di Maggi Payne*
[In occasione del concerto di Strings City del 14 dicembre a cura di Tempo Reale, dedicato a Pauline Oliveros, abbiamo chiesto a Maggi Payne, compositrice elettroacustica e co-direttrice dal 1992 al 2018 del Center for Contemporary Music al Mills College, di scrivere un ricordo sulla grande pioniera americana].
In 1969-70 I was pursuing my Master of Music degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Gordon Mumma was teaching there that year. I mentioned to him how infatuated I was with Toru Takemitsu’s November Steps, which features a shakuhachi. Having specialized in contemporary music and extended flute techniques for years, I desperately wanted a shakuhachi, but couldn’t locate one. Gordon mentioned that Pauline Oliveros, who I didn’t know at the time, was soon to be on her way to Japan. He suggested that I write her a letter asking her to purchase one for me. The suggestion seemed presumptuous but I wanted one so badly that I garnered the courage to write her. To my surprise she wrote back, saying that she would be happy to purchase one for me while she was in Japan. I never forgot her kindness to a young stranger.
My intense interest in electronic music, which I had started to learn from James Beauchamp that year, prompted Gordon to recommend that I study with Robert Ashley at the Center for Contemporary Music (CCM) at Mills College in Oakland, California. I took Gordon’s advice and never regretted that decision. I didn’t know much about Mills, but once I arrived it didn’t take long to learn that Pauline was the first Co-Director (1966-67) of the Tape Music Center, soon to be renamed the Center for Contemporary Music. Although she was there only one year before taking a position at the University of California at San Diego, her presence was still felt when I entered the MFA in Electronic Music and the Recording Media program in 1970.
She was a Visiting Professor at Mills in 1985, and in 1996 became the Darius Milhaud Professor. When she moved on to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute she still taught one class in the fall at Mills, commuting across the country every other week for years until Skype became reliable. In 1998 Pauline, Brenda Hutchinson, and I improvised with several remote collaborators in a series of live streaming netcasts organized by Turbulence. We performed at Mills College, with groups in two different locations in NYC. We subsequently performed several times with different improvisers in a variety of locations. Delays times were anywhere from two to eight seconds, connecting in a fascinating way to Pauline’s early works using tape delays.
We took part in Eliane Radigue’s Labyrinthe Sonare at Mills College in 1998, Pauline’s Sounding the Margins (2002), and elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area. In celebration of her 80thbirthday at Mills, John Bischoff, James Fei, Chris Brown, and I performed her In Memoriam: Nikola Tesla, Cosmic Engineer with Merce Cunningham’s Event with Canfield. Her scores have nuanced complexity, and she had a clear vision about how to perform her works. For In Memoriam she didn’t want the discussion among the audio performers that begins the work to be too technical and she wanted the extremely low beat frequencies to be extremely loud, flooding the audience. It was an incredible sensation, and her input at the rehearsals and after the first of two performances was essential.
In 2003 Pauline moved her tape archive of works dating from the late 1950s from the University of California at San Diego to Mills College. I had been digitizing tapes from the CCM archive starting in 1998 and am still digitizing tapes, and was thrilled when her tapes arrived. I consulted with her on which tapes she wanted digitized from both her archive and the CCM archive. I think there are over 100 entries including works, rehearsals, performances (including several repetitions and duplications) that are in the Mills library on CDs so that visitors, faculty, students, and staff can listen to them. Many of her works that I digitized were subsequently published, including Important Records’ boxed set titled Reverberations: Tape & Electronic Music 1969-1970.
I am enormously impressed by how prolific she was throughout her life. I’m equally impressed by her remarkable memory. When digitizing her tapes I had numerous detailed questions about the dates of recordings, titles of pieces, multiple labels written in different colors in different handwriting on the tape boxes with conflicting information, technical issues, etc. She responded immediately to all of my questions, filling in with further detailed information in many cases, as illustrated below.
23 giugno 2009
Maggi Payne: Removing the Demon is also labeled Sonic Meditation and (or Getting Your Rocks Off). The tape box reads: ROCKS OFF in pencil. In red ink it reads: Sonic Meditation, Removing the Demon (or Getting Your Rocks Off). In green marker it reads: REMOVING THE DEMON. How would you like me to list this? It definitely has the rocks (cool).
Pauline Oliveros: Sonic Meditations – Removing the Demon: Or getting your rocks off.
23 giugno 2009
MP: 4 channel is indeed 1/2 track stereo. The notes on the box read Aug 10 ~ July 12. Ring Mod – 2 of Four channel 15 ips. Original modulated A against B, then AB mod Tails against AB original Head. Play back heads or tails. In green marker it reads: 8/10/66 4 channel 15 ips UTEMS. There is only one work, with a duration of 9:28.
PO: Four Channel. Please do transfer 4 channel. I will likely come up with a title. Having a reversal would be good also. Thanks a million! Love from Montreal. Beautiful DL workshop today – concert tonight.
It was a great privilege to know and work with Pauline. She was an extraordinary person whose influence will live on in perpetuity.
* Maggi Payne is a composer of electronic and electroacoustic music, video artist, installation artist, flutist, recording engineer/editor, and historical remastering engineer. She was Co-Director (1992-2018) of the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College, Oakland, CA, where she taught recording engineering, composition, and electronic music from 1972 to May 2018. Her electroacoustic works often include visual elements which she creates, including video, dance, transparencies, and film. She enjoys collaborating with other artists and has worked with video artist Ed Tannenbaum for over twenty years. She is also a flutist, and has written several works for flute as well as other acoustic instruments.
She has had performances of her works throughout the Americas, Europe, Japan, and Australasia. She received two Composer’s Grants and an Interdisciplinary Arts Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and video grants from the Western States Regional Media Arts Fellowships Program and the Mellon Foundation. She received six honorary mentions from Bourges, and one from Prix Ars Electronica, and was an Artist in Residence at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA.
Her works are available on Aguirre, The Label, Root Strata, Lovely Music, Starkland, Innova, Music and Arts, Centaur, MMC, CRI, Digital Narcis, Frog Peak, Asphodel, and/OAR, Ubuibi, and Mills College labels.