The Last Sense To Leave Us, A Tribute To Pauline Oliveros

by Rural Colours

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*This musical collection of memorialized tributes was originally released on the UK label Rural Colours on May 30th, 2017. 20 limited edition CDr's are now available here through Unknown Tone Records.


Working from the 1950s onwards and best known as the creator of Deep Listening, Oliveros primarily utilised electronic, vocal and improvisational media. A composer and musical theorist of considerable scope, intelligence and sensitivity, her life-long aim was to develop new and more profound ways of hearing music.

This project was inspired by Keiron Phelan and Oliver Cherer’s attendance at one of Pauline’s last public appearances, at St. John Smiths Square in summer 2016, during which she led the audience in a performance of her composition ‘Tuning Meditation’, both feeling it to be a singularly memorable and moving experience.

By drawing upon Oliveros’ principles the thirteen musicians featured on this compilation have fashioned dedicated pieces, using a variety of musical palettes and compositional styles, to reflect both Oliveros’ own wide ranging talent and the influence that her work has had upon their own practice. - Rural Colours



The Last Sense To Leave Us acts as a tribute to the late American composer, Pauline Oliveros. Probably best known as the creator of Deep Listening, Oliveros was also a musical theorist and philosopher of great repute, a daughter of sound, and her wide-eyed compositional techniques frequently blended the unusual with the familiar, a perceived dissonance within harmonic slivers; a whirlpool of experimentalism, born with a far-ranging scope, a fierce intelligence and a soft sensitivity.

Oliveros used ground-breaking and highly innovative electronics, vocals and improvisations. With kindness she pushed music herself into new territories which resulted in wonderfully progressive tomes, pointing the way to new possibilities and inspiring the artists of the future. She also pushed along and questioned society’s rigid perceptions and preconceptions of what music is, of what it should sound like and of the strict structures and formulas contemporary music commonly sticks to, and this compilation, released on Rural Colours, draws upon some of her principles.

Everything that produces a sound can be thought of as music. John Cage’s ‘4’33’ used silence and space to justify this – the piece could be played anywhere, without a piano, without anything but the notes of the natural atmosphere, and because of that it’s perhaps the ultimate expression of sound…or the perceived lack of it, depending on your viewpoint. Because every time you listen to or play ‘4’33’, you are actually intently listening. And every time it’s played, the results are different. The same could be said for all live music, perhaps, with each note and every moment never being the same. Birds could be singing, a sudden cough could filter into the recording and become stuck like glue to the recording for decades to come; that in itself was sound, but it was also the absence of it, or at least the absence of arranged and structured pitches. So, is it music, or silence? Or, perhaps more appropriately, is it both? Don’t they both co-exist? Cage’s piece of silent music made people actively listen, which is more than can be said for a lot of contemporary music. Cage and Oliveros are of the same school, and the thirteen musicians on this compilation use a variety of her pioneering musical techniques and principles. Her work has had a large impact on the lives of these musicians and artists and the compilation is a testament to the stunning breadth of her output, moving from an orchestral outpouring to a piece of ambient stillness, and from the glitchy stutters of a slow and outdated computer or an echocardiogram to the clanger-like high frequencies and shrill calls of ‘321 Divisadero Street’. It’s an experimental playground, but it has a deep intelligence and an intricate design at its heart. Everything is music, and so it is on The Last Sense To Leave Us.

Some focus more on the development of harmony. The drifting flute of Isnaj Dui’s ‘The Homebody’ is on a peaceful course, a pretty, flowering antidote after the earlier disarray. Neotropic’s later golden harmonies are a soothing remedy, as is a track from Oliver Cherer and Keiron Phelan, proving that one never holds sway over the other: both are equal. We’ve been brought up on a steady diet of major chords and harmonies – that’s why western culture is so familiar with a Top 40 pop chart (we associate it with what is ‘normal’) and not a Top 40 experimental chart – and our ears have become attuned to the taste, so when seemingly dissonant sounds are brought to our attention, their dissonance increases and the brain, for those used to other genres, immediately wants to reject them.

