Pauline Oliveros (May 30, 1932 – November 24, 2016 was an American composer, accordionist and a central figure in the development of post-war experimental and electronic music. She was a founding member of the San Francisco Tape Music Centre during the 1960s, and worked as its director. Oliveros wrote books, formulated music theories, and investigated ways to focus attention on music including her concepts of deep listening and sonic awareness.
Pauline Oliveros is a real discovery for me, someone to whom I will return. I have spent some time in the past couple of weeks doing my best to listen deeply to this album and to sit with my responses to it, which have ranged from an increased heartbeat and visceral engagement to great difficulty in coping with some of the frequencies and dissonances. As I write I am listening to her album The Roots of the Moment and finding that I am equally drawn to and repelled by the discordance and strangeness of it.
This music demands concentration and attention and these skills were central to Oliveros’ practice as a musician and a teacher. Unfortunately, I have been distracted and unable to focus attention on listening to Oliveros in the way she deserves because other more urgent voices have demanded my attention.
The irony of my project title, Listening to Women has come to the fore in this most depressing of weeks. We began the week on Monday 8th March, International Women’s Day. There was the usual snarky whataboutery of when’s International Men’s day; tone deaf and unable to use Google to find out it’s November 19th, same as every year since its inauguration in 1992.
Exasperation turned to fury as UN Women UK published its report on sexual harassment; 97% of women aged 18-24 reported that they had experienced harassment and 96% said they had not reported it because they didn’t believe they would make any difference by doing so. Instead of universal outrage and condemnation and a stated will and desire to do better, to be better, our old friend systemic misogyny reared its head and Twitter was inundated with #notallmen excuses. Of course it’s not all men, but it’s enough men to have created an unsafe country for women where 97% of young women have been harassed and an unsafe world where one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of men in their lifetime. It’s not all men, but it is some men, and the trouble is, we can’t predict where or who they are.
At the same time as these statistics were causing distress to male privilege, racist male privilege was also being demonstrated in the media via the spectacular hissyfit of a bloated, entitled male TV presenter storming off because of his peculiar and perverse obsession with Meghan Markle – this generation’s convenient scapegoat for monarchy and monarchists who refuse to acknowledge the fundamental weirdness of this anachronistic institution.
Then it all took a dark and nasty turn with the devastating news of the murder of Sarah Everard, a young woman who went missing from Clapham Common in early March and whose body was found dumped in a large bag. A police officer has appeared in court charged with her abduction and murder. Sarah’s story is another desperate moment on the seemingly endless continuum of violent and fatal acts against women. Having spoken to several women over the past few days, we share in the grief, the sorrow and the rage at her death.
In private, I know I am not alone in having trawled back over the times in my life when I have experienced violence at the hands of men. It’s odd and disturbing how memories come back when you venture down this dark and frightening rabbit hole of memory. On this particular journey, I recalled being punched, hard, in the breast by a boy at the age of 12, just at my breasts were emerging. I remembered how startling, how unexpected that assault was.
I know I am not alone in having carried a bunch of keys protruding between the fingers of a clenched fist, of having taken the long way round, hesitated outside a lit shop window, felt sick with terror at the sound of footsteps behind me, broken into an unsteady run. Countless narratives are appearing on social media telling the same depressing stories to the backdrop of an abdication of responsibility in that #notall hashtag along with an absolute refusal to listen.
Last night officers of the Met bungled their policing of a peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard, using heavy handed and violent tactics against women who went to Clapham Common to show solidarity and to publicly demonstrate their grief. Arrests, restraints and horrendous photographs of women being knelt on by police officers demonstrate the miserable failure in the police response and in the attitude of their commanding officer, Cressida Dick, who faces widespread calls to resign.
In an increasingly authoritarian country, with a home secretary who clearly revels in oppression and state sanctioned violence against refugees, travelers, protestors and anyone she considers troublesome and who is presenting a draconian policing bill to parliament this week, we are clearly in trouble.
In the entire history of struggle for rights and freedoms, those in power never give it up willingly. Power has to be wrested from them and there is always a fight. There needs to a be a fight now. I hope that this week, which concludes with Mother’s Day for God’s sake, is the start of a fight; one which can be won and not by those currently holding the levers of power.
Next week I will return to music. The events of this week have been too important for me to not reflect on them.
If you want to have a deep listening experience, I can recommend this – but watch out for the interruption of annoying ads. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U__lpPDTUS4