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Pauline Oliveros Talks Houston Improv, Her Mother's Death and the Essence of Latency

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Pretty much everything has changed since Pauline Oliveros left Houston in 1949 to seek out a music that would later inspire her Deep Listening Institute. Everything except for latency, which, in the sound world, refers to the millisecond delay between when a sound materializes from a system and when that audio signal arrives in an invisible plane. This occurs in all sorts of audio systems, ranging from digital signal processing to the speed of sound in air.

"Anything we do has got latency," Oliveros tells Art Attack by phone from her Kingston, New York home. "We are made out of latency. We even have latency between our ears."

Latency also applies to technology, where it takes a computer some seconds of time to process the first bit of stored information. Since 1990, Oliveros has dealt with this type of latency via real-time distance collaborations with musicians in South America, Canada and the west coast of the United States.

On Saturday, November 19, at Wortham Opera Theatre, that challenge will continue when Oliveros performs, thanks to teleconferencing-like software, in a telematic trio with musicians who will be playing live in Colombia and California.

After Oliveros moved from Houston to San Francisco, where she got heavy into electronic and experimental music, she founded the Deep Listening Institute, which is based on an Oliveros-coined philosophy that "distinguishes the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary selective nature of listening."

In 2006, Deep Listening Institute Houston (formerly Pauline Oliveros Foundation Houston) became Nameless Sound, the David Dove-led organization that has presented concerts by Joe McPhee, Sam Rivers and the Instant Composer's Pool Orchestra, not to mention winning a MasterMind Award from the Houston Press this year. Oliveros credits Dove's work over the past half-decade for firming up Houston's role as a place to hear and create creative music.

"It's time for him to be recognized for the work that he's doing," says Oliveros. "It's remarkable. It should be much better known and connected in creative music circles."

The November 19 concert will mark the first time that Oliveros has visited Houston since her mother's 2009 death. "It will be a little bit sensitive" being back in Houston, says Oliveros, who will perform in a Nameless Sound-present concert with Ricardo Arias (Bogota, Colombia) and Chris Chafe (San Diego, California). Audiences in those cities, like the one in Houston, will be able to experience the concert.

Oliveros explains that the lag time in telematic settings is much like the sonic nuances that symphony and acoustic musicians deal with in concert halls.

"You listen for it, use it and play with it," she says. "I've always done that. I do that in acoustic situations in concert halls where there's also latency with the direct signal and the reflective signal. Those are things that I've played with for 40 years at least."

For the past two decades, Oliveros has moved from video telephone to PictureTel to the Internet. For the Saturday concert, the trio will be aided by software called JackTrip, which was developed by Chafe at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics and tested over a two-year period by Oliveros.

While Oliveros hopes things go swimmingly on Saturday, there's always the possibility of technology hiccups. If that happens -- much like in 2005 when a Chicago-located conductor could not be seen after the video connection went down -- she'll roll with it.

"Technology is delicate," she says. "Things happen."

Pauline Oliveros (accordion), Ricardo Arias (balloon kit) and Chris Chafe (cello, electronic celletto) perform in a live telematic trio at 7 p.m. Saturday, November 19, at the Wortham Opera Theatre at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, 6100 South Main. For ticket information, go to the Nameless Sound website.

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