A later, fifteen-minute drone composition from Michael Tanner heightens a state of deep listening, Oliveros shone a bright light not only on the art of noise but on the art of sound – the very essence of music herself. The Last Sense To Leave Us is both a dedication and a fitting goodbye. - Fluid Radio



In that distinguished club of composers who have left profound marks on contemporary musical practice, names such as John Cage, R. Murray Schafer, and Pauline Oliveros come readily to mind. The latter, the infamous progenitor of “Deep Listening,” is the deserving subject of this tribute compilation. Overseen by album producers Keiron Phelan and Oliver Cherer, The Last Sense To Leave Us was inspired by their attendance at one of her last public appearances, at St. John Smiths Square in summer 2016, which involved her leading the audience in a performance of her composition Tuning Meditation. The American composer, who died last fall at the age of eighty-four, believed that music involves not only conventional aspects such as melody, harmony, and rhythm but the extra-musical elements accompanying the performance, including ambient noise and acoustic space. An artist of uncommon integrity and intelligence, Oliveros stayed true to her vision until the end of her remarkable life.

It's fitting that the release opens with Alison Cotton's title track, first, for offering an opportunity to clarify the origin of the album title's and, secondly, for the nature of the track's construction. Apparently Cotton, a vocalist and violist in the psych-folk duo The Left Outsides, read a thought-provoking interview with Oliveros in which she pinpointed hearing as both the first sense to develop in the fetus and the last sense to leave us when we die. Cotton developed her piece in a manner very much consistent with Oliveros's sensibility and to which she would have no doubt given her blessing: as Cotton set about to work on her material, she overheard the noise of a nearby lawnmower and used the notes resonating from it as a starting point for the deep, haunting drone she generated from a sawing viola, vocal chants, harmonium, shruti box, and recorders.

The album's producers collaborated on the elegiac “PO4c” in typical long-distance manner, with Cherer first recording a base of tape-looped trumpets and Phelan adding flute at a friend's studio. The instruments make for a bewitching combination, especially when the muffled reverberations of the horn contrast so dramatically with the lulling entrancement of Phelan's vibrato-laden lines. Flutes also figure into Katie English's Isnaj Dui setting “The Homebody,” even if the track's initial calm is gradually disrupted by an energized, pulse-driven array of noises, percussive and otherwise.

Electronics play a central part in some productions. Brona McVittie produced “You Are My Sister” using filtered harp, idiopan, and voice, the result a delicate micro-sound exercise redolent of Oliveros's early explorations in electronic sound design; the warble, whoosh, and thrum of David Colohan's “321 Divisadero Street” similarly locates it within that realm. Though electronics are present in James Stringer's “Drivende,” the piece plays like some mesmerizing tête-à-tête between a glass orchestra and gamelan ensemble, while The Hardy Tree's “Signs of Spring” tinkles beatifically, with bowed violin strokes, vocal exhalations, and gamelan vibraphone patterns part of its vibrant mix. Wordless vocalizing is prominent in a number of pieces, among them Riz Maslen's Neotropic piece “O,” with its dramatic chanting, and Anne Garner's “Brink,” a prototypically enchanting exercise in slow dazzle from the singer, pianist, and flutist.

Some pieces appear to directly reference Oliveros's sound and “Deep Listening” concepts; others more draw for inspiration from her example as a boldly adventurous innovator and channel her sensibility. In the former category one finds The New Honey Shade's “7 Accordions (for Pauline Oliveros)” and Mike Tanner's “After Lear; For Hurdy Gurdy and Bowed Dulcimer.” The former's heartfelt homage wheezes robustly, whereas the fifteen-minute latter takes the album's lengthiest plunge with a shimmering, Baroque-tinged dronescape. Regardless of the differences between the pieces, which are often considerable, they all honour Oliveros's spirit on this special project in a highly personalized manner that reflects their creators' individual styles. - Textura

