Pauline Oliveros: Rose Moon with Will Cameron (PW Vol. 3)
Rose Moon, a ceremony by Pauline Oliveros, was organized and presented by the Wesleyan Singers under the direction of Neely Bruce in 1976/1977. A full description of the ceremony appears on page 67.
Will Cameron: Rather than one composer, or one person, it’s always been in your work, a community — and I believe that Rose Moon was a special example of that.
PO: Collaborative effort, yes it was. There were Neely [Bruce] and Phyllis [Bruce], who were in the center of the mandala, the singers, expressing certain emotional qualities and so on. And that was their improvisation, from the center. Although they had instruction, and they certainly had a context for what they were doing. It was related to different mythologies and understandings of the moon in different cultures. The moon through the ages has been a very powerful relative of the Earth, you know. I was I guess kind of synthesizing the different aspects of the moon in this particular piece, but wanting to draw on the whole world of understanding, everything from the scienti c to the mythological.
WC: Neely said that sometimes after the piece someone would come up to you and they’d say, “Well this is a great spiritual journey of some sort, isn’t it?” And that the answer would be, “Not exactly.”
WC: Or, “No, this a work and it has its own meaning outside of that.” But I think someplace in the score it said that, rather than worshiping something, it’s about a way of acknowledging relationships between things.
PO: That is a very good way to put it, because it is about relationships. I mean, different cultures have their own relationship to the moon. An agrarian culture, for example, would have a different relationship than a scienti c culture. You know, because the cycles of the moon, or the phases
of the moon, have to do with planting and the tides and so on. That affects their crops, for example. But then there are more mythological understandings of the power of the moon, such as the full moon, you know where...I was just thinking of Dracula [laughs]. So there’s lots of range of understanding, and trying to bring all of that into a kind of synthesis of humanity and understanding, I think was kind of the motivation in the piece.
WC: Moon energy, or moon gravitational force is a subtle but real thing here in terms of the tides and the atmospheric systems.
PO: Right. So the different peoples have had different understandings of that, but have certainly felt it, you know, as sensation and as a power that’s working in their lives.
WC: Either scienti cally or astrologically...and this is not the only piece that you’ve taken in relationship to the moon, right? There’s other work that you’ve done, for example the bouncing of—
PO: Oh, Echoes From the Moon! Echoes From the Moon came much later, in the ’80s, 1987 or something, yes. That was bouncing sound off of the moon. I thought that since the moon re ected light that it certainly would re ect sound. And so I found that there were three ways that I could approach that. Which was that the astronauts left targets or whatever for laser beams, so that you could send a laser beam and get a re ection back. Or that radar was another way to do it, infrared. But the one that I chose was ham radio, because ham radio operators began to bounce signals off the moon in the ’70s, somewhere in the mid-’70s. And the reason they wanted to do that
was to increase the range of their ability to broadcast. Because if they could hit the moon, then another operator could pick the signal up at a different angle, in another geographic location that was not reachable otherwise. That’s why they were doing that. And so I found... actually it was Scot Gresham-Lancaster that helped to implement this piece. And he found a ham radio operator in Lebanon, Maine, who was one of the rst to do that ham radio moon bounce. He had a Yagi array of antennas, about 24 of them.
He had put these all together in a large array that he could control, so that he could track the moon with that array. So that when the moon was rising he could continuously change the angle. Because that motion is fast, relative to the Earth anyway. So I went up there, and took my accordion and a bunch of little things, and sent sounds to the moon at Dave [Olean]’s place [laughs]. He had a foot- switch, so in one position you’d be sending to the moon, and in the other you would be receiving. It was possible to play a sound and then switch, and you would get the echo back in four seconds. So that’s where I did the rst testing of this, was there. And it was quite an experience, you know. To send the sound and then have it come back at you from the moon. And it’d come back with a little Doppler shift on it, and it was distinctly an echo.
WC: The ’60s and ’70s were a time in which people were expecting that maybe in 10 to 15 years that there would be something more permanently established on the moon in terms of human activity.
PO: Yes, that’s right. Well, my interest in doing this, I think, was also inspired by having watched the moon landing in 1969 on TV. And I actually saw the screen burn up when they accidentally goofed and aimed the camera at the sun. It just went. Yeah, that was something.
WC: This was a process that began with the Sonic Meditations.
