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“Music that Transforms Us”

by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Oliveros at 80
EMPAC Concert Hall
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Good evening.

We began this celebration with an immersive experience. Think about how different that is from our day-to-day experience with music: as background at a party or in a department store, as a means of blocking out the noise of jet engines, or as a distraction on a car trip.

Professor Oliveros’s music invites us to be still. To find a connection or to let a connection find us. To participate. And, most of all, to listen with our whole selves.

Her unconventional approach is to attend to the quality of sound. As a physicist, I appreciate the respect for resonance, reverberation, and echo. And I appreciate her use of natural space, and spaces not built for music—like the cistern we have recreated here in our Concert Hall. Her music evokes the physical properties of the space and makes us experience the space—and ourselves in that space—in new ways.

At Rensselaer, we understand that the challenges one faces are what lead one to excellence. Talent and insight are tested by obstacles and argument. The conventional always will push back—hard—and it takes courage, confidence, and grit to sustain the effort and achieve success.

Pauline has triumphed in an especially difficult arena, at the intersection of music, technology, and culture. She has brought us something new, something to which we must respond.

And she has been recognized many times for her music. Among her key honors are:

  • The John Cage Award from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts,
  • An Honorary Doctor of Arts from De Montfort University, and
  • The William Schuman Award for Lifetime Achievement.

For all her innovation and accomplishment in music, I also should mention her collaboration with Dr. Selmer Bringsjord, professor and head of the department of cognitive science and Assistant Professor of Architecture Jonas Braasch. Pauline is working with them to produce a synthetic music conductor/improviser. This will be one of our inaugural projects for our new Center for Communication, Cognition, and Culture.

As both an artist and a member of our faculty, she challenges her colleagues and students: Listen to this. Experience something new. Make it your own. Respond. Give it back in a way that enlivens and humanizes others.

We strive to engender creativity, thoughtfulness, and leadership across the Rensselaer community. It is fitting that Pauline shares her art with us, providing both experiences that challenge and shape us and an example, by her own life, of what we might be.

As many of you know, music is one of the great joys of my life. It touches the spirit in ways that cannot easily be described or defined. But it only can do that if we listen to it.

Listening, Pauline reminds us with her work, is not a passive activity. It requires attention in a world of distractions. It demands an opening up of our senses and our minds. We must give it time. We must let the music work within us.

Deep listening goes beyond the concert hall. It is a process and an approach that allows work, experience, experimentation, and the insights of others to transform us. And, once we transform ourselves, we become capable of transforming others.

Pauline, thank you for being part of the Rensselaer community, for the experiences you have given us, and for a body of work that transforms music, our culture, and us.

I wish you a happy birthday, and many years to come of joy, friendship, and accomplishment.

Thank you.


Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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