“How we listen creates our life. Listening is the basis of all culture,” writes Pauline Oliveros. The composer has been thinking about sound all her life.

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Pauline Oliveros – Wind Horse (1989), graphical score


A huge abandoned cistern in Washington State, built in 1907, is the location, where Pauline Oliveros, trombonist Stuart Dempster and vocalist Panaiotis decided to improvise together in May 1989. The special acoustics of the reservoir provide a challenging and fascinating listening situation that is new to the performers.

Due to the 55 meters the space measures in diameter, it provides 45 seconds of reverberation – thus becoming “an additional instrument being played simultaneously by all three composers,” Pauline Oliveros states in the liner notes of the album that captures the results of the trio’s collaboration.

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Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, Panaiotis – Deep Listening (1989), detail cover art (RE: Important Records, 2020)

Its title Deep Listening is not only a reference to the cistern being four meters below ground. Deep Listening would become a term applied for a new way of conscious listening according to Oliveros’ standards.

For her, listening is to be aware of one’s self, not just in the current moment, but also when reflecting one’s position in the “collective whole” that includes the universe.

What is heard is changed by listening and changes the listener.


Oliveros has built her career as a composer, musician and researcher since the early Fifties, when she first started to think about the perception of sound.

Over the years, she has been developing a variety of techniques and strategies to explore the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary, selective nature of listening. In her 1999 manifesto Quantum Listening: From Practice to Theory (To Practice Practice), she mentions:

  • Deep Listening is a life long practice. The more I listen, the more I learn to listen.
  • Deep Listening is active.
  • Deep Listening involves going below the surface of what is heard. This is the way to connect with the acoustic environment, all that inhabits it, and all that there is.
  • Deep Listening is exploring the relationships among any and all sounds whether natural or technological, intended or unintended, real, remembered or imaginary.
  • What is heard is changed by listening and changes the listener. I call this the listening effect or how we process what we hear.
  • Listening is directing attention to what is heard, gathering meaning, interpreting and deciding on action.
  • How we listen creates our life. Listening is the basis of all culture.
  • The shortest improvisation that Oliveros, Dempster and Panaiotis recorded in the cistern is ten minutes long. Suiren is a meditative piece based on voice, whistling and a garden hose as wind instrument. It is moving slowly, thus making listening a rewarding and riveting experience. There is always something to discover.
Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, Panaiotis – Suiren (1989, New Albion)

The shortest improvisation that Oliveros, Dempster and Panaiotis recorded in the cistern is ten minutes long. Suiren is a meditative piece based on voice, whistling and a garden hose as wind instrument. It is moving slowly, thus making listening a rewarding and riveting experience. There is always something to discover.


The Center for Deep Listening at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute provides a link to Pauline Oliveros’ 21-pages manifesto Quantum Listening: From Practice to Theory (To Practice Practice)


Wild Thyme Music – A Sonic Meditation (1): Play

An outdoor listening experience to stimulate the equation of humans, nature and sound: a constantly evolving, multi-layered soundscape, tones being sustained until the desire to change them disappears, and melodies that are created from what is heard. 76 minutes with three pieces by Randall McClellan, Pauline Oliveros and Ramón Sender.

The Concept of Deep Listening

Different Modes of Listening

Positioning Oneself Within a Sonic Experience

Connotations of Sound