It is impossible to imagine the electronic achievements, in popular and avant-garde circles — of the likes of Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Brian Eno and many a lesser light — without the work of Pauline Oliveros. Her tonal experiments and daring belief in the sublime potential (especially in improv) of electronic music have not gotten widespread acclaim, but her influence among musicians is vast. Four Electronic Pieces 1959-1966 won’t bring her a wider audience, but it does force us to look anew at some of her early work and to place it in the context of what has followed in her wake.
The four pieces here were recorded in the late ’50s and early ’60s and have not been released previously. Her explorations of pure sound as having its own structure, electronic drone as having spiritual applications, and her use of silence as an instrument have been woven into many musics, from krautrock to noise to lo-fi to modern composition. The key link between her music and modern rock is probably “Once Again,” which anticipates a lot of abrasive yet meditative experiments by Sonic Youth, Rhys Chatham and so forth. For its experiments with breath and deep listening, though, the strongest of the four tracks here is “Mnemonics.”
Four Electronic Pieces 1959-1966 is a fascinating addition to the growing insight into Oliveros’ early work and what that work has meant to the ideas of some of the most adventurous musicians of the past 40 years. None, at least in the beginning, was as adventurous as Pauline Oliveros.