Deep Listening is a creative, meditative practice developed by one of America’s most important composers, Rensselaer Professor of Practice Pauline Oliveros, who describes the practice as “listening with your whole body.” Earlier this month, the Center for Deep Listening, based in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) at Rensselaer, hosted its inaugural opening on March 11, in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC).

The program began with a “Sonic Meditation” led by Oliveros, followed by a performance of “Waterfall” (an early piece by Oliveros) by all attendees. The audience was also treated to a “Dream Incubation” led by improvising sound/text artist Ione.

For more than 40 years, Oliveros has studied and taught the theory and practice of Deep Listening to people around the world. The theory of Deep Listening describes the world of sound. It aims to cultivate a heightened awareness of the sonic environment, both external and internal, and to promote experimentation, improvisation, collaboration, playfulness, and other creative skills vital to personal and community growth.

“Deep Listening as a creative practice, and as a practice of heightening of awareness, can connect the varying disciplines within the humanities,” said Tomie Hahn, associate professor of performance ethnology in the Department of the Arts, who has worked at Rensselaer since 2002. Hahn also serves as the director of the Center for Deep Listening.

The Center for Deep Listening was established in June 2014 to steward the continued development of artistic expression, humanitarian scholarship, and understanding of human perception and cognition begun by Oliveros with her innovative Deep Listening practice decades ago. Oliveros, who has taught a course in Deep Listening at Rensselaer since 2001, describes Deep Listening as a form of meditation that opens an expanded world of sound that helps students with learning in all disciplines. The center also assumed stewardship of the Deep Listening Institute Oliveros founded in 1985 and has been working to expand its educational and research mission on the Rensselaer campus.

“As an ethnomusicologist, I study music within its cultural context,” Hahn said. “This kind of research requires broadening and heightening one’s awareness of sound, as well as learning from community members how sound functions in their culture. It is clear to me that Deep Listening offers an extraordinary practice for research in the humanities and sciences, as well as for individuals’ sense of well-being. After Pauline led her Sonic Meditation, I heard a number of people at the reception glowing about how energized they felt, and how they experienced a connection to others, even strangers, in the room. It was exciting for me to hear again and again that they want more!”

“Under the guidance of Tomie Hahn, and in partnership with the Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture, the Center for Deep Listening continues to establish and expand education and research programs that support Deep Listening and bring Pauline Oliveros’ groundbreaking work to new audiences,” said HASS Dean Mary Simoni. “As stewards of Pauline Oliveros’ unparalleled body of work, Tomie Hahn and I are committed to ensuring that the theory, practice, education, and research of Deep Listening flourish at Rensselaer.”

The mission of the center is to educate people within and outside of the Rensselaer community about the practice of Deep Listening and the ways it can be harnessed to enhance creativity and understanding. The center also will focus on research to explore the immense potential of Deep Listening.

Already, the center has hosted a series of workshops and conferences, and established Deep Listening-related courses in addition to courses Oliveros currently teaches. This summer, “Introduction to Deep Listening” will be offered for the first time by Deep Listening certificate holder Stephanie Loveless. In addition, Hahn noted that an online Deep Listening certification course started in January, and the Center for Deep Listening is already gearing up to hold another course in 2016.