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Pauline Oliveros / Stuart Dempster / Pan - Deep Listening [Important Records - 2020]

Pauline Oliveros' Deep Listening Band was an ensemble begun in the latter half of her long career as an avant-garde composer. It was an improv group focused in on lush, reverberant spaces not unlike the space ambient drones of dark ambient creators such as Lustmord, or synth musicians like Steve Roach, but with a decidedly organic quality, no usage of synthesizers and an out of the box approach. For Oliveros, this music was a turn towards the intuitive and away from the intellectual, away from the college campus and towards mythic abstract pagan dimensions.

For the 30th anniversary of the formation of the group, we have this commemorative double LP, which contains all four tracks of the original self-titled release, and three of the seven pieces of its follow up, The Readymade Boomerang.

Recorded in a cistern known to have reverberation times exceeding twenty six seconds, these well-produced recordings are notable primarily as the ultimate document of natural reverb. The entirety of the original self-titled release is a vast, coloured wash, with each note and sonic gesture cascading into a wide, exaggerated contrail that becomes a deep, ear-pleasing gradient.

Stuart Dempster's processed trombone is the perfect timbre to interact with this verb. His tone rings out clear and majestic in the absolute massiveness. Oliveros plays the accordion, and mostly hangs in the background, solidifying the drone and adding tonal embellishments as she feels. The third member, Paniotis, is credited with 'voice' on some pieces as well as with the usage of 'metal pieces', 'pipes', 'garden hose' and other experimental sound approaches.

The pieces are largely unstructured and fairly meandering, with a good amount of melodic noodling in the periphery. The musicians often make no attempt to settle into a chord progression or particular tonal idiom, and seem to change on a whim. The consuming vastness of the space in which the musicians performed seems to suck away all sense of momentum, leaving us utterly adrift. True to its title, it is a slow recording for moments when the mind is blank, unhurried and receptive.

I find it to be an odd choice to combine the complete 1st album with a randomly chosen third of their equally classic second album, which undoubtedly deserves a complete re-issue on its own. I understanding running times would not allow each to be a single LP, but in my opinion, the character of each album is distinctly different. Why include the brief 45-second intro piece from the 2nd album, only to segue it into the 6th track of that album, skipping all of the material in between?

The self-titled Deep Listening Band album and its follow up The Readymade Boomerang were certainly a document of true sonic deepness, brimming with natural resonance and its spiritual implications. Beyond the lovely tone of the sound, however, I always felt the band's approach too unfocused for my liking, and find it difficult to sustain the focused listening state described by the band for the duration of their albums. Regardless of this, it certainly deserved a re-issue, and this is a quality product, despite the questionable decision of the second album's partial inclusion.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Josh Landry
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