PO: It was 1970, when I was rst composing those meditations, with the idea of opening up sound experiences to a wide range of people. And certainly it did. And certainly it has, over all these years now, 37 years ago. So, I had already begun to move away from conventional notation in the ’60s. In my bookSoftware for People there’s an article called “Meditation Mandala Music.” And it shows my dissolving or deconstruction of notation into prose notation, and various scores, and the progress of that. And so, you know, I’ve continued. It opened up the possibility of community, of groups of people with shared interests working with sound, without having to be trained musicians.
WC: There are a number of different purposes that are ful lled with this work, some of them being personal, some of them are community, and some of them are just simply vibrational. I was speaking with Ramon [Sender] about relating different theater works in terms of how much OM-ing was going on – how much primal singing was going on. In your piece, there’s a certain kind of necessity to vibrate through singing. In a special way, that’s not just like the kind of singing that one would do in a chorus, but it’s a really integrated, into-the-body experience kind of singing.
PO: Yeah, I would think so. I think that’s a good way of doing it. I think it was in the air, how to do that kind of thing.
WC: Through toning, some people wouldn’t call it OM- ing, if they wanted to stay away from the OM they would call it toning.
PO: Toning, chanting...it’s different words from different perspectives. And I think also that people were becoming aware of different traditions of meditation practice, and of different kinds of chanting, and becoming cognizant of how various Native American chants happened. So it was going more toward the primal, and toward groups of people who held together through that kind of singing, vocalizing.
WC: There also was a culture exchange that was going on, especially in California.
PO: This is true. And there was a lot of activity. So for example in that year 1977, the Gyalwang Karmapa came to San Diego. I arranged for the Black Hat ceremony to take place at UCSD, which it did. And I don’t know how many about 500 people came, and lled up the auditorium. It was a powerful tour. And I think I met him in New York, rst, and then I did arrange for this to take place in California. But other groups were coming, and I began to realize that, you know, there was quite a lot going on [laughs]. But this was after I had already composed my Sonic Meditations, for example.
WC: Through that trajectory of meeting you and learning about some of these other works, I’ve really been drawn to aspects of work that involve this ceremonial positioning, or the place of the work. That there’s a different sense of space in a ceremonial work, that there’s a different sense of relationship between people than if it was a theater play.
PO: That’s true, because it would have a more narrative direction, and it’s more linear. For example Rose Moon is a cyclic piece. You can come in and out of it. You can come in and be there, but then maybe you wanna go and get a hamburger [laughs]. But the thing is that the cycles guarantee that the piece will continue. So you can come in and out of it. So that’s part of a cyclic form. But it also sets up an atmosphere of powerful energy. Just as the moon rises and sets, the cycles of Rose Moon continue. It could continue inde nitely, actually.
WC: So, practicality aside, the piece could go on as long as necessary, I suppose.
PO: Right. [Both laugh]
WC: That’s a good way of thinking about it, right, rather
than saying “six hours.”
PO: Right, well, that’s arbitrary in a way. But the accumulation of cycles sets something in motion as well. And your experience of cycles accumulates to change your consciousness in some ways, also.
WC: I’ve noticed from listening to the piece and also to the score that there is quite a deal of freedom on the part of speci c performers. The aspects of the piece that call on the improviser, the performer, to acknowledge and maintain the cycle are really speci c. “The tone that arises during this cycle must be held, and at the beginning of the next cycle it can change,” and trying to keep people conscious of that.
PO: That’s part of what you call “holding together.” Holding together the ceremony so that some cycles can happen. So it’s not a free-for-all, so to speak. But it does have coherence, even though it can sound very free.
WC: And very free experiences on everybody’s part can happen.
PO: Individually, yes.
WC: I had a phone conversation with Linda [Montano], and she was telling me a story about two of her family members who came to the piece, and an experience that happened to them during this performance, such that afterwards they were found crying in the bathroom.
PO: [Laughs] I forgot about that.
WC: She was saying a lot of artists at that time and even at the moment are trying to understand the question, “What is a trance body state? What is a trance emotional state?” And I think this work is part of, but not exclusively about, trance. It’s about — well, you can actually answer that...
PO: No, go ahead and tell me what you think, and then I’ll let you know.
WC: I think that there’s a line in there that’s saying that the moon gures should respond to their emotional state, but that that state should be observed and experienced completely.