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The finest tribute yet to the late Pauline Oliveros, this compilation features 13 artists utilising key principles put forward by the composer and creator of Deep Listening. As a compilation, the timbral scope is unsurprisingly wide, even as the spirit of Oliveros is nonetheless present on every track, be it Oliver Cherer and Keiron Phelan's duet laced with lush flute or David Colohan's atonal track of rugged electronics. While the magnitude of Oliveros's influence still hasn't been properly gauged, this collection manages to embody its elegance. - Tristan Bath (The Wire)


What’s the difference between hearing and listening? Pauline knew.
The late Pauline Oliveros is one of modern music's most important figures, her five decades of work so wide-reaching without most people having even heard of her. She was a founding member of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the '60s, and devised a musical concept called Deep Listening, which stemmed from a trip into a giant underground cistern with a 45-second reverb. Those echoes led to an exploration and pursuit of a heightened state of awareness in sound. Oliveros' ideas have inspired not just musicians to think about the link that listening builds between us and our surroundings. While she is heralded by experimental musicians and drone heads alike, Oliveros is equally acclaimed for devising instruments for disabled people and teaching students with no formal music training to improvise together.
Enter left field, Rural Colours, a collection of familiar and less accustomed names who make a damned good fist of conveying not just the craft of Pauline Oliveros but in also illustrating how her ideas and music have permeated much of what we love listening to here at Terrascope and are delighted to feature among our virtual pages.
Indeed it falls to Terrascopic stalwart Alison Cotton to grace us with the lead off, title track, a skilful and evocative viola and vocal drone that demands listening and not just cursory hearing and which pretty much sets the template. So, too, Anne Garner’s Sartre-style piano musings and evocative cooing on ‘Brink’, zero beats per minutes and none the worse for it.
Brona McVittie’s contribution is the more unconventionally experimental ‘You Are My Sister’, full of gentle, stuttering blips, an electro theme which UBS’ David Colohon expands on avec gusto, his ‘321 Divisadero Street’ (the address that hosted the revolutionary music space in its heyday) a mini master class in the home-cooked art of wee-boing. Either of these or indeed much else here could very easily grace the next edition of Wire Tapper. The pulsating, sonorous ‘The Homebody’ by Isnaj Dui, meanwhile, is the kind of sound that Whales might choose to listen to when they feel the need to relax, supplemented by a gentle beat and wafts of woodwind which permeate the second half.
It’s always with some anticipation that we await what Michael Tanner has to offer. ‘After Lear: For Hurdy Gurdy and Bowed Dulcimer’ tells you pretty much what you can expect aurally and, at quarter of an hour, is a bona fide ‘piece’. Hmmm, perhaps the oft-mooted editor/staff comb and paper/ukulele mash-up needs to be put on further hold while we fine tune a few ideas. Here’s a subtly shimmering composition of barely perceptible shifts and shades making it the sonic equivalent of a particularly fiendish spot-the-difference picture.
There’s something of the Dead Can Dance in Neotropic’s ‘O’, a mystical and masterful dark choral effort and a high watermark among a collection where the river is already dangerously approaching full flood. It eventually bursts its banks on The Hardy Tree’s mesmerising and bewitchingly playful ‘Signs Of Spring’, by which time I’m listening with my eyes closed to stop them from crossing.
Pauline Oliveros knew the distinction between merely hearing something and actually listening and this very thoughtful, immaculately conceived and played collection goes a long, long way to doing justice to her genius. Quite exemplary. - Ian Fraser (Terrascope)



:: Digital Radio Play & Other Links ::

BBC Radio 3 (

Mixcloud | You, he Night and Music (

Mixcloud | Neotropic (

Mixcloud | The Séance (

Source To Uncertainty | (

Music Won't Save You | (


released August 13, 2017

Produced by Keiron Phelan and Oliver Cherer
Mastered by Mark Kuykendall
Artwork by Katie English

This is Rural Colours 080


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