The Sound of Silence

Discovery Green Wants You to Listen Deeply

The late Houston artist Pauline Oliveros finally gets her day in the sun.

By Olivia Flores Alvarez May 23, 2019

Image: Ione

A composer, performer, and experimental music pioneer, Pauline Oliveros influenced generations of performers, including music giants like John Cage and Philip Glass, with her meditative and often improvised electronic sounds—a neat trick for someone who played the accordion. And this weekend, Discovery Green honors the late Houston artist by leading visitors through what Oliveros called deep listening.

What is deep listening? Don't mistake it for meditation. The difference, says organizer Li Harris, is that “while meditation seeks to quiet the mind, deep listening is actively listening to every sound." Audience members should expect to hear a variety of tunes, mostly without words, that echo nature and evoke a kind of dreaming.

“It might seem to be jazz or avant garde music,” she says. “Hopefully, you’ll experience a feeling of slowing down—slowing down enough to listen to everything that’s around you.”

Oliveros’ widow and frequent artistic collaborator, Ione—herself a noted author, playwright/director, and poet—will be among the park’s many performers. Other visiting artists include musician Tom Bickley and Heloise Gold (author of ​Deeply Listening Body​).

The celebration will encompass several areas of Discovery Green including the park’s Grace Event Lawn, the artworks Synchronicity of Color a​nd ​Listening Vessels,​ and even a parking garage stairwell. (Oliveros often performed and recorded in underground spaces such as lava caves and cisterns.) There’ll be plenty of opportunities for audience participation, but don’t worry; if you’re not a deep listening devotee, performers will lead you through.

The event is also a reclamation of the artist’s local roots. After a brief stint at UH’s Moores School of Music, Oliveros settled in San Francisco in the 1950s. That city was at its height as a mecca for avant garde and experimental artists, writers, and musicians. Oliveros and her accordion fit right in. There she helped found the San Francisco Tape Music Center (now the Center for Contemporary Music) and developed deep listening, which she described as “a way of listening in every possible way to everything possible.”

“John Cage and Philip Glass, both her contemporaries, were greatly influenced by her,” says Harris. “They both reference her a lot. Somehow they got to be well-known but she didn’t. Even though she’s adored by [experimental] music fans all over the world, she isn’t as well-known by mainstream music audiences. 

“I want that to change,” Harris adds. “Especially in Houston, I want that to change.”

May 25. Free. Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney. 713-400-7336. More info at

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