PO: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, it isn’t about acting. You know, I mean about method acting, or something. It is really about experiencing the emotional state. In other words, not trying to make something happen that isn’t real to the person. And that’s not necessarily easy in the situation. But Neely and Phyllis were enclosed in the moon tent, you know, so they weren’t necessarily visible to the audience. So they had a kind of privacy in the midst of this ceremony. But it was really up to their ability to give attention to what they were actually feeling.
WC: Which changes for everybody on a day-to-day basis, doesn’t it [chuckles].
PO: Absolutely. Well, and moment by moment! [Chuckles] It can change.
WC: The environmental, or the interpersonal space of some of these pieces is that people come to them, especially audience members, without a whole lot of expectation about where it’s going to go, and they also will experience emotions during the course of the piece in a sensitive way because of that. And I think that’s the story with Linda [Montano].
PO: Yeah, that’s what happened to her relatives I guess. And, back to Linda, she was one of the lunatics. The clown gures in Rose Moon. And she almost undid me, that’s for sure. Here I am carrying the moon rattle in the procession, and I’m having to maintain my concentration, you know, for the cycles and so on and so forth. She had a typewriter that she was carrying around, she had a fur coat on, and she was carrying this typewriter around and she would come up to people and ask for help on her term paper.
PO: Oh, it was outrageous, it was so funny, I just, almost, you know...I was swallowing my laughter, it was just hilarious, really hilarious. And in that environment at Wesleyan, and the students, and all of that stuff. So she was truly, really very funny, in this understated way.
WC: Rather than doing something that was really obviously lunatic.
PO: Well, you know what the instructions to the lunatics are, in the score, is to be disruptive. To try to disrupt the ceremony in any way they could, as long as you didn’t touch anybody physically.
WC: Yeah. I think I can understand why you wanted to have that aspect to the piece.
PO: Oh yeah, it’s very important, because it’s true to life, and you know, that you may have something important going, or that you think is important, and then there’s always something. So it was a test, a test to the concentration of the performers, a test of opposition to the form. The lunatics were to oppose the ceremony. But they were also part of the ceremony. They were ceremonial lunatics. And they were called lunatics of course because of the moon, and they were a reference to people who get a little out of hand when the full moon comes. So it was really part of the synthesis of all these different kinds of relationships to the moon, to have persons called lunatics. Those who are a little off.
WC: Also, just in this case the idea of having this whole structure with the gures in the center is so tight, then to have the lunatics there to actually cause this...
PO: Yes, to loosen things up.
WC: I’ll ask you to re ect on audience participation because I know that there were instructions in the score, to allow people to participate.
PO: Yeah. Right, they could call the names of people that they wanted to remember. So, I mean, that of course can bring up quite a bit of emotion. If these people were not living, for example. So there was that, and then they
could also join in the recitation of the names of the moon as well. I think that form of participation is not always comfortable for people who have come to just witness something. But I was trying to include people so that they get a sense of participation in the ceremony. It was available. And so even if they didn’t vocalize, it would still set off a train of thought. So even if they didn’t do it, it was still working and part of the piece, I would say, psychically.
PO: With Rose Moon, you didn’t need to have technique to participate in it. And that was the breakaway from the establishment, the classical music establishment.
WC: Or maybe even an avant-garde establishment.
PO: Or even that. My work was radical! [Laughs] My Sonic Meditations were radical. They were a radical departure from what was surrounding me at the time. What I was doing was picking up on whatever undercurrents werehappening of the transmission of meditational practices to the West, from Asia and Tibet and all of those things. I mean, that was happening and it was in the air, so to speak. With Sonic Meditations, I was careful in the choice of words. These were pieces, they were compositions, as far as I was concerned they were related to my experiences being a so-called avant-garde composer. And I was very careful to keep them as secular, there was no reference to any kind of religion, or no incorporation of any kind of religious practice, or necessarily spiritual practice. The closest I come to it is with the notion of concentration or focus on breath. But then, anybody can do that, anybody can focus on breath, it doesn’t have to mean that it’s a spiritual practice.
WC: Or it’s spiritual in as much as the participant takes an opportunity to make it that way for them.
PO: That’s right. And Rose Moon is on the edge, I would say. This was 1977.
The score for Rose Moon, published
by Smith Publications, is available
from the Deep Listening Catalog.