The Ecology of Experimental
Music Performance in Canada
The Ecology of Experimental
Music Performance in Canada

Pauline Oliveros, accordion
Anne Bourne, cello

Music Gallery, St. George the Martyr Church, September 14, 2007
X-Avant Festival, Toronto

Composer, improviser and teacher Pauline Oliveros has had a profound effect on musicians around the world. A pioneer of electronic music in the 1950s, Oliveros made notable innovations in live electronic music performance. From 1967, she developed the Expanded Instrument System for live improvisation with accordion and electronics, a system that has continued to evolve with changes to technology over several decades. In Canada, her Deep Listening philosophy has been studied and promoted by composers such as Gayle Young, Kathy Kennedy, and Anne Bourne. She was also an integral member of an interdisciplinary project on Improvisation, Community and Social Practice centred at the University of Guelph, in Ontario Composer, cellist and vocalist Anne Bourne has worked closely with Oliveros since the early 1990s. She spent many years studying Deep Listening through Oliveros' annual retreats, and was the first person to complete the three-year Deep Listening Certificate program. They collaborated with a number of other musicians on the creation of the piece Primordial/Lift in 1998. This piece was most recently released on vinyl through TAIGA in 2012. Bourne has continued to present on Deep Listening and to perform with Oliveros. Oliveros describes Deep Listening as “a practice that is intended to heighten and expand consciousness of sound in as many dimensions of awareness and attentional dynamics as humanly possible” (Oliveros xxiii). It is an intensely musical practice, derived from Oliveros’ lifelong commitment to composing, improvising and performing music.

The 2007 concert excerpted here was performed in the intimate space of St. George the Martyr Anglican Church in downtown Toronto, the home of the Music Gallery It was part of a, then new, festival called X-Avant which recognizes pioneering creativity across a wide spectrum of musical styles. (See also our archival footage and article on Barnyard Drama.) In their improvised acoustic duo, Oliveros played her specially modified just intonation accordion, and Bourne employed her particular combination of evocative vocals and cello drones. Oliveros notes that her performance practice is an extension of Deep Listening:

My performances as an improvising composer are especially informed by my Deep Listening practice. I do practice what I preach. When I arrive on stage I am listening and expanding to the whole of the space/time continuum of perceptible sound. I have no preconceived ideas. What I perceive as the continuum of sound and energy takes my attention and informs what I play. What I play is recognized consciously by me slightly (milliseconds) after I have played any sound. This altered state of consciousness in performance is exhilarating and inspiring. The music comes through as if I have nothing to do with it but allow it to emerge through my instrument and voice. It is even more exciting to practice, whether I am performing or just living out my daily life. (Oliveros xix)

In a 2006 interview with trombonist, writer and Sounds Provocative researcher, Scott Thomson, Anne Bourne described her approach to performance:

I’m listening with my whole body and testing the architecture of the space I’m putting sound into for resonance and then sending sounds into that space. I’m also testing for resonance in my own body as a listener, and opening up so that I can hear every movement of sound, even, in a sense, if thought is sound. I’m expressing unexpressed sound originating in those thoughts. Or listening for something that moves me to respond with sound. Or sending sound and listening for a response in an energetic way. I’m filling emptiness with coloured sound, moving emotion, responding to sensation. It’s kind of a presence of attention. It’s very experiential.…

My instrument of choice is to create two-note voicings between the cello and its overtones, and therefore sometimes more than one frequency. The sound coming from the cello is non-standard or extended techniques oriented in just intonation. I’m creating an array of frequencies from the cello and then tuning my voice to that and amplifying the hidden overtones that are in the cello sound with my voice. But I’m also trying in a larger sense to make a harmonic progression that is based loosely in elements of diatonic harmony (in the popular sense, in the song sense). I’m trying to make an architecture…each piece might be a song, but you wouldn’t recognize it as a song. I think of them all as songs. I think of my improvisations as songs. But you wouldn’t hear a very earth-bound narrative or story in what I call a song.

Thanks to Anne Bourne and Pauline Oliveros for their permission to document their concert and to put an excerpt on the Sounds Provocative web site.



Bourne, Anne. Interview with Scott Thomson, April 24, 2006.

Oliveros, Pauline. Deep Listening. A Composer’s Sound Practice. New York: Deep Listening Publications, 1995.