. She coined the term “Deep Listening” in the late 1980s, and went on to found the Deep Listening Institute. I should let her describe the meaning and origins of the term in this video.

Oliveros and I intersected on multiple occasions, both in person and through her music. However, it is clear that she even more profoundly touched many of my friends and colleagues who are mourning her passing with a multitude of personal memories. We at CatSynth extend our condolences do them, as well as to Pauline Oliveros’ family.

RIP Sharon Jones (1956-2016)

When I discovered the album 100 Days 100 Nights in 2009, it was a breath of fresh air. It was a time when my life was very oriented towards Asia and my own Asian heritage, but musically I was returning to the funk and soul music that I have long adored and wished to play myself. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings fit perfectly into that milieu. The songs, especially the title track and “Tell Me” quickly became part of my regular rotation. The strength of music is of course mostly due to Ms Jones and the band, but the production also intrigued me, as they went back to some of the technologies that made those earlier records. Both the physical artifact and the music references James Brown, one of our musical heroes, and the band intersects other more recent favorites such as Amy Winehouse and The Budos Band.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
[By Jacob Blickenstaff [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Sharon Jones’ battle with cancer, which ultimately took her life this past week, also hits home for us at the moment. She had a long fight that included remission and optimism only to watch it come roaring back. It’s a painfully familiar story for us at CatSynth.

R.I.P. Don Buchla (1937-2016)

2016 has not been a good year for our musical heroes. And we have just lost one more, Don Buchla.

Don Buchla at SFEMF 2010
[Photo by Michael Zelner]

Don Buchla was producing his first synthesizers about the same time that Robert Moog released his earliest models. But he took a very different approach, eschewing keyboards and other traditional interfaces to make a truly radical instrument. This led to some describing “East Coast” and “West Coast” schools of synthesizers – something that we at CatSynth largely reject. But there are nonetheless characteristics that set apart Bucvla’s instruments, such as the use of metal plates as controls; the ubiquitous use of low pass gates (LPGs) as sound units; the crispier/crunchier sound compared to Moog-inspired synths; and the visual beauty and oddness of the instruments. Indeed, they have appeared on CatSynth many times – follow this link to see a few.

In addition to his synthesizers, Buchla also created numerous controllers, such as the Thunder, Lightning, and Marimba Lumina. Indeed, I was introduced to Buchla’s instruments and the man himself through David Wessel at CNMAT, who used the Thunder extensively in his performances. My personal memories of the two of them together mostly revolve around the wine-and-beer-fueled gatherings after formal events at CNMAT, ICMC conferences or elsewhere. They would talk endlessly but anyone else could chime in, and occasionally Don and I would have a sidebar, less often of a technical nature than lamenting strictures in one institution or another, or non-musical scientific concepts. Overall, however, he was often a laconic presence, off in a corner or just off frame, but then fully engaged when the moment arrived.

Buchla and Roger Linn
[Buchla sighting at Roger Linn’s NAMM booth in 2015]

It was rare to see him perform. I did get a chance to do so at the