Of all the albums I acquired a few weeks ago—nearly 20!—I'm a little surprised to find that the one that has endeared itself to me the most, so far, is Pauline Oliveros/Stuart Dempster/Panaiotis's Deep Listening, from 1989. I had no idea what to expect when I picked this up. The album was filed in the "Techno" section, though I had some feeling that would prove to be misleading. It is. Deep Listening is four lengthy improvisational pieces, mostly comprised of Oliveros on accordion, Dempster on trombone or didgeridoo, and Panaiotis's voice. Yet even that description is misleading. Each track is a long, drawn out, meditative drone. (I've certainly never heard an accordion played like this!) The album was recorded at the bottom of a large cistern somewhere in Washington state—the liner notes describe how they lowered themselves, their instruments, and the mics and cables into the cistern while producer Foster Reed used his van as a makeshift recording booth. The environment in which they recorded thus becomes another instrument, adding natural reverb and, according to the artists, a 45-second delay on every note they played.
The result is a glacial yet gorgeous sound. The tones of each instrument are warm and pure and full. There were a few instances where I had to turn the album off before I could finish listening and it actually hurt me to cut off something unfolding so delicately.
Oliveros apparently coined the phrase "deep listening" in opposition to "ambient." The latter was described by Brian Eno as music that could fold into the noise of the everyday—it intentionally evades focused attention. The Deep Listening Band (as they called themselves on subsequent releases), on the other hand, makes music that is minimal, that drones, that stretches into vastness—yet still commands you to hear it.
- Oliveros/Dempster/Panaiotis: Suiren