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Jacquin, Maud / Polverel, Elsa

“Dissolving your Ear Plugs”: The Unheard in Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening Practice

This article explores Pauline Oliveros’ practice of Deep Listening and argues that it is inherently concerned with the experience of the “unheard”. Deep Listening involves “going below the surface of what is heard”, not to reach a form of truth or purity of sound but, on the contrary, to constantly reassert that we never hear the same thing twice, that the act of listening is inherently incomplete. In other words, “deeply listening” to sounds means being attuned to – being physically and subjectively in touch with – what we call the “as-yet-unheard”. Because, for Oliveros, Deep Listening has the power to heal – to lead to the psychological transformation of the listener – we attempt to make sense of her conception of listening by creating a dialogue with psychoanalytic theory and the practice of listening. In this context, the unheard is not merely tied to the limits of perception (what the ear is unable to hear), but far more so to the subjective limitations (what the individual refuses to hear). In the first section, we look at the resonances between the relational frameworks established by Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations and the psychoanalytic session to explore how the unheard in her practice might be close to a certain way of approaching the unconscious. The second section deals with the nature of sounds in Oliveros’ work and in psychoanalytic practice, an issue which leads us to bring this as-yet-unheard back to the body, a body made up of affects, but inseparable from language and socio-political dynamics. 

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