Pauline Oliveros has been on my mind a great deal. Her recent passing has forced reflection on avant-garde music’s past – of all its wonders, much of which she played a central role in, and what its future looks like – how we carry on through the loss of our guiding lights.
The collective body of the avant-garde – its history, what it leaves behind in artifact – its ideas and its music, must live in the present. As its voices leave us, it must live on. It is necessary to inspire us, remind us what is possible, and give us guidance into unknown realms. We should all do everything we can to cherish it, share it, and help it survive. As a marginalized and neglected position, it cannot do this on its own. What others have accomplished – what they risked, should be celebrated, held close to our hearts, and preserved for future generations – those who do not have the lucky fortune, as we have, to come into contact with these voices directly. We must deliver the past to the future – allow those who follow us to reap its rewards.
With this in mind, it occurred to me to share some recordings made by Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, Loren Rush, Laurel Johnson, Robert Erickson, and Bill Butler in 1957. I am grateful, as we all should be, to whomever preserved these treasures, and sent them out into the world. They represent an invaluable piece of history – the friendship of two of the 20th Century’s greatest minds, and to my awareness, among the earliest recorded documents by either.
Pauline Oliveros and Terry Riley met in 1956 as students – both members of the same composition class. They remained close lifelong fiends. Oliveros played in the premier of Riley’s In C, and both contributed key innovations made at The San Fransisco Tape Music Center. In 1957, they gathered with their friends Loren Rush, Laurel Johnson, Robert Erickson, and Bill Butler to make these five improvisations – marking a territory within the vanguard of that moment, as they were passing through toward more personal and refined realms. Loren Rush and Robert Erickson, went on to be composers of some note. Erickson has the distinction of being one of the first Americans to create tape music. Laurel Johnson was a painter, who later become involved in the Sonics series at the The San Fransisco Tape Music Center – a project which set out to establish collaborative practices between visual artists, composers, and musicians. Bill Butler seems to have been lost to time.
You can listen to the five efforts below. May the spirit of the friendship which brought them to be, with their ambition, live on in each of us. Enjoy.
Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, Loren Rush, Laurel Johnson, Robert Erickson, and Bill Butler – Improvisations One through Five (1957)