To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation
A new staging of the work by Pauline Oliveros (1970)
A Public Recordings project in development
In 1970, radical American composer and electronic music pioneer Pauline Oliveros created To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation. The project marked the beginning of her turn away from the hierarchical structures of contemporary music and towards the experimental Deep Listening practice she would continue to develop over her long career. Insisting on a “continuous circulation of power” this influential work scored for coloured light and “any instrumentation” is the focus of Public Recordings’ major stage work being developed through public rehearsal over the upcoming season for premiere in 2019.
To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation is an investigation of lineage as well as form. Asking, “How do you go beyond what you know how to do?” (Oliveros, Software For People) Public Recordings organizes an experimental orchestra of musicians and non-musicians in pursuit of group listening and a new horizontality of practice in sound.
A project initiated by Christopher Willes in consultation with Anne Bourne. Created with and performed by Allison Cameron, Ishan Davé, Ellen Furey, Thom Gill, Claire Harvie, Ame Henderson, Brendan Jensen, Germaine Liu, Anni Spadafora, Evan Webber and others. Supported by Artscape Gibraltar Point, The Gardiner Museum, Feminist Art Museum, and The Music Gallery. Special thanks to Ione for her consultation.
To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation (1970) is performed courtesy of The Pauline Oliveros Trust. Published by Smith Publications 1973.
This project was programmed by the Feminist Art Museum at the Gardiner Museum as part of Community Arts Space: Art is Change, August 2017. Brick and Rattle installation made by FAM and artist Tsēma Igharas. Photographs by Yuula Benivolski and Claire Harvie.
About Oliveros' work
“Have you forgotten that attention is not a matter of seduction?” - Pauline Oliveros
To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation (1970) is scored for any instrumentation, from small ensemble to full orchestra. Oliveros has said that she wrote it following the rise of the women’s movement throughout the 1960’s and, in particular, after having read the radical feminist text “Scum Manifesto” by Valerie Solanas (who is also known for shooting Andy Warhol). The turmoil of 1968, the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and the atrocities of the Vietnam war, all contributed to an immense societal unease that greatly affected her. “I felt the temper of the times. I felt the tremendous fear” (Oliveros, Roth 1977).
It was during this time that Oliveros took a nearly year long hiatus from performing in public, and she began looking inwards, becoming increasingly interested in body awareness practices (in particular through her studies with dancer Elaine Summers). She was searching for “musics which invite extremely heightened, sensual, cognitive attention; musics which invite and allow me to participate, or not, as I choose; musics with which I experience a continuous circulation of power even when I let the music be ‘on top’” (Oliveros, Cusick 1994).
Creating To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation marked an important moment in Oliveros’s music, as it was among her first works that explicitly requests a certain kind of group listening (an “attention strategy” as she would later call it), and it was also one of her first pieces that could potentially be performed by anyone (professional musicians and otherwise). She then went on to a lifelong, multifaceted exploration of listening - publishing her celebrated Sonic Meditations, creating music, relentlessly collaborating, developing musical software instruments for persons with limited movement abilities, composing for virtual reality platforms, and much more.
To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation is composed of three parts, each one communicated through a different colour of light. The score instructs performers to individually select five pitches with which to create very long tones throughout the performance. Insisting on “a continuous circulation of power,” between listening and sounding, between the group and individuals, the work considers sound’s capacity to mark the spaces between us, and suggests the possibility that new relations might yet arise through musical situations.