How To “Deep Listen”

We all hear selectively, meaning we focus in on certain sounds and out of others. Think of the last time you went on a walk with a friend. You were probably only actively listening to what was right in front of you, perhaps, the person you were talking to, and were probably not listening too closely to other conversations taking place or the overall sound of the space. This is where Deep Listening comes in. It’s an idea pioneered in the 1970s by a composer named Pauline Oliveros, in her words, it’s “a way of listening in every possible way to everything possible, to hear no matter what you are doing.” Deep Listening is an act of tuning in to one’s environment by intentionally listening to surrounding sounds. It’s so profound, there’s even a Center for Deep Listening at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute! It elaborates on this practice further:

“Deep Listening, as developed by Oliveros, explores the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary, selective nature of listening.  The practice includes bodywork, sonic meditations, and interactive performance, as well as listening to the sounds of daily life, nature, one’s own thoughts, imagination, and dreams. It cultivates a heightened awareness of the sonic environment, both external and internal, and promotes experimentation, improvisation, collaboration, playfulness, and other creative skills vital to personal and community growth.”

What we choose to listen to is indeed personal, but Deep Listening allows us to connect to where we are in the moment we’re in, and in a year so uncertain, finding new means to connect can give us all an extra anchor.

Under normal circumstances, we’d ask you to plug in those earphones and find some solace in the stories we’re lucky enough to tell and the experiences we work so hard to create, but this time, we challenge you to go outside (stay six feet away from others, of course) and listen closely. Meditate on what you hear! We’ll leave you with this advice from Pauline herself:

“The key to multi-level existence is Deep Listening – listening in as many ways as possible to everything that can possibly be heard all of the time. Deep Listening is exploring the relationships among any and all sounds whether natural or technological, intended or unintended, real, remembered or imaginary. Thought is included. Deep Listening includes all sounds expanding the boundaries of perception.”

Excerpt from “Quantum Listening: From Practice to Theory (To Practice Practice)” by Pauline Oliveros. SoundArtArchive, December 1999.